When I first moved to Washington, I found the city’s inhabitants to be fairly unwelcoming. I decided to do my part to change that and create positive interactions for others (read: tourists), mostly by way of giving directions. My husband says I’m a vigilante helper; I see it as being friendly. Either way, it probably explains why I like the recent trends in 404 errors (commonly referred to as “page not found”).
Focus on the User…Including Users Who Get Lost
A while back I attended an event on user experience. A key takeaway was that user experience doesn’t stop at design and usability – it includes everything from site speed to page layout to the spacing between lines of text. The speaker encouraged us to think about the message on 404 pages, the default for which is similar to “this page does not exist.” This, of course, is not helpful. If the page existed, I would be reading it now, and the standard text has given me little instruction on what to do next.
Use Your 404 Page as a Messaging Opportunity
People are bound to get lost, so why not help them find their way? Not only might they feel better about their experience on your site, but it gives you another messaging opportunity.
Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s team knows this and so used their 404 page to encourage volunteer signups. Bernie Sanders left a video message on his 404 page, instructing the user to scroll down, which is where the email signup form is conveniently placed. In both cases, the primary call to action – getting involved – the main focus of the page.
Taoti recently launched a site for Walter P. Moore, who used their 404 page to provide a narrative walk-through of the new site.
Living Social takes a more visual approach by combining a large, inviting picture of a beach with a link to their Escape packages, along with a few other useful calls to action.
In fact, custom 404 pages are becoming so popular that competitions are springing up to encourage creativity.
An Easy Way to Customize Your 404 Page
First, consider your site’s goals and primary action items. Who are your main audience members, what do you want them to see or do on your site, and what are they looking for most often? Use this to craft your message for the 404 page.
Then, post your message on a new basic content page. Grab the node ID of the new node, and then navigate via the admin bar to Configuration > Site Information. Under the Error pages section, for Default 404 (not found) page, enter the ID of the node you have created (example: node/123). Be sure to use a relative URL. And while you’re at it, consider creating one for the Access Denied page as well!
(Image credit: CCC)