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Beautiful Mistakes: User Friendly 404 Error Pages

by Holly Hayman on January 28, 2013

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Think of the internet as a room jammed full of people – and you’re speed dating.

The spammers are talking very loudly in quasi-American slang about Mulberry handbags and time-shares. Fashion bloggers are on the left dressed like homeless chimney sweeps. There are coffee-wired reviewers on the right, scantily-dressed social networks lining the walls and a gaggle of gossip columns all trying to catch your eye. No, no and no.

Then all of a sudden, “wow”: perfect hair, perfect clothes and smelling like fresh linen and Mama’s apple pie. You get up the courage to say something and tap them on the shoulder and you’re met with… a blank stare. Maybe a twitch. Not very friendly. How can you make a 404 a destination page in its own right?

The 101 on 404s

Unlike happy 200 responses, a 404 error tells people they’ve come to the wrong place. 404s are most commonly caused by a broken link, misspelled URL or discontinued product, but there’s a whole host of reasons you might want to – or need to – use them. Make sure the page you’re sending people to is as helpful as possible.

Great 404 pages have some collective features:

  • Clearly shows a user they’ve reached a dead end, and why
  • Has a clear link to the Homepage
  • Brimming with contact details
  • Links to popular pages
  • Carries the company branding

The last point here is actually very important, and constantly overlooked. Searchers today are more web-savvy than ever, so having a link suddenly take them to generic “SERVER ERROR. APPLICATION TERMINATES.” is going to make them click away before you’ve got a chance to apologise.

The Good Guys

These are the good guys, sites helping their users wherever they can – even when they don’t know what they’re looking for.

Beginning with upmarket greengrocer Abel & Cole:

Firstly, this is a lovely design that fits seamlessly with their site. Secondly, there’s helpful wording, links to helpful pages and even the shopping basket stays intact.

Secondly, something very simple with a little wizardry from handmade crafting megasite, Etsy:

While there isn’t contact details, there is branding, an explanation and a cute image to distract people. There’s also a search box specifically tailored to the 404 page. Very helpful.

Thirdly, Tesco:

Contact details, link to Homepage, tasty brand logo and clear reasons you’ve reached the blue lagoon. Every little helps.

The Bad Guys

Learn something from your friends above, punks. I can only guess at how many sales these 404 error pages have lost these clowns…

Argos. Derp.

Amazon – surprisingly sparse on help here.


And finally… drum roll please…

Google, how could you? One of the most visited sites on the internet, the number 1 search engine in the world and a multi-billion dollar corporation to boot has a 404 page that’s less useful than a papier-mâché bathtub.

I’d like to award them with the worst 404 page, and a special mention for being masters of “do as I say, not as I do”.

Image Source: Tadson on Flickr

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About the Author

Holly is a Senior Client Manager in charge of ensuring all aspects of her clients’ marketing campaigns run smoothly. Her specialisms include user experience, CRO and project management.

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