We all, at some point in our lives, must have witnessed the ‘404’ error message while browsing over the internet. The reasons behind this error message are quite simple. Either the page has been renamed, removed or moved from its previous location. The term 404 is not an understandable term for a common man. Therefore, whenever a not-so-technical person encounters this error message, the only option left for him is to either close the window or go back. A person related to IT will definitely understand the technicalities behind the 404 message.
If you are a webmaster, you need to make sure that your visitors do not end up on 404 pages. There are numerous ways to avoid having these 404 pages on your website and today we are going to discuss those ways. Trust me on this; even if your website is working absolutely fine, your visitors are bound to get a 404 error message at some point. If your visitors get to encounter this error once in a blue moon, that should not be an issue as you won’t be losing out on a visitor but if such error messages are too often, visitors will stop coming to your website. Make it a fun 404 page, similar to a fun postcard printing campaign an ad agency would use.
Following are a few tips for you to improve the 404 kind error messages so that you can make lives easier for those who are encountering these messages.
Using IT Terminology Should be Avoided
If someone ends up on 404 error page, he would definitely want to know the reason behind it. However, you do not have to explain them things in a technical terminology because 90% users won’t understand whatever you are trying to explain them. Using technical jargon is never a good idea with a common man.
A few users might be able to understand the technicalities behind the error message and this will make them click on the ‘back’ button and simply return. Since most of the people won’t understand the message, you should simply change the term 404 into something. For instance, page not found is a more suitable term for a common man. This will make him understand that the page he is trying to visit is no longer available and he will go back to the previous page. 404 terms will leave him confused with nowhere to go.
Help the User in Solving Matters
The page and the problem should be self explanatory. Provide users with some tips or steps to help them in getting the issue resolved on their own. In some cases, users end up on 404 pages because they have misspelled something in the link. So, the error message should definitely ask the user to check the spellings again to make sure that he entered the correct link. This is not supposed to solve the problem every time but in rare cases, checking the spellings of the link might help the user in accessing the page.
Educate Your Visitors
Do not leave everything on the imagination of your visitors. Redirecting them back to the home page is not a very good idea. If they have received a certain kind of error message on your website, they have every right to know what brought them to that page. If you are an IT person, you will know it for sure that 404 error message might contain a lot of complex reasons but simple reasons can be explained to the visitor. As mentioned earlier, mostly, visitors will encounter this error message if the page has been moved, deleted or renamed.
So, try explaining them the reasons and then try to give them a solution for it. For instance, if the page has been moved or renamed, they can always use the search feature to search it. Show some reasons for the problem and give some solutions to the user. There is nothing wrong about this error message because even the biggest websites have come across such error messages so instead of feeling bad about it, educate your users about it.
Apologizing to the User
I have seen a lot of ‘oops’ kind of messages on such pages which are very rude. It sounds like you are blaming the user for reaching that page. If your website is having issues, you should be apologizing to the visitor in the most humble manner because in most cases, the user is not there because of his own mistakes.
Do not Make Your User Go in Circles
Apart from explaining them the reasons behind the error message, try to help them as well in finding whatever they were looking for in the first place. Give links to the most famous articles of your website. Also, any changes in the pages that have been made recently on your website, give links for the new pages so that the user can find the actual page he is looking for. Do not leave your use stranded on your website. He will definitely come back to your website if you will help him in finding his way.
Link to Homepage
There should always be a link to homepage on 404 error page. The user cannot simply sit and look to that page. Help him return to your homepage in order to be able to learn more about you. If they find something more interesting in your website, the 404 error message just might get out of their mind so make sure that there is always a link to your homepage on your error pages.
If users are getting error messages on your website, the might want to contact you regarding issues being faced on the website. You should provide users with a contact form or an email address through which they can contact you and discuss their problems with you. Help them in reporting the problem to you and make sure that you apologize to them for any sort of inconvenience.
The Design of 404 Error Page
The error page should come across as your own website’s page. In most cases, such error pages are very simple. Try using the same font, color schemes on this page as you have used on your homepage. Users should not feel that they have come to a completely new website when they encounter this error message. Remember, harmony is very important in all pages of a website even error pages.
Amending the Broken Links
Without any delays, if you receive a complaint regarding 404 error messages, fix them right away. I have seen that there are some online brochures and flyers which constantly shoe an error message. Your website needs a regular QA check so that you can make sure all links are up and running. This is the only way to avoid 404 error messages from appearing on your website too often.
Either it is a printing service website, a design blog or even an online calendar, 404 error can occur to any web-based interface. The points mentioned above will definitely help you in getting rid of such error messages of getting them resolved instantly. However, as mentioned in the beginning, even the biggest websites can encounter these error messages so do not make an issue out of these error pages. You need to design your 404 page in a very informative way so that even after ending up on an error page, user should not leave your website with a frustration. An apology, explanation, solution and ways to contact you will cool down and visitor.