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BizReport : Internet : September 15, 2009

Don't overlook 404 error page design

There's one website element that is often overlooked by design teams and developers. It's a webpage that isn't promoted or linked to, unless in error, yet consumers get to see it all the same. It's the error 404 page and most are bland, server-generated offerings that can cause potential website visitors to turn on their heels.

by Helen Leggatt

Make the most of a glitch by turning 404 pages, or "page not found" messages, into an engaging experience for the misdirected website visitor. Smooth their furrowed brows and help them out of their predicament. If you don't, they're likely to abandon your website.

Of course, the ideal would be to never have to display a 404 page by keeping all links up to date, but you can't prevent user error. So, make your 404 page work for you, not against, by following some simple rules.

1. Don't bore visitors with technicalities. Most aren't concerned with the problem that caused the error, they just want it rectified. For those that do want technical answers, provide a 'report problem' link or a checklist of the most common reasons for the event.

2. Keep visitors moving forward and remove the temptation for them to click the back button. Provide links to the main areas of the website.

3. Be creative. Just because it is an error page, doesn't mean it should lose its personality. Keep the branding consistent with the rest of the website.

4. Don't simply provide a site search function and expect visitors to repeat their search. Have your website automatically perform a search on their behalf, using the erroneous URL as the search input, and display those results on the 404 page. Site search boxes are helpful, but a more proactive approach upfront will quell a visitor's anxiety.

5. Keep it simple. Ensure visitors can easily determine which action they need to take to proceed by keeping the 404 page clutter-free and concise.

eConsultancy recently formulated a list of 20 of the most engaging custom 404 pages.

Tags: 404 page, customer service, error page, page not found, website design, website development

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