Sunday, December 12, 2010

You have heard of a '404-Error' before?

If you visit a page of a website that has been moved, deleted or renamed, or if you typed in part of the address wrong yourself or even clicked on a broken link, you’ll see an error telling you that there’s no page at that address. The technical name for this is a ‘404’ error - Page Not Found, and they’re very important to handle correctly.

When your website doesn’t have its own custom 404 error page, website users will see the hosting company's default error screen which isn't all that useful, and starts to create a sense of frustration for website visitors, and in many cases becomes the point of abandonment for the user leaving your website. Once we've driven traffic to a website we certainly don't want to see the user leave without spending time on your site!

It's actually possible to customise your 404 error pages that website visitors will see on your website. This allows you to make the page look exactly like any other page of your website maintaining your branding and professional appearance along with access to your site's navigation menu, but at the same time displaying a clear message to your visitors telling them that the page they were looking for has not been found. A simple example is: “Sorry, it looks like we couldn’t find the page you were looking for”. I also recommend the inclusion of a simple on-page site map or search box, so that the user can quickly locate the area or page of the website that they want to go to and you direct them along their way. Talk to your website designer about any options that they may be able to provide for you in this regards.

Remember that this is the first page a user may see of your website and it’s an error page. They might assume the entire site is down, where actually the only problem is that a page has been renamed.

Some websites even use the 404 page as another place to push their products onto visitors. “We couldn’t find the page you were looking for… so why not have a look at these other items instead…”

I've even seen a few funny customised 404 error messages from companies used to generate 'viral' marketing, and encourage discussion about their company online such as the following:

Every website hosting operating system, and development application has a different manner in which they can implement customised 404 Error Pages, and some are definitely more complex then others. If you think having one sounds like a good idea than I encourage you to shoot through an email to your website designer to see if they can offer you this feature.

If you want any further details on this process and how to implement, or suggestions please let me know.