The 404 page is your friend

Melanie Seibert over at Razorfish writes:

If you’re in charge of content for a website, befriending your 404 page is important. It can turn an otherwise unsatisfactory user experience into an okay—or even delightful—one. I know this may be tough for some of us to accept—me included. But a 404 is not the end of the world.

Prevention is obviously key, but sometimes 404s just happen. So what then? Jakob Nielsen writes that the guidelines for creating effective error messages have not changed in 20 years:

  • Be polite ("Sorry, we can't seem to find...");
  • clearly indicate that something went wrong and use simple language ("An error has occurred because that page no longer exists.");
  • advise next steps ("Have you tried searching?" or "Tell us what happened."). 

Here are some of our favourite 404s:

  • Twitter - Everything is here, plus a "thanks for noticing". Nice touch. 
  • StackExchange - Clear, concise. Also clever but not annoyingly so.
  • GitHub - What better way to say to geeks "We love you and we're sorry" than Star Wars and a parallax animation?

A few that need some work:

  • Oh, Google... Funny how you don't follow your own advice.
  • Mashable - Is it an error page? We're not sure. 
  • Drupal.org - The Drupal default 404 is near and dear to my heart in that it causes a horrible burning sensation every time I look at it. 

What are some of your favourites? Write to us, and make sure to check out Melanie's great article, Making friends with the 404 page.