GUIDE for making a *really* good 404 page
Please consider why somebody mostly see your 404 page?
- he or she may have mistyped.
- he or she may have clicked on an outdated or incorrect link.
That IS what a 404 causes.
And what does this mean for your user?
According to many usability surveys, most of these users assume that this site is abandoned and so they
will go away and never come back.
Especially if they don't get any information why this error has occured and what they could do
to solve this problem.
I think that is really the most plausible reason why you really have to create your own custom 404 page!
So you are able to make your 404 page much more informative, and provide your visitors with a way to navigate through your site.
Instead of a "File Not Found" and not much else, you can send them an error page with a professional *good* appearance.
So what do you do with it?
It's *really* simple. Here are some tricks and tips.
if you use text, please use "easy to understand for non-technical users-language"
never imply that the mistake is or could be the user's fault
you could start with a simple statement that the requested URL could not be found on your site. So: Never give your user a reason to panic! I recommend not to use the word "error" - can scare off visitors.
give some reasons why the error may have occurred - Remember, most people do not know what "404 error" means. (Perhaps they misspelled the URL or a link was bad?) So try to be helpful - suggest that they double check the link in their browser's address bar.
try it humorous. It is probable that your user will continue surfing your site if you have lighten up his mood before.
Keep the visitor moving! Allow people to go somewhere other than back. So you need to allow your visitor to keep travelling through your whole web site.
if there is a lot of content, I recommend to include your site's menu or a site map on the 404 page to give visitors a fast and easy way to continue exploring instead of clicking away.
include a contact information, a link to email the webmaster or a form to submit broken links. (People are more likely to use a form than send an email, some users will not bother to do nothing of both, but you still need to give them the opportunity)
include a search feature if your web site supports and if you have the skills for it. Even when users can't guess the current URL, they may be able to specify a query to locate the desired information
the 404 page should appear very fast. so you should really consider if it is worth to use large images.
I think it is really important that your user thinks he is still on your site. So make the page look and feel similar to the rest of the pages on your site.
be sure your page is over 512 byte in size - Some browsers will not display error pages that are smaller than this.
You don't have to follow all points exactly, but if a visitor gets none of the above, he or she will probably leave your site and never come back. So why you should risk this and not use your error pages effectively?
Do you know any other things that makes a good 404? Please drop me a line.