Ryan Boudreaux explains why it is important to put a little more work into creating unique and helpful 404 server error pages and gives you tips for how to do it.
Do your web server error pages result in generic ones like this displayed in Figure A?
It may not look exactly like this one, but something close to it can be found on many a website today, including some top retailers. It doesn't take much work — it really is just about doing it and getting it done!
However, a little effort pays big dividends for you and your end users' experience to be a little more creative with your 404 page. Your visitors get frustrated, aggravated, bewildered, and flustered when these types of error pages appear, and as a result, will typically end up leaving or going to the competition for their business. An error page like the one above with no linking, navigation, void of images, or other options is like blindfolding your customer, taking them out of the store, and dumping them into the street. Let's face it; users to your site are really your customers, so let's treat them that way throughout the entire online experience.
How do you keep your customers on the website when web server errors occur? The answer is to build creative, unique, and informative error pages that keep your users on the site.
Five tips for creating unique 404 pages
Include navigation linking back into the main site areas comprising the most common or popular locations on the site. If possible take into account the last known good visited web document, and offer other pages that might be similar to the one they were trying to access. Giving the user alternatives to navigate back into the site will help to ensure that they stay on track.
#2 Avoid the blame game
Do not put any blame on the visitors. When visitors see a list of reasons for the resulting error, including that they must have typed in the wrong URL or incorrectly entered the web address, it doesn't leave them with that warm fuzzy feeling inside. Even if they did type in the wrong address, remember in customer relations you have to treat the customer as if they are always right. Use a modest approach that is light hearted, quick to the point, and gets them back on track.
#3 Service recovery
Give your online customer a reward for finding the broken offending link or web page. Adding in an incentive offer for customers that report any errors, such as a discount code for their next purchase, or a free download of online content, which is typically offered as part of a premium membership, will mostly likely keep the customer on your site and entice them to shop or stay on your site. Also let the visitor know when the link has been fixed and thank them for giving you the heads up on the issue. These types of actions help to build repeat visitors.
Of course you can do nothing about links coming in from external sources; however, you can mention that any external links are out of your control, and can then refer them back to the source.
#4 Use appealing visual elements
Stylish and creative imagery can make your error pages look more inviting and give the user a pleasant experience. Keeping with the same theme, in addition to the look and feel as the rest of the website maintains continuity and is not so abrupt as to make the visitor feel out of place.
#5 Balance the options
You want to keep the error page short and sweet, but not to short and not too long. Giving only one or two options is not enough to help the visitor get back on track, and providing several dozen options is going overboard. Your focus should be on getting the customer back on track as quickly as possible. Make the error page a bump in the road and not a detour.
Several examples of creative 404 pages
Click on thumbnails or caption to see full pages.
Do you have examples of creative server error pages?