The 404 or Not Found error message is an HTTP standard response code indicating that the client was able to communicate with the server but either the server could not find what was requested, or it was configured not to fulfill the request and did not reveal the reason why.
Possible reasons for 404 error pages can be
- click on a broken link
- the page has been deleted
- mistyped URL
Depending on your internet service provider (ISP) the standard 404 page can vary greatly in terms of visual display and information on the error itself. In order to not loose visitors it's strongly suggested to create a custom 404 page. A good custom 404 page will help people find the information they're looking for, as well as providing other helpful content and encouraging them to explore your site further.
Design Guidelines for 404 Pages
A good 404 error page conveys a right message and leads the visitor to where he intends to go:
- Tell visitors clearly that the page they're looking for can't be found.
- Use language that is easy to understand, non-technical, friendly and inviting.
- Display an error message that explains what could have gone wrong.
- Offer means to recover (e.g. list site's naming conventions, spell check functionality, most common problems).
- Offer links to other important links of the site (e.g. most popular, homepage, FAQ).
- Provide a way for users to report a broken link (easy form, email the webmaster).
- Do not display ads.
- Avoid redirection of 301 and 302.
No matter how beautiful and useful your custom 404 page, you probably don't want it to appear in Google search results. In order to prevent 404 pages from being indexed by Google and other search engines, make sure that your webserver returns an actual 404 HTTP status code when a missing page is requested.
Got a nice 404 page?
Send me screenshots of your 404 error pages - I'd love to see them!
Thx to Claude Betancourt who sent me this 404 page (Figure 1) of Dow Jones Indexes telling me that "behind the scenes we capture all CGI and request scope variables, log it and email the admins to correct the error if necessary." Nicely done!
Figure 1: Sample 404 page from Dow Jones Indexes
Another nice one with a funny little video:
Uh-oh, you hit a 404