Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fun with 404

We've all seen them, either by clicking on an old link or mistyping a URL in our browser: the 404 "page not found" error page. The number comes from the http standard response code: Oops. Sorry, can't find that page.

One of my co-workers expressed his opinion that users should never get 404/"page not found" errors, that instead the design of the site should be clever enough to place them where they intended to go, or at least close enough. This is a great strategy, and while it may not always be possible, I've seen it put to good effect. As an examepl, if a user is in the middle of directory of services, and mistypes a service detail page URL, the interface could give them the standard 404 page. But instead, it could take them to a searchable a-z list, thus assuming they were trying to look for a particular service based on what they types. Nice, and definitely a better user experience.

All of that said, you still need a page for users to land on when clever site architecture just can't get the job done. Here are a few ideas and suggestions:
  • Don't leave the user at a dead end. Give them some way to continue by offering a sitemap, search feature, popular links or some other way to go somewhere else. Make sure the global navigation and footer is available.
  • If there are any strategies that will help a user be more successful, that help will be appreciated. Keep it simple and brief, though, as users scan more than they read. 
  • Here's even a blog post about monetizing 404 pages.
But why not have some fun? There are some very clever 404 pages out there, here is a collection from All About Technology: 53 Custom Designed "404 Error" Pages Of Big Sites (Shared via AddThis)

Enjoy, and be careful typing those URLs...

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