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The HTTP Error 404 Antidote

Page 4 — Basics of 404 Page Design

There are a number of improvements you can make to the standard 404 page. These vary in complexity, server and programmer overhead, and effectiveness. The most basic — so basic that no site should be without it — is to replace the generic 404 page with one that has your site's logo and design scheme, and a link to the home page, if not a full-blown navigation bar. It should also express clearly what has gone wrong, and what the hapless user can do about it, something that the standard 404 page does very badly.

An additional nicety that can be added to this kind of standard page is a link to return the user to where she came from, easily implemented in JavaScript:

<A HREF="javascript:history.go(-1)">Return to previous page</A>

This can be expanded with links to a site map or other important parts of the site. A mailto link or form to notify the Webmaster of the problem can also be a helpful addition.

If you feel the need to move beyond the basics, there are a number of significant improvements you can make. Adding a search box to your 404 page can be dramatically helpful to the user, and redirect a lot of traffic that would otherwise be lost. If your site already has search functionality, it is of course trivially easy to add a box to 404.html. If not, you can get good old Google to do the job for you.

If your site has one basic functionality, like a dictionary lookup or package tracking, you might want to put an input box for that function right on the 404 page.

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