What every “404 Error” Page should have

404 Error Pages are a necessary part of the web and you just have to accept they crop up from time to time. However we should be mindful of helping our site visitors gain the information they seek as efficiently and painlessly as possible.

Recognition?
Design the page so that it is recognisably the business/website the user is looking for and is consistant with the brand. Keep the Primary navigation in place – don’t hide it. This will aid those who clicked an expired URL in an email or referenced an outdated publication to navigate back to your home page, key product or services pages. The below page from www.thefwa.com ain’t that useful to anyone – if you are navigating around the site and hit a snag, you have to hit the back button  – most users are not even sure if you are on the correct site or not.

Standard Windows IIS Server 404 Error Page
Standard Windows IIS Server 404 Error Page

You were looking for?
Actually display what the users typing efforts inputted into the URL address bar – a 2nd inspection could reveal a typo and not everyone has the address bar visible (Full screen F11 browsing) all the time.

Key site areas:
People visit your site for a reason – you know what this is via your analytics. Breakdown the key site sections into a neat array of alternatives, which readily present areas of interest. www.apple.com website is slick in this regard.

Search:
If your site has a search facility, putting this plumb in the middle of the page, will allow users to start looking for what they are after within your site. Particularly if you have predictive search enabled, then this will further assist wayward site users in finding what they are after. Highlighting it like the www.dailymirror.co.uk is a nice and visually subtle way to draw attention to the facility.

Offer Instructions,Tips & Guidance:
Don’t be shy – offer instructions about what a site visitor can do to improve their search, including use of operators like “and”, “or” and use of “quotations” to contextualise word groups etc. On that, direct people to the search – state the obvious.

Layout your Site Map:
A general layout, again as iillustrated by the Daily Mirror above will prove useful in guiding your users to finding the appropriate area of the site they are interested in.

Top 5 most recently searched items:
If someone is visiting a website, chances are they actually are looking for something they have either heard the business does or they want to find out something they heard recently about the business. Offering the 5 top search items, generated by popularity is a helpful way to offer possible relevence to the site vistors.

News/Cross Promotion:
Just 3 headlines will do. It won’t hurt search engine ranking and page update relevence. In addition, again, based on the fact if someone is specifically looking for something, the fact that the latest news is presented, increase the likelihood of engaging users directly with what the business is currently communicating.

Offer some light hearted humour:
People take things too seriously at the wrong times. Inject some humour into your 404 messages.

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