Astronaut floating in space

We’ve all come across the dreaded “404 Error – Page Not Found” message on a web page. You’re happily surfing away, then suddenly you get this. Pretty uninspiring and not particularly informative.

This is where the term ‘graceful failure’ comes in. It’s actually okay that you’ve stumbled upon a 404 page, useful in fact, since it’s letting you (and Google) know that you’ve found a broken link – the page doesn’t exist, it’s been moved or you’ve simply typed in the wrong URL – but why not turn the negative user experience into a positive one?

It’s easy enough to set up a custom 404 error page and you’ll likely have seen these styled up to match the website branding. With some creativity and design you can go a lot further to improve user experience, also ensuring that the user stays on your site. To start with you can give the user some information – in plain English, no techy speak here – reasons why they have encountered an error along with some ‘what next?’ options such as returning to the homepage, searching for the page they were after or consulting the site map (which, incidentally, every website should have).

While you’re there why not change the ‘Page not found’ message to something more creative and in tune with your website’s voice? We can go one better than the generic “Oops, page not found” or “Uh-oh, looks like you broke the internet!” by tailoring the message to your own website products or services. Good examples of this are Lonely Planet’s “Some places are great to lose yourself in, but not on this occasion” and KitKat’s “You’ve stumbled across the only kind of break we don’t like”.

Then with the addition of an appropriate image, even video, and some suggestions to help the lost user get back on track you’ve probably turned what was a negative experience into a positive one and kept the visitor on site. Who knows, you may even have enriched their impression of your brand with a little well-placed humour and personality.

So, in summary, when your Content Editor or Web Developer writes your custom 404 error page they should:

  • tell the user what went wrong;
  • offer some useful places to go next; and
  • be creative!

If you don’t know how to do set up or edit a custom 404 page then give us a call – we can do this for you, it’s not a big job. For our 404 page we’ve used an illustration of our balloon with a broken rope, with an explanation of what went wrong using a light-hearted play on words, followed by our site map.

Here are some examples of creative 404 pages we’ve enjoyed stumbling upon:

404 error page example Charles Clinkard
404 error page example Flipping Book
404 error page example Lego
404 error page example Blue Fountain-media-pacman
404 error page example Royal Armouries
404 error page example STG (Lionel Richie)
404 error page example Lost in the Clouds
404 error page example eHarmony
404 error page example Magnt
404 error page example South-west-trains