Fatigue, typing too fast, dyslexia, crumbs in the keyboard and bad handwriting are just some of the causes that come to mind that might put your users on the wrong end of a 404 page. I’ve even known a case or two where a typo or programming error on my part has caused a user to bump up against the often ubiquitous “This page cannot be found” error.
In other words, mistakes happen, so anticipate them and give your users a graceful way of recovering from them.
At least that’s what I’m preaching … and will practice once I get back in town on my beefy DSL line at home. Until then, I’d like to direct your attention to a thorough article on the topic by the good people at A List Apart entitled “The Perfect 404” (hat tip to Gadetopia)
There they explain how and why it is important to not make your users feel like idiots. They also go onto explain some things you can do to help keep your users from wandering in the wilderness. Some of these points include:
- A link to the site map (if you have one) and the home page.
- A search box
- A distinctly minimalist look
Along with these excellent suggestions, I’d suggest showing the users what page they actually typed in. If it’s a typo, they’ll see it and correct it. If it isn’t, then provide them a means of forwarding that information to your church or charity’s webmaster.
Why bother? Because users can get frustrated and leave when they don’t find what they want when they want it. Offering them some grace, along with a graceful recovery will go a long way to inviting and encouraging them to stay.