Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What's in a 404 page?

If we’re going to establish what makes an effective 404 error page it makes sense to start by explaining what an error page is. Now as error pages aren’t exactly the most exciting of subjects so in the interests of keeping you entertained as well as informed the following may not be exactly how things happened...

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away pixies invented something called the internet. The internet was a magical, wonderful place where people from all over the kingdom could go to do anything their imaginations could conjure up. They could play games, speak with people from across the kingdom and even settle up household utility bills with companies that, thanks to a big sell off of national interests in the eighties, are now essentially foreign owned.

Now as everybody knows pixies are very wise indeed. They had the foresight to realise that, given the fact the internet was a global phenomenon based on a network of millions of computers running over telephone lines and administered by humans, it was inevitable that things would go wrong. So the pixies gathered the wisest wizards from across the land and over a feast of unicorn pizzas and the juice from a magical red bull they came up with a list of standard laws that should be obeyed by everyone in the land. If something was ever to go wrong on the internet a page would be displayed with an error message. In order to help fix the problem these pages would have code numbers which would explain what had gone wrong so that other wizards could fix the problem.

Ok, so it’s not exactly how it happened but it’s close enough.

When your computer accesses a web page it will receive something called a response code. These codes are essentially three digit numbers. If this number begins with a 1 or a 2 then everything is pretty much hunky dory and as such the chances are you’ll never be aware of these responses. Anything beginning with a 3 signifies that the page has moved a 4 suggests client error and a 5 means that there’s a server error. These last three response codes usually result in an error page being displayed.

A 404 error is served up when a file (typically a web page) could not be found, it simply doesn’t exist. This can happen for a number of reasons, the user could have made a mistake typing in the URL, the page may have been deleted or, much as it pains me to admit, occasionally links are coded incorrectly. An un-styled 404 error page can look like this:

Let’s face it, that’s not much use to anyone apart from geeks. However, the user ends up with something like the above; there is very little useful feedback and unless they’re persistent, you’ll end up losing them and their business to one of your competitors.

So what are the alternatives? Well as a bare minimum, the page should look friendlier and feel less like I’m being told off by a teacher. Next up the reasons as to why the page might be being displayed should be in clear English with an informal, non technical tone. There could also be links to the main pages of the website so I only have to click once to get back on track and in an ideal world it should look like the rest of the website so as not to look broken. (People will think twice about parting with cash online if the website doesn’t look fully functional!)

If you think you might need some internet pixies* to help with your online needs, why not get in contact with Rocktime and talk to our sales team about how we can help you expand your online presence.

*Pixies may not be included.

Author: Foz


Anonymous said...

Do you mean to say that the pixies and wizards don't really exist? Or is it the case that they did not have as much say in the development of the online arena as you originally stated? I really need to get to the bottom of this...p.s. great post!

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