The 411 on the 404
When thinking about the 404 page you basically have two options: a generic page or a custom page. We suggest a custom page every time.
We hate it when things don’t go right. Like that late-night need for greasy fast food to quell the raging demons in your well-partied brain and the 24 hour drive through is inexplicably closed. You haven’t used all 24 hours up yet so why is this window not open? Adding insult to injury, there’s no explanation. You just stare at that board of foods not being handed to you through a window and wait for someone to greet you, take your order, and save your brain from the savage snarlings of desire. No one ever comes and you're relegated to ancient meat tubes in a never-ending rotation at the 7-11. When it comes to your website, don’t give your customers old, rotating meat tubes.
When thinking about the 404 page you basically have two options: a generic page or a custom page. If you have the time, the resources and the talent, we suggest the custom page every time.
A custom page gives you a chance to flex your creativity, make an impression, and keep the customer returning to your site. A generic, you’ve reached this page in error or the stand by HTTP 404 not found is really a missed opportunity.
Here are a few things to think about if you go the custom 404 route; First and foremost, be apologetic, have sympathy for the user, remember they were looking for your fabulous, informative, need it right now, website and they’ve run into meat tubes, have a heart.
Put usable information on there that will help them stay on the page or come back to your site later. Let them know about options to move forward from there so they don’t feel like they’ve been left high and dry.
Make sure your 404 page has the same search functionality as the rest of your site so that users can look for the page they intended to visit.
Add links to your home page and sitemap. This should be a design element included in a header or footer that matches the rest of your site.
Carpe 404 and make it memorable. Google has some great ideas for what to include on a custom 404 page in it’s webmaster tools, check those out and make an impression.
Make it clear, don’t use a lot of tech jargon, that’s not what they need at that moment. Have a cool, unique design that uses aspects of your brand, some quirky, fun, clear copy and let it go. Don’t be afraid to look around for a little inspiration then push some boundaries and have some fun.
For inspiration right now, here are five (5) 404 (four-oh-four) pages that we really like:
Five Notable 404 Pages
Mattel, makers of famous toys, has a classic 404 page. They utilize one of their most famous toys, the Magic Eight Ball. When you reach there 404 page, they encourage you to click the eight ball and get some mystical advice. I love the eight ball and have consulted it many a time during my life about college, first wife, second wife, impending wife, should I have one more drink and other such life-changing matters.
If you know the old SNL sketch from 1982 where Eddie Murphy held the fate of Larry the Lobster in his hands and eventually boiled him and ate him on live TV, email center, a UK company, has a 404 page with that same kind of fate in the palm of your hand feel. It’s basically what we all wish would happen to someone when we run into a 404 page. Feel powerful, blame someone and hey, why not add a little schadenfreude to your 404.
IMDB, Internet Movie Database has a very cool 404, with a message that changes constantly. Perfect for movie buffs and those people who love to collect movie quotes. Who likes movie quotes? Shut the f*ck up, Donnie.
NPR has a really good 404 page. It’s not super fancy with a ton of flashy design but, keeping in line with being NPR, it has some cool information about being lost, being in the wrong place and people who have been there. If you’re a history buff or a trivia fanatic, NPR’s 404 page will be a welcome sight.
The artist Steve Lambert has one of my favorite 404 page. It’s a video of him telling you that you don’t have to stay on the 404 page. It’s hilarious because it just goes on and on. Stay for it, it’s worth it. One of those ‘it gets funnier as it goes on’ situations. Worth the look.
Fact is, once in a while some surfer chimp is going to link to a bad URL and you’ll have to be ready with a 404 page. Instead of looking at it as a nightmare, the end of all humanity, look at it as an opportunity. You have a captive audience so, use it to your advantage. Who knows, you may even make meat tubes appealing. No, no, that’s … no, that’s never going to happen.