How to improve your 404 error page

The 404 page

A 404 error page is a page that’s displayed when a web server can’t find the page you’re looking for. Usually this error page appears because content has been moved but links to the content stay the same. According to Google, 404 errors are the 5th most common error page displayed however it’s also the easiest one to predict and develop a damage-control system for.

Doing it wrong

A view of the default 404 page in Internet ExplorerWithout a custom 404 error page, your users see something similar to the screenshot on the right. The default page doesn’t help the user (a.k.a your customer) at all. According to some surveys done, 79% of visitors will not make any effort to find a missing page once they’ve hit a 404 error page. That’s a lot of lost visitors.

Default 404 problems:

  • It’s ugly and doesn’t match the rest of your site which is unprofessional as well as disturbing to users.
  • It looks like a system error page and users may feel that they have caused the error themselves.
  • It’s uninformative and doesn’t tell your user why they’ve arrived at this page.
  • It doesn’t help your customer find what they were looking for in the first place.

Doing it right

The most important feature of your 404 page should be that it helps your visitor get to where he/she originally intended to go while at the same time apologising for the inconvenience.

Good things to include:

  • An error message that explains what has happened that everyone can understand and that also implies that you’re apologetic about the error.
  • A search box. It’s also possible to pre-fill the search box using a bit of PHP and advanced users could also do an automatic search and display the search results on the 404.
  • Link to the main page of the site.
  • A link to contact the webmaster to report a broken link. A better option is to automatically log all the 404 errors so that during site development you can see where the holes are.

Things to avoid:

  • Too many links. It’s confusing enough for your visitors without bombarding them with options.
  • Adverts. This is not the kind of page you want your users to see a Google Adsense box with a competitors advert in.

How we can help

Our default 404 pages are already setup for search and include a link to your homepage. We can also work with you to further develop your error pages to include automatic logging/automatic search. Your users will never see the default error pages and that goes for all the other error pages as well. Get in touch for more information about our web-design and coding services.

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About the author

Lisa-Marie Karvonen Lisa-Marie Karvonen is a web developer and entrepreneur who loves doing all things WordPress related. She's the head honcho at her own coding company called Crafty Coding that serves customers worldwide. She also owns and runs two subsidiary companies in Finland called Hämeen Nettisivut and Hämeen Kielipalvelut. You can find her personal blog here.

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