To begin with, 404 error page is one of the HTTP response status codes established by World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in 1992. For those who are interested what the numbers 404 mean let us make a brief overview.
- The first 4 means that a client error has occurred. It indicates the user’s mistake, such as wrong URL spelling or requesting a non-existent page. In its turn, the first 5 in the error number shows that it is a server-side problem.
- The middle 0 indicates a syntax error such as a spelling mistake.
- The last 4 is a number of a specific error among the 40x group. Other error in this group include: 400 Bad Request, 401 Unauthorized, 402 Payment Required, 403 Forbidden etc.
Being the most common error an Internet user might run into, a ‘Page Not Found’ can appear due to several reasons:
- The page URL was changed;
- The page was deleted;
- The misspelt link;
- The website is currently offline;
- The website does not exist anymore etc.
Now, let us look at the issue from the users’ point of view. The most common thought that comes to users when they see a 404 page is ‘what to do next?’ after which they are likely to leave the site unless you find a way to hold them. Consequently, there is no reason for not making a custom 404 page.
In general, the custom 404 page needs to cope with the following aims:
- User-friendly design for not frightening users and keeping them on the website;
- Helpful content that means providing visitors with an answer to their question ‘what should I do now?’ and giving clear instructions;
- Taking in consideration SEO issues;
Keeping these points in mind, we can make a list of recommendations that can be useful when creating a custom 404 error page.
- Be nice to your visitors. It is not their fault that they got to this page. Try to express regret and find helpful words for them.
- Do not go into technical details. The term “404 page” is already technical enough and also commonly understood by most users. There is no need to scare visitors off by giving any other specific information on the causes of this error. In fact, even using the error code characters ‘404’ is not necessary as well. A simple explanation of the problem is enough.
- Ask users to check the spelling of the link. If your visitors typed the URL themselves they could easily misspell it.
- Stay within the style of your website. The design of your error page should be kept in the look and feel of your brand so that users knew that they were not taken to some external site.
- The 404 page should not look like a normal page. Your visitors must clearly see that this page cannot be found and has no content. So it shouldn’t contain too much text or links.
- A small portion of humor is always for the better. A 404 page can often turn out a platform for designers and developers to show their creative and humorous abilities. Instead of users to quickly close a ‘not found’ page it’s better to restrain them from leaving the site by making them stumble upon a funny and creative page.
- Be helpful and provide links to possible matches. If visitors came across the 404 error they were probably looking for some page. So try to help them find it. Include a menu to the error page or links to your recently removed pages. Or why not to provide links to the most popular pages of your site? Or the newest and the most up-to date content. One way or another, users have to be not mo
re than one click away from moving to some of your other pages. And of course, always add a link to your homepage.
- Add a search box. In order not to lose your visitors you should let them search for what they were looking for when they ran into the error page.
- Provide a way to report an error. Visitors should always be allowed to send you a message about the error if they wish to. It will help you to get known about some internal faults on your website. Moreover, automatic notifying is even better for you to monitor the possible troubles with your website. And if a sudden splash of 404s happens, real-time email notifications would be useful so that you could fix the problem immediately while it is still relevant.
- Keep the SEO issues in mind. For site optimization it is necessary to minimize or what is better – to liquidate entirely the amount of internal links to 404 pages. The webmaster tools will help you monitor errors on the website, particularly the 404 Not found errors. Moreover, they will help you understand where these errors come from, whether it is a misspelled URL or a competitors’ attack.
For the last, we’ve picked some of the most creative 404 error pages over the Internet, let’s take a look at the infographics below.