Fortunately you can design this error page, so that you are able to guide your visitor back to your website. This tutorial will show you how to design this page.
Advise your visitors about their mistake
404 errors appear, if…
.. the visitor has typed a wrong url,
.. the search engine linked to an old page of your website,
.. the page has been moved or deleted
At first your visitors will proceed on the assumption that they have not done anything wrong, when they land on a 404 page. Just create a little hint that this could have happened. If you emphasize this hint with a little bit of humour, they will forget about their disappointment and continue with their search on your site.
A well designed 404-page motivates visitors to search for their desired page again. Give it a personal touch and your visitors will get the feeling that there are real people that care about their problem.
Internet users often come from other sites or search engines to your site. When you change your url or delete a page, these visitors will land on your 404 page. If you customize it and try to think about the questions these users might have in this situation, you will loose less visitors in the long run.
Create the 404 error page
If you want to use your own customized 404 page, e.g. 404.php, you have to add the following line into your .htaccess file:
ErrorDocument 404 /404.php
After that you save your 404.php into your root directory and start to design the 404.php. Now when a visitor gets an incorrect url on your site, they will be redirected to your custom 404 page, because the .htaccess file controls what your visitors will see if an error appears.
Structure and elements of a 404 error page
The following questions for a 404 page will guide you step-by-step to create a helpful 404 page. In general it should be designed as plain and helpful. Visitors – especially foreign visitors – prefer to click on “Back” instead of exposing with a complex 404 page. Still there are certain questions that every error page should answer.
Make clear that this is just an error page, where there is still a chance that your web page includes the content, the user was searching for.
Where am I?
Show your logo and an intelligent slogan. This will help your users to understand quickly what the topic of your web page is and whether it fits to the topic your users are searching for. Finally a lot of visitors stumble upon your website due to a search engine and might not have heard anything about your site before.
How can I go on with my search?
The most important element of a 404 page is the direct access to the search function. That’s why you place your search box centrally on your error page.
Inspiration for your own 404 error page
The following sites, show you different approaches to create an error report in a creative and helpful way. They serve as an inspiration.
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