One of my favorite nerdy web designer expressions is “she/he/it’s totally 404.”

One of the biggest mistakes you can make with your web site is not giving your error pages adequate attention. Although the content of your web site is very important, it may not be the page your viewers land on. If there’s a typo in a link, a page has been removed, or some of the back-end development fails, they get directed to an error page.

An error page should explain what happened, who they can contact, and where they should try to go. You can use humor or you can be direct. You can have a form to e-mail your web development team, or you can have it automatically scripted to submit said information to the client. Ultimately, your error pages should be functional while still showing off how you understand your target market.

Twitter, social networking web site
The Twitter Fail Whale
Twitter’s famous “Fail Whale” dominates the page, while the description explains why the visitor has reached said page, and what to do.

Heinz, food & condiments manufacturer
Heinz Ketchup
Complete with a site map, navigation bar, and a witty header, Heinz’s 404 page integrates both their company’s online identity and their most famous product with a situation we’ve all experienced: no ketchup!

The New Yorker, upscale news publication
The New Yorker
The New Yorker utilizes their signature editorial cartoons and witty edge to introduce the error page, while the navigation bar redirects viewers to the right page.

Spore, online video game creating infinite ‘monsters’
Spore
The 404 page for Spore is effective while demonstrating exactly what makes Spore a unique game. Navigation redirects the viewer while the banner advertisement shows current projects (a great way to keep your 404 page relevant).

Cartoon Network, international television channel
Cartoon Network (International)
With one of their famous cartoon characters, three clearly marked languages, and redirecting links, this 404 page is easy to read and easy to understand, while still being child and child-at-heart friendly.

So, the question is… how are your error pages working for you?

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