Four-oh-four

It’s the page you get when there is no page. For the user it’s the frustrating error message when you’ve typed in the wrong URL, or clicked on a link to a page that has been removed from a site. For the website, or company providing the website it’s an opportunity.

Renny Gleeson has a funny take on the whole thing at TED.

I think “breaking a relationship” is a bit too far, but I agree that 404 pages are an opportunity.  Many companies have taken the opportunity to provide help to their customers and manage to have some fun with their 404 pages including;

  • Coca cola; offers some choices to help you, uses simple English, and manages to include the word “refreshing” which links to their brand.
  • Siemens; apologises, offers some help, and includes a fuzzy graphic as if you’ve gone to non-existing tv channel – points slightly to their brand as a technology player.
  • Suredev; admonishes visitors as if they’ve broken something, it’s an approach that not all companies could get away with, they also provide some links and a search bar.

I was really disappointed with the SouthWest Airlines 404 page, they manage to do so much that it cool it’s a shame they haven’t paid a little attention to their error page.

A good error page should

  • help the visitor get back on track, by giving them links or a search box.
  • provide a way to contact the webmaster
  • use plain language – avoid tech speak (so the technical message “404 file not found” shouldn’t be there)
  • connect to your brand – by design, by tone of voice, by the use of humour (where appropriate)

It’s inevitable that customers will occasionally land on the 404 page, the least website managers can do is make it helpful and clear, add a connection to your brand you’ve got a more positive experience for those customers who got a little lost on your site.

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