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How to turn an Error 404 page into a unique branding opportunity

Arghh.... the '404 File Not Found' message. We all experienced it with our site. Did your visitor mis-type your URL? Or did he use an out-dated bookmark?

Don't blame your visitor.

Most of the 404 errors are generated by web pages that have well.... gone, after you changing or moving them without updating your site's structure. Or when you deleted them without removing the link. An omission that can have unpleasant consequences.


First impressions never die, remember?

Surveys reveal that approximately 40% of visitors who run into this dead end quit your site promptly.

They don't look for a way out, nor take the time to inform you. They simply choose the quickest exit. Never to return.

Error 404 pages are perceived as amateurish, crappy programming, poor maintenance. A sure sign that you couldn't care less about your visitors or your gallery's site.


Consider a similar situation in your business

Imagine a selection committee member confronted with a 404 page while checking your gallery's site for some decisive information you entered on your first time application form.

With hundreds of galleries in the running, not exactly the impression you want to give I presume.

Even with your most sincere apologies when they call you to check, they will at least have asked themselves how you run your gallery. If they call you that is. Chances are high your application dies there.


Nothing easier to cure

For anyone familiar with programming, it is an easy fix.

But the best option regarding 404 error pages is to prevent them from coming up all together. Obvious? I know.

In fact as evident as the check and double check after every single update or change on your site... something most gallery dealers postpone or simply omit.

Even if checking requires no more than an extra minute and web site programs prompt you when a page is not properly linked.


Above all, avoid confusion and frustration

Many providers offer a pre-formatted redirect page. You can also link-in scripts in your navigation that redirect your visitor automatically.

Although these standard automated solutions work fine, they can become confusing and frustrating.

Imagine a visitor looking up an artist's page, clicking to have a look at some early works and ending up on... your home page. What do you think will happen? Adios, indeed.

Opting for the standard, pre-established quick fix is maybe not such a good idea after all.


Take this unique chance to brand your gallery

What if you would surprise your unfortunate visitor with an original error message? Something he doesn't expect?

Even better, why not grab this chance to position your gallery in a unique way?


Let us shape this opportunity in three easy steps

Remember your main objective is to help your visitors and to pull them back into your gallery's site so that you are not losing any of them.

The more personal your approach, the more effective your message will be.


Set up a dedicated 404 page

First of all give your 404 page the 'look & feel' of your site.

Keep the same design for the error page as for the rest of your gallery's site, but use minimal navigation.

Using a customized layout offers the advantage that your visitors are reassured that they are still on your gallery's site instead of being abandoned in no man’s land.

Suggest clear links to your home page or to your site map page if you have one; if you don't, you should start right away. You could even provide a search box to target in on exactly what your visitor originally came for.


Personalize the content of your 404 page

Apologize for the inconvenience caused. After all it is your mistake, you are at the origine of all the hassle.

Don't hide behind an anonymous general email address or your webmaster. Invite the unlucky visitor to contact you. Give your personal email address at the gallery and sign your message with your full name.

By apologizing and inviting the visitor to contact you via your personal email you show that you really care. People appreciate this more than anything else.


Offer something more than your apologies

A great way to apologize is to offer something to download. For example the pdf of a catalogue or of an artist's monograph?

Why not offer a real present? A VIP admission ticket for the next art fair at which you are participating?


Opt for a long term relationship

You can be sure that the person you surprise with a free gift, will never forget you nor your gallery. Moreover, it is an opportunity to get in contact with a truly unique visitor who clearly demonstrated genuine interest.

No more gentle way to turn a small catastrophe into a strong branding opportunity.

Remember, at least 40% of these unfortunate visitors would have turned their back on your gallery's site otherwise.


Next step: read another web marketing tactic to optimize your gallery's site using these easy-to-implement hints to interact more accurately with your visitors.



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Article written by Luuk Christiaens