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What to put on
A 404 PAGE?

What to put on a 404 page

Jon Volks
Written By | @webproninja

Okay, so you’ve setup an awesome website and got some amazing content that you want to share with the world. Next you’re going through the healthy website checklist and realize that you need to create a 404 page. Ugh. You have to put spend your precious time into putting thought into what is going to go on this 404 page. Unfortunately you can’t always determine how users will arrive on your site, and a 404 error could be the first page they see. So what needs to be done to keep the user on your site and not hitting the back button.

The Design for the 404 Page

First lets start off with the design, ditch the default. The 404 page should have a similar design to the rest of your site though it doesn’t need to be exact. BE CREATIVE AS POSSIBLE but keep elements from your existing template such as the color scheme and logo. It’s a bit of pride with web administrators to come up with something creative (and generally funny). No doubt you’ve seen a list of top 33 entertaining¬†404 pages or 24 clever 404 pages. Maybe your design could make one of these lists some day. If you have a creative and funny 404 page, send me a link to it and I may feature it in a future blog post.

The Text

Okay next, lets work on the wording for the page. It shouldn’t be overly technical. Avoid using the word 404 unless it’s a little ways down the page. Most likely the a person who sees it won’t know what a 404 response actually means. Also keep it pretty basic and make sure your not blaming the user for the fault.

Offer valid reasons as to why the page does not exist, incorrectly spelled URL, out dated information, or link they came from was incorrect.

The Links

First and foremost, make sure you have a link to home page. A few other links might be helpful as well such as a link to the site map (if it exists) and a link to report the broken link. Many sites also offer links to popular posts and articles. I’d avoid just rehashing your page navigation. If you really feel you should have it, perhaps just include your header if you used a different design. ¬†The big reason for not using it as the 404 page has a tendency to be the last thing a web administrator thinks about and might not get the updated navigation when it changes.

Search

This is a personal preference of mine to add a search form right on this page. I’ve been finding that websites with lots of pages, it’s easier to just do a quick search form rather than try to dig through navigation items to find the content your looking for. It’s also a great way to see what people are searching for when they arrive on a 404 page. Perhaps it will show some patterns in which you can exploit.

Lastly

Make sure the 404 pages actually returns a 404 response code to the browser. This is important as you don’t want search engines indexing this page and thinking it has valid content.

What elements do you have on a 404 page? Share with me below in the comments.

About The Author

Jonathan Volks is currently a Web Programmer at Skidmore College in Upstate New York. He enjoys everything about the Internet; from Search Engine Optimization to Web Programming. His hobbies include landscape photography and hiking the Adirondacks.

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