Error pages. We’ve all seen them (usually when we’re looking for something we really want). Sometimes they help us. Sometimes not. But most often, they’re dead ends – telling us little more than ‘page not found’ and leading us no further.
Why? It’s so easy today to create custom error pages. Why don’t more site owners do so?
While error pages can certainly be a pain the butt for our visitors, they can also be an opportunity. How?
First, it can be an opportunity not to frustrate our visitors or make them feel stupid. Nothing does both more than ‘404ï¿½ – Page Not Found.’
Second, the error page can offer great opportunity to shine and show you’re take the extra step in customer service. Imagine if your error message said, “Page not found. Ah, looks like you’ve stumbled onto a bad link that I haven’t found yet. I’m sorry. This is certainly not your fault. Here, check out the options below and see if that helps you find what you’re looking for.” Then, give them a site map.
Quite a bit better, huh? I add a similar message on my error page. Then I use Dagon Design’s WordPress Sitemap Generator Plugin to generate a sitemap right on my error page. This way, visitors have a better chance of finding what they want. The reason I chose DD’s plugin is because it’s highly configurable. To the point that I can easily exclude pages from my site map – pages like redirects after form submissions, for instance.
Using WordPress, Rick Cockrum takes another approach. He sites Brandon Wood’s approach from Building a Better 404 Page for WordPress. Brandon added automatic search results to his 404 page, using the keywords from the broken URL. With a small script from Doug Karr, Brandon was off and running.
You should take a look at Brandon’s error page. It works pretty nice. The real test will be in what results it brings up based on what visitors are looking for. I’m going to put Doug’s script on my error page soon and give it a once-over. Thanks to Rick, Brandon and Doug.
There are other approaches to your 404 error page. My suggestion is offer something that will benefit your audience. That way, you can take a negative and quickly turn it into a positive.