If a user enters a URL incorrectly, clicks on a broken link or tries to access a deleted page, an error 404 page appears. You get annoyed. And then try it again….

Although the design of a classic 404 page generally depends on your internet provider, most of them have two things in common: they offer no helpful information whatsoever and they look terrible. This sends users away in droves. They’re gone, and they’re not coming back.

Make sure that the user stays on your site
An individual, visually appealing 404 page may be enough to ensure the user stays on your site. For example, a well-defined error 404 page includes a brief apology for the dead end, a link to the homepage and perhaps links to other pages that are regularly accessed on the site. There should also always be a link to the webmaster, which enables the site visitor to report the problem. Some webmasters take great care in the design, conception and wording of their site’s 404 page, because they know that a well-designed page can ease irritation and even give the visitor a dose of good vibes.

Things to pay attention to
First of all, the page’s function has to stay the same, i.e. to generate a 404 status code for users and search engine spiders. It is not supposed to be indexed by search machines! Secondly, as the 404 page can be a standard HTML page, you’ve got all the design options you could possibly need. Take advantage of these options! But bear in mind that the page is there to bring your visitors back to the ‘right’ web page.

How to turn your frown upside down when encountering an error 404 page

Here are a few tips:

  • Make it clear to the visitor straight away that the page they wish to access has not been found. Saying this in a friendly and even humorous way helps them to overcome their initial disappointment.
  • Coordinate the 404 page with the rest of your website.
  • Useful links help the visitor to return to key pages with just one click. Do this by controlling navigation for the rest of your website. Alternatively, add links to the start page, sitemap, overview page or most important (and most read) pages.
  • Give users the chance to report a broken link. Very few will actually do so, but there are always a handful of friendly souls who will happily draw your attention to a problem.
  • If you haven’t set out to win the booby prize for the best 404 page, it’s unlikely you’ll be interested in the fact that search machines index your site. Make sure that your web server actually sends out a 404 HTTP status code if a non-existent page is accessed.

A couple of amusing examples
If you need a little inspiration for your 404 page, we have found a few good examples for you.

And you? Do you know cool, funny 404 pages?

How to turn your frown upside down when encountering an error 404 page

Thomas Brühwiler

Thomas Brühwiler is Hostpoint's Head of Communication and also responsible for all activities in the social media field. He was already typing on a Commodore 64 in his very young years – he used to copy pages of BASIC code from magazines. Often he had to accept that the program didn’t run because an error had sneaked into the jumble of characters. Today he cannot imagine his life without computers, in spite of those experiences.