Published: 16/02/2016 | AUTHOR: Emily Bray
The 404 error page. Once a humourless and, quite frankly, annoying page that halted your user journey and often made you forget what it was you were searching for in the first place.
Now, however, in the competitive world of contemporary website design, web developers are unafraid to show their comedic side and use their talents to create 404 pages that you might actually want to find.
What is a 404 page?
A 404 is the term for a page that appears when a web user types in a URL that either no longer exists, is broken or has been mistyped. You may have come across them many times before and thought nothing more of them but in terms of the user journey on a website they are incredibly important.
‘A 404 page is what a user sees when they try to reach a non-existent page on your site’
A user may come to a website’s 404 error page through no fault of the website. The user may have mistyped the URL and ended up there by accident, but what a website doesn’t want at this stage is to lose that user through a poorly designed webpage. Before we get into the fun stuff, there are many key functions that a 404 page should possess in order to retain the attention and interest of the web user. As discussed in this previous article on user onboarding and the user experience, websites need to give their users something that holds their interest and if you have a poorly designed 404 page that doesn’t give a clear path of where to go next, you could lose that user and many others like them.
A successful 404 page
Google outlines several factors for making a successful 404 in this article and it’s primarily about providing the user with options to help them best find what they were looking for originally. Here’s a basic checklist for a 404 error page.
After the basic factors have been checked, many brands and marketing agencies look to inject a bit of humour into their 404. It works as a great opportunity to not only engage the user but show off their developers’ skills. So what makes a good 404 page?
Aesthetically pleasing web pages are always going to engage the user. If a page is pleasing to the eye, you’re more likely to assume the whole website is designed in such a way and continue your search.
Ringtone-making service Audiko offers a great example of how impeccable visuals can make for an error page that makes you think twice about leaving a site.
Laughter is good for the soul. It’s also good for your bounce rate. 404 pages give a good opportunity to show your company’s personality and sense of humour, so why not use this to your advantage.
Blogger David Barton has used his site’s 404 page at Limpfish as space to inject a little more humour into his already witty website.
Perhaps one of the most famous errors that people actually look to find, rather than avoid, is the cleverly designed page by web design blog Nouveller. Taking inspiration from Jurassic Park, it invites you to hack the Console but just be careful, three unsuccessful strikes – we mean attempts – and you’re out.
They even wrote a blog post on the creation of a page, which we think pays testament to the importance of 404s and the role they play in the user journey and, now, the overall brand image.
While humour and other engaging tricks are often successful, if there’s no way of linking back to the brand the page can, ironically, get a little lost; or at least its message and purpose can. Subtle branding can really add to a 404 whilst keeping the user journey flowing.
Social media management tool Hootsuite uses brand appropriate themes to its full advantage with its 404 page. The Hootsuite owl has become instantly recognisable so using it in the 404 page works perfectly whilst making a joke about the owl, and the user, being lost.
All in all, what these examples illustrate is that it’s no longer seen as a waste of time or resources to put effort into a website’s 404 page and it actually has a great deal of benefit for the website and the company behind the website.
If you’d like to talk about your ideas for your website’s unique 404 page, get in touch, we love brainstorming. In the meantime, this might be the first time a website has ever asked you to take a look at an error page, but hey, we’re rather proud of it - check out our 404 page.