True, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever want users to navigate to a page within your website that simply isn’t there, but hey, schist happens so you should really be prepared for anything.
Most web developers tend to completely overlook this scenario while they are busy creating the project and it’s understandable, a 404 error is something you strive to avoid. Even so, it’s impossible to be completely fool proof, therefore, what you can do instead is manage your Page Not Found design in a way that will make it funny and helpful for your visitors, as opposed to just another source of frustration.
Here are some basic tips and tricks to help you create your personalized 404 page, complete with examples of pages who’ve already made good use of them.
1. Don’t use the standard 404 Not Found
Yes, I know, ‘It’s there’. And, yes, you’ve carefully thought everything through and your web developer skills are so beyond astonishing that there’s no way your users will ever be confronted with this error. Please. Like I said before, sometimes errors pop up, we’re humans, we make mistakes. Therefore, don’t come up with any more excuses and put yourself in your users shoes, a Page not found error is frustrating enough, but seeing the error you’ve seen before, without any useful information as to what to do next, you’ll automatically associate it with a faulty and unremarkable website.
2. Think your error message through
The first thing your visitor will see will be the message associated with your 404 Error so try to make it as user-friendly as possible. You could try to crack a joke, explain what went wrong and try to give some pointers about what steps can be taken next. Also, it’s very important if you can slip an apology in there somewhere. Some small way in which you let your visitor know that you care that he or she somehow ended up in the wrong place. Try to give them a few ideas as to what went wrong, like: “The link you accessed might be faulty” or “The information you’re looking for could have been deleted.”.
It’s important that you always keep in mind the fact that you should strive to make your website as user-friendly as possible. Because of this, it’s important that you try to shift the blame for the current problem as much as possible from them to something that couldn’t be helped, like a broken link or a moody server. Remember, the user is searching for something and they just hit a roadblock, it’s frustrating enough, choose your words carefully so you don’t add to said frustration.
3. Offer them a way out
Okay, if they’ve already navigated to your page, it’s pretty obvious that they want or need something that can be found there. The easiest way for you to help them when they’ve encountered a problem like 404 Not Found is to include a Search option within your error page. I might also add that this is a feature that should always find its way to your Page Not Found, mainly because it’s so damn useful. Sure, your user hasn’t found what they were looking for on the first try, but they are now presented with the perfect way to try again and succeed this time.
4. Key links
This pretty much falls into the category of give your user a few guiding steps as to where to go from here. Include a few links that you deem to be useful for them, like your content page, your home page and your contact page. By doing this, you give the user options to work around their current problem and reach the information they needed faster. Trust me, they will appreciate the effort.
5. Boost your product
Last, but not least, if the user’s here, he or she are clearly in need of something you provide. Therefore, take this opportunity to showcase your latest or most popular articles or products (depending, of course, on your website’s profile). You can include a list of your categories as well, guide the user towards what he’s looking for. Or, even better, get him interested in something new.
As I’ve previously said, 404 pages should stop being overlooked in web development pages. They are, unfortunately, a normal part of the life of a web site and if you’re striving for a good relationship with your users, by all means, take the 404 Error Not Found page into consideration.