The days of having an uninspiring 404 error page on your website have gone, user experience demands something a little more engaging. So we have provided a few tips on how to handle your 404 pages and some examples of pages to help inspire your creative thinking.
Traditionally, 404 pages are never much fun. They occur when a user runs into an error on your website, such as a broken link, and unless you’ve already developed a custom 404 page, they will look the same every time. For users, they usually signal frustration at finding themselves at a dead-end, and subsequently your bounce rate increases.
Over the past couple of years, 404 pages have had a bit of a transformation. No longer are they the usual, boring and generic error pages. Instead, web designers are coming up with more exciting, engaging and clever ways of greeting users who find themselves in a dark corner on your website where previously they had nowhere to go.
There are several different approaches to take when discussing a strategy with your designer for a new 404 page. Here, we break down 4 of those core methods to remember:
Encourage further engagement
A good 404 page will generally put user experience front and centre. In the past, there was a temptation to explain whatever error had occurred to the user, usually in an over complex tone. Today, while you may still wish to give a brief explanation of why the user could have arrived at an error page, it’s important not to make it the end of their journey. Instead, a great idea is to keep the main navigation from the rest of the website present, giving users the opportunity to jump off into another page and continue on your site. You may also wish to give them the ability to type a search term in or suggest next steps they could take. The BBC’s 404 page is very simple and to the point, giving users possible reasons for them getting lost, and maintaining the main website navigation to find a way out. This is a simple way for a corporate organisation to offer a helpful explanation and keep within its company communication guidelines.
Make it memorable
More recently, 404 pages have become an opportunity for brands to be a little quirky or humorous, making their 404 page memorable and even a point of interest on social media. For many businesses, making their 404 page a little more unique and interesting is now a must. There are loads of examples of great 404 pages that are unique or bring a smile to your face. South West Trains have kept theirs simple, they have a very unique 404 page written within a train track, and every few minutes a small train steams across your screen on the track. At the quirky and amusing end of the scale, you have Dutch company STG who have used a vintage photograph of singer Lionel Richie, accompanied by the slogan “Hello, is it me you’re looking for?”. Lionel may not be everyone’s cup of tea but we like this.
Promote your brand
Obviously, a company website is one of the most important marketing tools a business has, and so why not treat your 404 page as an extension of the branding or product promotion? A basic first step toward this would be to use a similar layout on your 404 page as on the rest of your website, keeping things on-brand. Then there are the companies that have gone a little bit further. Heinz previously used one of the trademark frustrations of their much-loved tomato ketchup in glass bottles to greet people who have ended up frustrated in their search for content. An empty sauce bottle lays on its side with a small dollop of ketchup hanging from the rim of the bottle. It’s clever in several ways, aside from the humour, it’s on-brand, and featuring one of their most recognisable products.
Make it recognisable
That brings us to the final note, making it recognisable. It’s important to keep in mind that people may arrive on your 404 page from an external source, meaning it’s the first page they visit. This means that it’s vital your 404 page makes it obvious to the user whose website they are on. Lego provide a great example of this with characters recognised from Lego branding and an amusing ‘unplugged’ image.