We’ve all been there—a search query on a site returns the dreaded 404 no results response code and we have to figure out to do next. Some of us will run it again, while others will give up and leave. Either way, the shopper has pushed back a step in completing a transaction. However, these smart alternatives to no results pages will help you turn 404s into conversion opportunities.
An Ounce of Prevention
The best alternative is to do everything possible to prevent failed searches in the first place. Auditing your site on a regular basis to ensure all your pages are up to date will help you accomplish this. Of course, in a lot of cases, no results page’s stem from an input error on the part of the user. Perhaps they typed, “bead machine”, when they meant to type “bread machine”. Fitting your site with auto-suggestions helps them see what they’re getting as they type it. This can head off mistakes before they return 404s. Presenting thumbnail images of the merchandise too helps get shoppers to what they’re looking for much faster.
Get Them Back on Track
The biggest cause of 404s in ecommerce is spelling errors on the part of the user. Adding automatic spell check can help alleviate this situation. When it’s obvious a word is being misspelled, have your site respond as if they spelled the word correctly. In other words, if you know what they meant, why wag a finger in their faces? Just show them what they were looking for. Offer a spell check function, present alternate search terms, and encourage them to generalize their search a bit more. Always present the information as if you are at fault, not the user.
Provide Additional Assistance
If this fails (and they’re still with you) give them another way to go forward. Keep the original query in the search box so they can review and edit should they need to do so. If the item they’re seeking isn’t in stock, offer products capable of serving as reasonable substitutes. They might buy one of those instead. Even if you’re using a free website template, you can configure it to offer a “people have also searched for” prompt. In other words, instead of just leaving them cold with no results, offer some alternatives to help keep them engaged.
Be Mindful of Mobile
Smaller keyboards and an abundance of distractions mean mobile users commit more spelling errors than desktop shoppers. Yet, they expect an easier experience. These factors make implementing the actions above even more critical. Anything substantive you can do to keep roving shoppers placated will be more beneficial to your bottom line.
Handle It All with Grace
Yes, you can allow the generation of a 404 page and save yourself a lot of effort. However, if you approach the problem of failed search queries with empathy, you’ll have a better shot at keeping your shoppers in the purchasing funnel. Apologize sincerely when all of your best efforts produce no results; “We’re sorry, locating items matching your query seems to be eluding us at this time. How about we give it another go?” Some sites have also done well approaching the situation with humor. If you decide to go this route, be very careful to ensure the jokes you present are obviously on you—rather than the customer.
These smart alternatives to no results pages will help your clients find what they’re looking for—even if they don’t know how to spell it. The more you do to help your customers shop your site, the more happily they will reward you with sales.
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