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Website error messages are an under exploited source of great website optimizations

Website Error Messages Are An Under Exploited Source Of Great Website Optimizations

Website error messages are an under exploited source of great website optimizations

We talk a lot about conversion rate optimization (CRO) and improving website usability (UX) by using essential tools such as website heatmaps, conversion funnel reports and form analytics. These tools are brilliant for understanding in-page behaviour and where visitors drop-off from your buying processes. But, like it or not, errors are one of the key reasons why people leave your website without engaging with it or midway through your conversion funnel.

You probably know yourself from experience that it you visit a site and receive an error message, then your chances of pursuing any further interaction is significantly reduced.

As a website owner, even basic errors can lead to a large drop off in your conversion rates, and if you don’t have any kind of error detection and reporting process in place, then you just don’t know about these errors. You probably rely on feedback from customers complaining of errors within your website surveys or directly to your agents in the contact centre. Even when you do become aware, tracking errors down and re-creating them can take even more time. Which is often time you can ill afford to spend.

Different types of website error

From our perspective, we see different types of website error message.

The most obvious error type that people think of are server side errors.

According to site monitoring experts, Pingdom, the 5 most common web server errors logged by Google are:

  • HTTP 500 Error (Internal Server Error) – this is a general-purpose error message for an internal web server error.
  • HTTP 403 Error (Forbidden) – this error is caused when you try to access a web page where access is not allowed.
  • HTTP 404 Error (Not Found) – this error is generated when you try to access a web page that doesn’t exist. It might be caused by a broken link or someone incorrectly typing in a URL.
  • HTTP 400 Error (Bad Request) – this message is triggered when a request to the web server is made incorrectly or was corrupted.
  • HTTP 401 Error (Unauthorised) – this occurs when a visitor tries to access a restricted web page that requires a login.
  • We think of these server side error messages as hard errors – they fundamentally stop a visitor from progressing any further.

You can improve your website experience by addressing the root causes of these server-side error messages. For example, regularly link checking your site will let you fix broken links and so reduce the number of 404 errors.

There are other types of website error message such as HTML errors, form errors and Javascript errors. These are surprisingly common too and can also prompt visitors to abandon your website.

Even relatively minor errors such as typos and spelling mistakes, missing images or basic page layout issues can cause visitors to lose faith and trust in your site, prompting them to swiftly move on to your competitors.

Tracking and reporting website errors

To tackle the full range of different types of website error messages, you need to make sure you have a way of tracking and reporting them.

You can track your website errors in a number of different ways.

You could use web analytic tools such as Google Analytics. There are no out-of-the-box error reports with Google Analytics so you need to configure some custom reporting based on events – Practical Ecommerce have outlined more details on how to do that here.

Alternatively, you can track website errors using SessionCam which includes dedicated error reporting within its suite of tools. Best of all, SessionCam’s error reporting works without any special set-up or customisation. This means it eliminates the on-going overhead of maintaining custom tagging on your website error messages.

Dedicate time and effort to reporting, investigating and reducing website error message frequency

In our experience, our clients achieving the best conversion rates dedicate regular time and effort to monitoring their website error message rates and actively working to optimize their website to reduce the number of error messages triggered by users.

On a daily or weekly basis this means monitoring the frequency of occurrence for each website error message to understand how often each message is triggered, how many users hit that error, how many abandon your site as a consequence and how much revenue was lost from those customers that dropped away.

Establishing some regular error reporting gives you a baseline for your current error rates.

Focusing on the most frequently occurring errors that drive the most lost revenue is a great place to start if you want to implement changes that will improve conversion. Using session replay, you can quickly understand the reasons why each error message is being triggered and identify potential improvements.

As you monitor your error rates, it’s essential to investigate any sudden spike and increase in the error rate for any message as this could indicate a new, previously unknown problem that is impacting lots of customers and costing you sales.

IKEA have full-time resource dedicated to monitoring website errors and using that as an on-going source of website optimizations. For example, fixing just two issues related to error messaging that were identified by SessionCam generated over £1m of business benefit for IKEA.

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