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Creating Great 404 Pages

Return to Sender, Address Unknown :: 404


The song above is about a man mailing letters to his girlfriend and she continually writes “return to sender” for various reasons, it takes multiple attempts and a proposed final note which he’ll hand-deliver before he’ll finally understand the writing on the letter.

A generic 404 error page doesn’t typically receive the same zealous response as the love-sick man in the song. Face it, we’ve all eagerly clicked a link only to run into a disappointing “File Not Found” page. If your website is sending users to the dreaded 404 rejection page you are losing a lot of valuable traffic and causing undeserved heartache for your guests.

Assuming they do get to the dreaded 404 page – Give your lost visitors a simple way to find their way back to what they were coming to your site to find.

It’s important to draw these people back in to your site before they’re disappointed by the error and click away.

Give your wayward visitors a way to find their way back.

  • Highlight the search box
  • Include a list of your most popular pages
  • Create a Smart 404 page that responds to how the user got there to begin with (this will be covered in our Banana Labs tech post next week!)
  • If the first thing your errant visitors see is a BIG Bold error message 404 they will immediately associate words like ERROR, NOT GOOD, INEFFECTIVE, and just plain BAD with your site.

Make your error page friendly to users.

As tempting as it is to just type out “404 Error. Click here to return home,” a growing number of the population is web savvy and know that if you’re not going to help them find what they’re looking for there are dozens of your competitors waiting in the wings. Even if they are willing to give you a second chance they’ll likely grow even more frustrated with each mouse click.

Mac McCabe

Mac is the lead Project Manager for Montana Banana.

All posts by Mac