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A guide to 404 pages

Graham Miller Posted by Graham Miller Email Graham
A guide to 404 pages

When users accidentally access a broken link or missing web page, what can you do to help them?

You get sent a link or follow a link from Google and you see a message similar to "404 - Page not found" but what does this actually mean? 

Simply put, if you try and access a page and it isn't there anymore then your website will return a "404 error code" which means the page is simply not there. This can happen for a number of reasons:

  • You've accessed a mistyped link
  • The website owners have removed that page
  • It's an old link that the user found listed on a search engine

This sounds like something really bad?

People make mistakes but in addition to letting users know that the page is unavailable, the good news is that we now have their attention. A good 404 page design should get users to explore your website and find what they were looking for rather than heading straight for their back button.

What makes a good 404 page design?

Most people don't know what '404 error' means so that's why we like to make these pages feel a little more human.

Educate - let users know how this error could have happened. It's better to understand that this could be a mistake rather than mistakenly blame your website for the error.

Guide - if users were looking for something in particular then help them get there. Guide them back towards your homepage, search functionality or show them popular links. An even better idea is to try and use the data in their mistyped URL as a guide on where to send them next i.e. if the error page was /blogg/ then it's a fair guess to say that they might have been looking for your blog.

Spotify's 404 page plays on Kayne West's "808s and Heartbreak"

Entertain - a lot of websites like to use humour as a welcoming tool to their brand/website. It may not be suitable for yours but it's a great way of bringing some levity to a situation where a customer found themselves in an unfortunate situation. Good examples of this include:

Get in touch

We can help your improve your website with simple but effective ideas such as this. If you're interested in working with us, please get in touch and let us see what we could do for you.