How to Craft the Best 404 Pages for your Clients

best 404 pages

Whether by an innocent user-error or broken links on a website, it’s inevitable that visitors to client’s stores will occasionally land on 404 error pages. While seeing a 404 page may not be an expected action, it doesn’t mean that the end result needs to be a frustrated visitor.

These pages can also be an opportunity to provide support with an on-brand message, and some of the best 404 error pages combine humour with good UX to create memorable experiences.

Website developers should be mindful of this when creating custom themes for clients, and including user-friendly, appropriate, and well designed 404 error pages is important for reducing customer effort. By connecting functional features like clear call-to-actions, search boxes, and navigation with creative and amusing imagery, developers can craft personalized landing pages, and turn a possible negative event into a positive one.

In this post, we’ll look at some examples of inspiring 404 pages, as well as how to get started with creating custom 404 pages on Shopify, so that you can improve your client's themes and empower them with personalized pages.

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Best practices for 404 pages

A good 404 page should indicate an error has taken place, provide clear navigation to a more suitable page, and be consistent with your client’s brand. There can also be SEO impact, since a well-designed page loaded with helpful links will reduce the bounce rate, and engaging or funny content might even increase time spent on this page.

Even Google Support has some very enlightening advice for working with 404 pages.

“If you have access to your server, we recommend that you create a custom 404 page. A good custom 404 page will help people find the information they're looking for, as well as providing other helpful content and encouraging them to explore your site further.”

“If you have access to your server, we recommend that you create a custom 404 page. A good custom 404 page will help people find the information they're looking for, as well as providing other helpful content and encouraging them to explore your site further.”

Even with a branded, custom 404 template, it’s still important to check a site for broken links, to minimize the chance of customers being misdirected. A simple tool like W3’s Link Checker or the app Transportr can allow developers to quickly identify and fix any 404 events on their client’s stores.

The movement away from generic 404 pages has become standard practice, and this allows clients to present their brand in the best possible light, while funneling customers back to the main site. Here are some examples of particularly well designed 404 error pages, which can inspire you to develop unique pages for your clients.

1. Github

best 404 pages: githubBy employing humor and pop culture references, Github delivers a funny message that defuses any awkwardness when landing on this error page. The navigation options are simple, to avoid any confusion, with a search bar and links to support and a status page.

The coup de grace, however, is the subtle parallax effect, that makes the image react in a playful way with a user's cursor. This easily-overlooked animation shows that GitHub’s designers are very intune with their audience, as they know that this “easter egg” will be admired by the developer community.

2. Codecademy

best 404 pages: codecadamyProgramming school Codecademy takes an educational approach to 404 pages, with a clever link to learning more about HTTP errors. A comprehensive footer also provides an easy route to site content and course resources.

3. Backcountry

best 404 pages: backcountryA perfect example of a 404 page in an ecommerce context, outdoor apparel brand Backcountry has a lush landing page, with a full-screen image and an on-brand joke. The message of the page apologizes and accepts responsibility, but in a positive and upbeat way.

4. Dropbox

best 404 pages: dropboxDropbox’s iconic illustration style is the centerpiece of this simple error page, where carefully picked imagery again plays a key role in boosting brand awareness. A professional tone compliments the sketch, and a minimal number of links gives the user options to navigate to safety.

5. Keir Whitaker

best 404 pages: keit whitakerShopify’s own offline marketer and developer advocate, Keir Whitaker, has a very comprehensive error page, outlining what a 404 page is, how a visitor might have arrived here, and offering up an instructional video on how to make a Negroni, Keir’s favorite cocktail. An ample number of links including his web development blog and podcast, completes this functional, yet fun page.

Customizations you can make to Shopify 404 pages

If you’re tweaking a theme for a client, using a default Shopify 404 page is a workable solution, provided you’re working with an approved theme from our theme store.

It’s worthwhile, however, to consider how bespoke 404 pages could benefit your clients, since a thoughtfully designed, and branded 404 error page could open up opportunities for your clients to drive sales.

For example, a call-to-action button could direct customers to a specific collection, or a search box could allow customers to easily find the content they need. A 404 page is also a unique chance for clients to communicate with their audience, and adding some humor with suitable images can improve brand awareness. As we saw with the examples above, a funny and informative 404 page can defuse a possible pain point, and redirect visitors to valuable content.

With these points in mind, here are some methods to personalize 404 pages for your clients.

1. Make an alternative layout template load for 404 pages

Very often a 404 page will have a distinct look and feel, when compared to other pages on the site. Creating an alternative layout file for 404 pages is helpful if you want to achieve this unique landing page style. For example, you can remove the footer, or create a different type of menu.

By default, the theme.liquid layout file is applied to the 404.liquid template file, but this can be easily changed. The first step would be to create a copy of your theme.liquid file within your theme’s layout folder, and rename it 404-layout.liquid.

Now, you can easily remove elements of the layout file you don’t need, like a header or footer, adjust the H1, and customize anything you would like, such as title tags. Once you’re happy with this alternative layout file, you can use Liquid logic tags to link the layout file with the template file.

In order to make the 404 page render with this particular layout file, we would need to add a Liquid tag {% layout "404-layout" %} to the top of the 404.liquid template file. So, for example, your 404.liquid template could look like this:

Now, any change that you make to the 404-layout.liquid file will be applied to the 404 page. Check out our help center for more info on the 404 templates.

2. Add a custom background image to 404 pages

One of the most effective methods to identify your client’s brand online is with straightforward graphics, and a background image has become a standard feature of the 404 page. To achieve that full-screen picture effect that we saw on Backcountry, we can use CSS to assign a background image that’s specific to our 404 page.

The background-image property allows you to layer an image underneath the rest of the elements on the page. You could even employ CSS to layer multiple images within a background, which could be useful when combining logos with your background.

The first thing you should do is upload your desired image to Shopify, at Settings > Files, that will generate a unique URL where your image is stored.

best 404 pages: files

Next you would move to the theme's stylesheet, and use the opening container class or ID of your 404.liquid page as a selector, along with the background-image CSS property and URL as the value. This could look like this:

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3. Add a search bar to the page

A search bar for a quick escape is one of the most common and effective features on a 404 page. To include a search bar on your client’s 404 page, you can create an HTML form with its action attribute set to /search. Within this form, an input of type text with a name attribute set to q must be included. A simple example of this is shown below:

To set how this appears on your page, you can adjust the CSS, by defining values for margin, padding, etc. Here is an example for how the above search bar appears on my test store:

best 404 pages: search bar

4. Add a call to action section.

Sometimes a client may want to direct a customer to a specific page or collection, once they land on a 404 page. A customizable call-to-action button is an ideal way to funnel a customer towards a specific page, so adding a static section that allows this can empower clients to take control of their store.

First you’ll need to create a new empty Liquid file in the sections folder of your theme, called 404-call-to-action.liquid. Then add this code to the file:

Next, you’ll need to include this new section in your 404.liquid template file, in the position where you would like the call-to-action button to appear. You will want to use a Liquid theme tag {% section "404-call-to-action" %} to include this section, and in my case, my 404.liquid template file looks like this:

Now, when you open the Theme Customizer and load a page that doesn't exist, you’ll see an option to edit a call-to-action button. These changes that you make on the Theme Customizer, will now apply to any 404 error page.

best 404 pages: button

What error?

These are just some of the ways you can improve the standard Shopify 404 error page, and I’d encourage you to craft your pages around the unique characteristics of your clients.

By thinking outside the box, you can create an opportunity for your clients to turn a possible loss into a win, and even drive sales with 404 error pages. Your clients will want their brand to stand out at every point in the customer journey, so error pages should not be overlooked. Hopefully with the help of this article, you’ll be able to add extra value to your projects.

Have you experimented with different styles to develop functional and fun 404 error pages? We would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!

404 Page FAQ

What is a 404 page used for?

A 404 page, also known as an error page, is used to inform the user that the page they are trying to access does not exist or has been moved. It is important for websites to have a 404 page in order to provide users with a helpful and informative response when they try to access a page that does not exist.

What should a 404 page contain?

A 404 page should contain a message that the page is not found, along with a link back to the homepage or other main page of the website. It should also contain helpful information on how the user can find what they are looking for or to contact the website owner for further assistance.

What do you call the 404 page?

The 404 page is sometimes referred to as an “error page” or a “page not found”.

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