Articles for Webmasters     Designing a Better 404 Page for Your Site

By Charles Jackson

The infamous 404 page is something that every Web surfer encounters on occasion. It usually occurs either due to a particular page of a website being missing or the user entering the address incorrectly. Everyone will have seen their browser's standard 404 page but many websites also have their own customized 404 pages providing some useful tips and information. If a visitor to your website stumbles across the drab and unhelpful standard 404 page, they're not likely to stick around much longer. Some Web designers make their own very basic 404 pages providing no information other than "Page not found" or something equally unhelpful. This, if anything, is even worse than the standard 404 page displayed by the browser. If your 404 page needs improvement, then get to it sooner rather than later as you can lose traffic because of it. Consider the following tips to get the best results.

1 - Keep the Design Consistent with Your Website

Having a 404 page of a completely different style to that of the rest of your site only serves as a rude interruption to your readers. For this reason, your 404 page design style should be consistent with the overall theme of your website. This means sticking to the same colour scheme, navigational features, fonts and logos. This makes the otherwise highly irritating 404 page rather less of a blow to visitors.

2 - Provide Something Useful

The standard or minimalistic customized 404 page does not provide anything much of use to the reader. Some of your visitors will inevitably end up at this page, often because they entered the address incorrectly, so it is important to guide them to the page that they were likely looking for. Provide useful features such as a link back to the site's homepage, a search box, a link to the site map and even a list of popular pages or pages with similar names to the one that the visitor entered. It is also a good idea to provide an option to report a broken link. This way, if the problem is down to your website rather than the visitor entering an incorrect address, you'll know about it sooner and be able to fix it.

You should also not assume that your visitors know what the 404 error is. In fact, there's no need to even mention it. Instead, it is better to title the page with something like "Sorry, but we cannot find the page that you are looking for." The last thing you want to be doing is bombarding your visitors with jargon. Instead, take a more user-friendly and understandable approach.

3 - Use a Casual and/or Humorous Approach

No one wants to see an error page when they're surfing the Web. For this reason, you need to make your 404 page as innocuous as possible. Use a casual and even a humorous approach to lighten the mood of the visitor. Creating an amusing 404 page is a great approach for many types of websites. Combine this with providing some helpful links and information and you will have the perfect 404 page up and running!


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