Firstly 301 Permanent Redirects
A user arriving at your site with a 404 error can be bad for conversion.
This is a page that used to be there and has been indexed, however for one reason or another you have removed it, this could have been a product that’s discontinued etc.
There are a few ways round this, some more complex than others.
If you are running an ecommerce system it’s important that if your product has been taken off that you try redirecting to a simpler product or the category where that product may have existed.
Many professionals believe if you offer the customer an alternative then you may still convert. These redirects should be 301 to tell Google and the likes that the page has permanently moved.
Another alternative is to use your htaccess file to let Google and the likes know that the page has moved, however this is not feasible on an ecommerce site as products could be changing all the time.
For example our RedBack Ecommerce Software will automatically redirect to the category the product existed in if it has been removed.
So let’s get back to 404 and some examples of what you could do
I came across this interesting article on http://whichtestwon.com/ and this is actual test results.
Initial conversion data can be deceiving. The big-image 404 page version got only a 3.56% lift compared to the text-link-heavy page (which was the site’s original 404). But, visitors stayed on the site after seeing that image, spent an average of 73.62% more money!
Amadesa, a conversion optimization and SaaS firm, conducted the A/B split test using the Amadesa Customer Experience Suite on client Mountain Equipment Co-op’s 404 page. This is the page visitors reached if the hotlink they clicked (perhaps an old link they’d bookmarked or some other error) didn’t reach an active page anymore.
In the past, 63% of 404 page traffic bounced off the site. Amadesa’s goal of reducing bounces was a lot harder than expected. Nevertheless, their billboard image-style test added thousands of dollars to the bottom line immediately. That’s because, although both 404 pages ‘converted’ roughly the same amount of continued site shopping, the shoppers who’d seen the big image wound up spending about 73.62% more money than those who hadn’t.
So, a warm-fuzzy branding image in place of a plain-vanilla 404 message actually propelled more sales. Anyone who doubts the power of branding on the Web can doubt no further. Time to test it!
I think this is a fantastic way to cover 404 errors as you are still giving customers a path to go down and not saying go away this page isn’t here.