The Forgotten 404 Page

There’s a page on your site that never gets any love.  You don’t really spend time thinking about it, your readers hate it when they see it and Google dings you for search if you don’t have it set up correctly.  The lowly 404 page…

Admit it, you probably don’t even know what yours looks like.  Why should you?  You setup everything right on the site, then no one should ever see it.

Wrong…no matter how well you run your site, someone will end up seeing your 404 page.  At that point, you can either give them a fighting chance to find what they want, or you can annoy them and send them running for the hinterlands, never to return.

Some serious 404 sins:

  • ‘We don’t need no 404’ – Redirect to another page on your site, but don’t tell the user it’s a 404.  Leave them wondering what the heck happened. This tells the customer you think you know better than they do.  Users love that…
  • ‘Show them the laundry’ – give them some error code and tell them to email it to the system adminstrator, who will promptly ignore it.  Nothing says ‘we’re clueless’ better than asking your users to forward 600 lines of “stack trace message” to the “admin”.
  • You have reached the end of the Internet‘ – give them a cute, funny error, but no other option.  They’ll laugh, while they’re typing in the url for your competitor.
  • Nah Nah Nah, you can’t find it‘ – Tell them the paqe they aren’t looking for isn’t there, and nothing else.  Give them no options and they’ll find one…that doesn’t involve you.

It gets better.  Google has serious issues with sites that implement their 404 pages incorrectly.  Here are their guidelines…

So what should your 404 page be?  Think of it as an intermediate stop for the wayward traveler.  You need to be there, with something warm and inviting to help them find their way.  Think of the it as the “Chamber of Commerce” page for your site.

  • Provide a clear message – “Sorry, the page you are looking for doesn’t exist.  Maybe we moved it…”
  • Provide a solution – “You might find what you need in our search engine, or possibly in the other links we’ve provided below.”
  • If all else fails, let them contact you – Perhaps I’m old school, but I believe their should always be an email address associated with a website.  If you’re really worried about getting spammed, have them send to you via a contact us form that has anti-spam measures in place.

WordPress gets it…their latest default theme has most of this built in.  Take a look at my 404 page, by going here.  It is the stock page, with the exception of the gremlin image I added courtesy of our friends at TheOatmeal.com.So what am I missing…what else would the perfect 404 page have?  You know where the comments form is…

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