In a previous post I wrote about how to technically make a 404 page. This post will cover what should go on a 404 page so that your visitors will not be left in the dark.
Some sort of description of what a 404 page is – Whether it is just some text that simply says “something went wrong” or something a little more creative, a 404 page should contain some sort of text that informs the visitor that there was a problem. There is a website showcasing funny 404 pages that you can use for inspiration if you would like to be a little more creative.
A link to the homepage – This is the easiest way for a visitor to get back on track if they are lost in your site.
A search box – If you have a site search, add it to your 404 page. This way people can find a specific page or post on your website. If you do not have a site search, and your site happens to have a lot of 404 pages, you should consider getting one.
Your site’s main navigation and sidebar – Be sure to include your main navigation bar which you include on the other pages of your site. This will give visitors more options for visiting your site.
Contact Info – Provide contact info in case the lost visitor has any questions or trouble.
Automatically notify you (the webmaster) of the 404 – It is not the user’s job to inform you about problems with your website. If you ask visitors to notify the webmaster when they encounter a 404 page, you have not only inconvenienced users, but they will most likely not bother to contact you with your problems. This is your job to fix, not theirs.
If you are using WordPress, the 404 Notifier is a great plugin which can be installed and will send you an email when a user loads a 404 page.
Don’t just say “404 error” – Most users will not know what a 404 error is. If you want to include the error code on your page, at least make sure that you have some sort of description for non-technical users.
Never redirect 404 errors to your home page – It’s confusing to users. If someone clicked a link thinking they would get to one page and they end up on another they will have no idea what happened.
Don’t make it complicated – 404 pages should be kept simple. Don’t add a bunch of other content that does not need to be there.
While it is a problem for the user when they land on a 404 page, there are things that the webmaster can do to help the lost visitor. Follow these tips and hopefully visitors will not bounce off of your website.