Yesterday while browsing on YouTube I ran across a 500 Internal Server Error. Never happened to me before on YouTube, but I didn’t mind. The YouTube 500 Error page seems to contain a funny message, and if there is something I like it is funny errorhandling.
A team of highly trained monkeys has been dispatched to deal with this situation. Please report this incident to customer service.
And that reminded me of something I learned when I started SEO : one of the first things you should implement when setting up a new website are user friendly AND search engine friendly errorpages. Especially the 404 Page Not Found error page is one that should be perfect. For the search engines it should return a 404 status code. For the users it must contain a clear message that says their browser asked for a non existing page and they should be able to click through to the home page or search for another page. You can find more on The Perfect 404.
So I decided to take a look at the 404 error pages from big guys like Google, Yahoo!, YouTube, Live Search, LinkedIn, … And what I found wasn’t always exactly perfect on the usability side …
I’ll order them from not quite that good to great :
Not really helpful is it ?
Standard Apache error page… But remember the great YouTube 500 error page ;-)
Standard IIS error page…
Not good, not bad… but one would expect more from Google.
Oops. Nice call-to-action to try Plaxo, but that’s all…
This is starting to look better. You can start a search and get an overview in some sort of sitemap.
Very clear. No call-to-action.
404 page with a nice click-through-ratio I guess. Possibility to contact the webmaster.
Another Oops at Digg. Link to home page and possibility to send an error message.
Link to home page, link to previous page.
Possibility to send a message, link to the home page, link to personal bookmarks and link to the help section.
Possibility to contact the webmaster, return to the home page and a list of main LinkedIn features.
Return to home page, link to Yahoo! Help Central and the possibility to do a search.
Looks good, has all the main features a 404 needs.
Summary. A great 404 error page needs :
- the basic menu structure (!!!)
- an apology for the mistake
- a call-to-action to continue browsing on the site
- a link to the home page
- a possibility to contact the webmaster or communicate the mistake
- a possibility to search the site
- a link to the help section
- an overview of main features the visitor could be looking for
Any more suggestions ? Let me know !