Every webmaster knows that the most annoying words a user can see on screen are “Something Went Wrong”, and this is especially true with 404 error pages.
A 404 error occurs when a user is looking for a particular page that could not be found on the server. It’s a type of landing page that you don’t want your visitors to encounter, but unfortunately, it happens. No website has zero issues 100% of the time, and as your site grows, identifying every broken or expired link becomes more and more difficult. That’s why you need a user-friendly way to acknowledge this problem.
A clever 404 error page presents great opportunities to improve the user experience. It can help you show off your brand personality and let your audience know that you care about them. So, by investing some time and effort into your 404 page design you can ensure that even though a user might not have found the information that they were looking for, it’s not all bad.
What makes a good 404 error page? What should you include and how can you snazz up your message? Well, let us show you.
A 404 Error is…
This type of error page responds to a standard HTTP error code that tells users that the website or webpage they were trying to reach couldn’t be found on the server.
The 404 is a client-side error and it means that the person mistyped the URL, that the webpage was moved or removed, or the URL wasn’t updated accordingly.
Essentially, when a 404 error page appears it means something went wrong. The important thing to remember here is that errors happen, and it’s what you do with them that matters.
Two Main Approaches to 404 Page Design
According to JustInMind, there are two main approaches to an error page design.
- The Bare Bones Page. A simple page with a simple error message, notifying users that the page they requested could not be found.
- The Soft Page. A more creative and detailed page, designed to show users that even though something has gone wrong, everything will be okay in the end.
A 404 Error Page Is an Important Branding Opportunity
Ideally, every webmaster would rather that their users don’t see a 404 error page altogether. However, when websites are updated mistakes can happen and some links may no longer work.
Even though you can do your best to reduce the times when a 404 error appears, you cannot remove the need for it completely. Hence, it’s better to be proactive and create a page design that can transform a poor user experience into a pleasant one.
This will increase the chances of users continuing to browse your site, thus helping you strengthen your brand image, reducing your turnover rate and improving your SEO. Furthermore, it will allow you to build trust with your visitors while also softening the blow from the missing page.
6 Key Elements of a Clever 404 Error Page
A clever, cost-effective, and simplistic 404 page design is what you should aim for. You needn’t spend thousands of hours and dollars to produce a page which ideally no one should see. Yet you should still put the right amount of effort to make the most of it.
Here are six key error page design elements you should include (plus a bonus one) to ensure your 404 serves its purpose well.
1. A Clear Error Message
Although our society is digitally literate, don’t assume everybody knows what a 404 error is. As mentioned before, this is not a page users should see that often and so they shouldn’t be accustomed to it.
To help users immediately recognize they have landed on a 404 page, include a clear error message. Let them know what the issue is in a plain, simple and helpful way.
Be cautious with your word choice. Don’t go for the machine-like “404 Error: Page Not Found” message. Instead, go with: “Sorry! We Couldn’t Find the Page You’re Looking for” or “Whoops! The Page You’re Looking for is Gone.” Then, briefly explain the reason for the message.
TIP: Say sorry even if it’s not your fault. It will show the visitor that you care.
2. A Branded Look
Your custom 404 error page, even though “hidden” is still part of your site. As such it should contain the same visual and branded elements as the rest of your online mediums. – logo, fonts, colors, header, and it should maintain the same overall unique brand identity and style.
3. Functional Links to Your Site
A 404 error page’s main purpose is to quickly redirect users in the right direction. Hence, to effectively achieve this it must be functional. This means including the following three components:
- A link to your homepage – A basic element you shouldn’t forget.
- A menu – To help with navigation and keep your design consistent.
- Links to your best content – Include three to four links to high-quality content that your visitors might find interesting. The goal is to avoid losing traffic as much as you can and point visitors in the right direction.
- A search field – This will give visitors the opportunity to search for the content they had in mind, which will give them the chance to browse some more of your content.
4. A Call to Action
If you think of your 404 error page as a type of a landing page, then you should apply the same logic. This means adding a call-to-action (CTA) to navigate visitors to other pages of your site instead of don’t leaving it.
Possible CTA to include are:
- A “Go back” or “Go to Homepage” button.
- A search bar to type in new keywords.
- A list of popular pages or posts.
This will add more value to your error page, capturing the visitor’s interest and acting as a lead magnet.
5. Some Light Humour
A funny element like a witty quote, a meme or a funny illustration is always welcomed when notifying about a 404 error. It makes the page entertaining and the user experience less frustrating. Just be careful not to overdo it.
A humorous error page design will help your visitors smile thus keeping them on your website longer. Not to mention, if it’s really amazing, users may even tell their peers about it. What a fun(ny) way to improve brand visibility and retention!
6. A Simple Design
Including all the above-mentioned elements smartly is what will ultimately make or break your 404 error page. Creating a design that is filled to the brim with visuals and links to every possible page of your website will definitely reach the limit of your frustrated visitor’s patience.
Less is always more. The best designs are those that can achieve their goals in the simplest way possible. A minimalistic 404 error creative will ensure that this page serves its purpose more efficiently. Furthermore, it will showcase that you have the skills to create a sophisticated and functional design.
[Bonus] 7. A Special Deal
A bonus way to leverage your 404 error page is to present your visitors with a deal they cannot refuse. By offering a 10% discount, for example, you can reduce potential user disappointment, encourage them to go back to your website and even profit from the situation.
If you decide to include a special deal on your error page, make sure to communicate your generosity in an empathetic way. For instance, you can add a message like “Our sincere apologies for this inconvenience. Let us make it up to you with this special deal.”
Some Witty 404 Page Designs to Inspire You
The music streaming platform took a witty and creative spin to their 404 error page. From the simple pastel background, the “Go back” button, and clever design of the record player and its “404s and heartbreaks”, is one well-planned page.
Mailchimp’s website is all about branding and personality, therefore their 404 page doesn’t let us down. Their clear message and witty branded illustration says it all.
Medium presents to us a wonderful and classic error page that delivers a great user experience with minimalistic design, the right font and copy, and a clever message comforting users that only by getting lost they can discover something new.
As a company that takes brand personality very seriously Airbnb’s 404 page is a total hit. Using humor and flare, they know how to make the user experience much less frustrating.
This is a great example of a 404 error page design that takes a poor user experience and turns it into an opportunity to make a sale. The copy is clear with light humour and a strong CTA.
A clever 404 error page design is a marvelous opportunity to show off your creativity and encourage your users to continue their journey on your website. It gives reassurance that despite something going wrong, everything will be alright.
A great 404 page has a soft, branded, and functional design with a clear error message. To offset the user’s frustration to the best of your abilities you can also include some light humor or even a special deal.
What is your take on what a 404 error page design should look like? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.