If for any reason a link doesn’t go through to the correct page or a user types in a URL which is incorrect they will get a 404 error page. Quite simply you are requesting some information off a server and it say “Ohh I don’t seem to have that at this moment” and returns with a standard page.
It’s called 404 because servers have many standard codes and any that start with a 4 relate to a specific issue where a request which for some reason cannot for fulfilled or there is a syntax or formatting issue with your request.
So I know your all waiting with baited breath for this stunner so…… for a user a custom 404 error pages is like a bulldozer in a dead end street.
But why? Because a great custom 404 error page destroys the dead end and breaks through to where you want to be!
So if you’ve made a wrong turn and got not much in front of you but all you wanted was your query answered. Is that too much to ask?! Well instead of seeing the standard 404 error page which looks like this:
You can jazz it right up to actually help your user!
- Stage 1: Add your company branding and an error message that tells them the page is missing etc. This means your visitors know it is only a minor issue with your site and don’t bounce straight back to where they came from with a grumpy look on their face.
- Stage 2: Add in other things that will help your visitor. Some people like having the 404 error page redirect straight to the sitemap and others like displaying the sitemap however I don’t think either of these are great. The first option is bad because it’s just confusing and doesn’t alert your user to what is going on and the second option just isn’t as good as it could be. Also if you’re dealing with a decent size site you have to split up your sitemap and this becomes tricky combining it with an error page.
Things that will really help your user would be links back to the homepage, your services or other highly visited pages. Alternatively you can be really creative like some of these guys and make something fun http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/08/17/404-error-pages-reloaded/
- Stage 3: Stop being silly and start thinking like a search engine marketer! You are here to market things and this is about having multiple channels. Turn your 404 error page into another avenue by carefully thinking what could be placed there. Do you own an e-commerce or FMCG site? Well why don’t you consider placing links to your products on your 404 error page? These could even be dynamically generated dependent on the user or variables within the company.
But what are you talking about I hear you cry?! Well why not put links to your most popular products which happen to be of the more click and buy, think later nature? You could put links to the products with the highest mark up or even the products that you want to get rid of due to overstock. Or are you at least suggesting replacement products for the missing item?
So in summary these are called custom 404 error pages for a reason. They don’t have to be boring and stuffy they can be fun and exciting (well sort of….). You should see it as another way to make your website convert and produce the results you are striving for and at real minimum just whack on your company branding with “Oops mate this page ain’t here no more”!