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Getting The Message Across: What To Include In 404 Error Pages

Posted by hostsleek on 14 07 2015.

Have you bumped into error pages and then didn’t know what to do? From the plan vanilla black and white pages, to fancy custom made error pages, we can guess what irritates a website visitor and what makes their browsing easier. Rather than be obscure and try to brush off an error on your website, it is best to tackle it and make it simpler for the user to deal with the issue. This article discusses the essential elements which distinguish a good 404 error page from a terribly confusing one.

Clearly mention the error

Most people try to make their error pages creative and funny, failing to realize that the user who sees the page is least likely to appreciate the humor, if he is trying to open up an important page. People try and put tacky one liners and funny jokes which totally confuse the user into wondering where they have landed and why the page is showing up. Clearly mention that this is a 404 error page, because although most people don’t know what 404 means, they do associate it with an error page which indicates that the page cannot be found. You should also mention that this is not the fault of the browser and that the page has been reached, most likely due to a misspelling or a broken link.

Alternate Page Links

Just showing a 404 page to the user is of no use and is least helpful. You can help the user by providing some commonly accessed links or articles on the website. This can also be used to promote or push a certain product or service page and encourage users to visit those pages. This can also be used for promoting new products or services and also for pushing affiliated goods or offers. A 404 page should not be a dead end for the visitor. Infact you can convert the dead end into a  rethink of their journey through your website.

Suggested Links

Instead of giving them a static list of pages, you can show your 404 page landers a list of suggestions based on what page they were looking for. So for example if they were going to a link for FAQs, then you could suggest some of the top FAQs from your website. If they were looking for a page with a specific product name in it, you could show them suggestions of other product pages which could be related. This allows your visitors to explore new options and save time rather than trying to figure out why that page is not opening.

Home Page Link

Another key ingredient on your 404 error page should be a link to your home page or main navigation. To escape from your 404 page, a visitor would like to quickly navigate back to your home page in a single click. This can be done by providing a link from the logo or header image to the home page or by providing an entire list of menu items from your main navigation.

Search Box

Another convenience which you could offer on your 404 error page is offering a site search box. This site search box should be able to provide a search service for all the pages on your website, so that the user can quickly search for what they are looking for on your website, so that they are greeted by a content filled page rather than an error page.

Report An Issue Link

Giving a 404 page lander alternatives to go to is just one side of the story. What about fixing the underlying issue? It would definitely be a good idea to provide the visitor a link or form to quickly report the issue. It is ideal to have a pre-filled form which pulls the URL and time stamp without the user having to enter any details. At the most, a Captcha could be added to ensure that bots are not filling out the feedback form. When a user is greeted with the error page, he should simply have to click on the link to report it and confirm the submission. If you expect the user to enter hundreds of details and to give you a technical error report, then your plan is not likely to be very successful.

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