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Have you ever searched for a website and clicked on a link only to be met with a generic “404 error” message? 404 error messages were designed to let an internet user know that the web page they are trying to reach is either malfunctioning or does not exist. Creating your custom 404 error page allows users to be redirected instead of leaving them stuck in internet limbo and wondering where to go next.

When designing your 404 error page, you must first determine what you want it to say. Most 404 error pages should include either one or a combination of the following messages:

  • A simple message to notify your visitor that the webpage in question no longer exists
  • A search box that would allow the user to find an alternative webpage
  • A link to your domain sitemap
  • A direct link to your website home page

The design of your 404 error page should be similar to, or the same as, the rest of your website. Having a beautifully designed website but a generic 404 error page is like forgetting to paint a room in your home. Taking the time to make your 404 error page user friendly will let your visitors know you were concerned about your appearance and about making their experience on your site as simple as possible.

Avoid automatically redirecting users who try to see an invalid page to your domain home page. This is very confusing to those who click on a link and can not figure out why they can’t get past your home page.

Not sure what to do with your 404 error page aside from leaving it as-is? Smashing Magazine hosted a contest a while back, asking users to submit examples of their favourite 404 error pages. The results ranged from funny to sophisticated, but none were boring! Check out the article by visiting the article 404 Error Pages, One More Time.

Get creative with your 404 error pages. It doesn’t have to be technological, boring, or impersonal – as so many already are. You can include whatever you want as long as it matches the tone you’ve already set with the rest of your website and gives your visitor the information they really need to find what they’re looking for in the first place.