404 No More

Things really are what you make them. I was reading Adrants today and came across a post that immediately caught my eye. It spotlights the efforts of Smashing Magazine to compile the most interesting, original, and user-friendly 404 pages that websites have cleverly crafted for their users. Love it. This way, if you happen to lose your way online or accidentally type in an extra “f” or “p” or whatever key it is your fingers seem to be most torpidly drawn to when you speed-type, you will be met with a fun and funky experience that doesn’t make you want to kill yourself or make you feel awesomely frustrated, impotent, or totally ripped off.

Let me explain what I mean. Recently at work we had a situation where, because of updates to a client’s site, several pages were being pulled down. In their place, we had to add in a corporate version of the 404 page—something along the lines of “Thank you for your interest in such-and-such. We are currently working on updating the information on this page. Check back again soon.” Boring! And totally lame. If I was a user who had bookmarked that page or typed in the URL thinking I was pretty smart so I could get to it directly, I would feel cheated. What the hell! A total bump in the road when it comes to smooth online navigation. I have some thoughts on this:

  1. Why not add in some links directing the user to other sections of the site? No need to make these pages dead ends.
  2. Be creative and make the user want to come back in the future to check for updates. Unless you’re a click-happy loser with OCD, I can’t imagine anyone checking that page again anytime soon.
  3. Be more specific and transparent. Why is this page unavailable or “currently in construction”? I think it’s a great opportunity to engage with users by giving them a sneak peak at what’s coming. Or if the page is never to be available again, then be creative and make the user glad that they got lost on your site.

404 pages usually blow chunks. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and thanks to the efforts of many a crafty individual out there, users are getting something extra that makes the online experience that much more compelling.


federico said...

Good article, I think 404 pages can be really frustrating. At least for me, not being an internet freak, is quite boring when I get these kind of pages. there´s no information whatsoever, you have no where to go from there. So it would be really helpful trying to innovate with useful info or links that can let you know why this shit happens. For me, an extremely bad internet surfer would be great.

alf said...

What I do in some pages for my clients (and luckily got implemented at the office too) is make a link of contextually related links:

if the user came to the page of a no longer existing skin diseases, we have a list of other pages within the site about skin disease, and so on, we just gotta look for keywords and their usual typos in their 'mistaken' urls.