Ah, good old error pages. They used to be as ugly as it gets: first because they left you in the middle of nowhere, second because their lack of design looked really dry. Developers would spend years before spotting their mistakes!
The No man’s land of ftp errors
Sure, when programming, you get to test your event handler or application many times over many browsers. If it fails, you will know straight away that something is missing. No big deal with debugging, event though it can be frustrating.
Now, HTTP standard status codes are a different breed of bugs, with number between 100 and 505, and various origins. 200 is “OK”, 301 is “Moved permanently”, 403 means “Forbidden” and 410 is simply “Gone”. These pages are equally frustrating for the users, but the 404 aka “Not found” has always been associated with a form of “penalty”.
Fix the error…or not?
404 Error pages are almost always the developers’ fault: the webpage has moved, the website links have been restructured, the webpage has been deleted. In any case, the users have been forgotten and their experience is not going to be the most positive. However, surprisingly, Search Engines don’t care at all about 404 errors: as long as the domain and webpage was indexed, they don’t see the human error.
But we all do! So, should we care? YES. If so, how can we make things better? By configuring a personalised 404 page and/or setting up a redirect to the homepage. This can be a really fun and challenging project, because you want to acknowledge your mistake while keeping the users on your side of the WWW. There are in fact a lot of webpages that play around with this concept.
In the end, having a quirky design or an unusual content on your Error Page can help divert the attention of the visitors. They will ACTUALLY feel glad they saw and experienced the edge of your domain!