In fact, I’d venture to say it’s the goal of the website programmer that the user never encounters the 404 page. The error page. The you’re-not-really-supposed-to-be-here page.
And yet, social media/marketing gurus have taken time out to highlight just how important they can be.
Well, for one, it’s an area that hasn’t been saturated yet. With so many agents attempting to increase social presence, it’s not often that they stress the error page. How many social branding companies taut their ability to create important 404 pages? Picture it:
“With […] you’ll increase your exposure to target markets, approach new customers, build your brand, and, oh yes, feature an important error page.”
Not exactly a calling card, is it?
But that’s the point – in such a saturated market, it’s often the little things that allow you to stand out. Even the brightest spots of color are noticed in muddled black or gray.
But the 404 page is being discussed here for a reason larger than its having been simply avoided for so long. And that’s what it represents.
What I mean by that is so often we imagine business as that which makes it successful. We marvel at Apple because it did so well in introducing its new mp3 players, smart phones and laptops. Pharmaceutical companies are trumpeted for their treatments cure ailments, not the frequent FDA rejections they get.
Businesses are recognized for their breakthroughs, not failures. The 404 page is the very essence of a failure. You, as a browser, have managed to make it to a point where that business has gone a bit wrong (ignoring of course, that you typed that darn URL in wrong).
As Renny Gleeson explained in his TED Talk, you’ve slipped through the cracks. And no business should be happy that a customer, user, or prospective client has slipped through the cracks right?
Well, that’s the logic that governed 404 pages for so long. Most were plain text. Most just read “Error” and left you wondering where you went wrong. Where the business failed you. Many just left the site altogether.
And then, creativity sparked. Why let your users be turned away by errors. Why not use the 404 to an advantage. If it’s going to be found by some, why not reward, interest or represent yourself in a unique way.
We know websites cannot be human, they cannot apologize. Eventually, folks caught on and decided to let their 404 by their humanity. I think it makes a huge difference.
Here’s a basic 404 page. And here’s a more enlightened, humanistic 404 error page. Or how about the awesome Homer at the top here? Makes the whole “error” thing seem a little more light hearted, doesn’t it? (That one’s from Smashing Magazine).
Zirtual has a good 404 page – and though it’s not technically a Haiku by conventional definition – it’s still, well, Kittens.
Back to the point: 404 pages reveal something about your company, your presence and what you wish to represent. It’s making some beauty out of a mistake or misfortune.
Or maybe that’s going too far. But, still, it shows that every company can have an ounce of humanity. It proves that even if you’ve lost your way, the company still cares about where you are and what you’re doing.
There are companies that have made their 404 pages useful. Extra information. The TED Talk video shows a Coca-Cola campaign that offered some perks for those that somehow lost their way. Bravo.
I don’t have statistics for those that leave because of bad 404 pages. Nor those that stick around because of a quick joke or quip that the 404 page has. I just have my own hinkering that a business should show some humility when possible. We’re not talking about million dollar losses here, just admitting there’s some cracks in the webpage.
It’s a small something that may go unnoticed completely. It may never even be seen by a customer, user or browser at all. And that’s just fine. But why not be a bit creative? Keep those that slip through the cracks wanting to climb back up to the sidewalk and explore.