Craft a Positive “Page Not Found” Experience

Nonprofit Website Error PageWe’re so focused on “urgent” to-dos and right-now campaigns that it’s easy to overlook a valuable engagement opportunity: Your website’s “page not found” page (a.k.a. 404 error page).

Error pages alert visitors that the page they were seeking no longer exists, or they typed in or clicked on a broken link, and redirects them to the content they want. When crafted well, your error page becomes excellent customer service, providing an engaging intro to your organizational personality, impact, and content.

Flip Frustration to Satisfaction
Hitting a dead end is frustrating and
time consuming. But the right error page—featuring a clear explanation of why visitors are on the page; a simple, bold graphic connected to your organization’s brand; and easy navigation to what “lost” visitors are looking for—can flip their frustration to satisfaction. Here’s how to delight your “lost” visitors as you get them where they want to go:

1) Tell Your Visitors Why They’re on the Error PageNonprofit "Page Not Found" page
You’ll need to cover errors made typing a URL and in clicked links, as well as pages no longer on your site. These two approaches work well:

2) Speak like a Human
Although a technical glitch may (or may not) get your visitors to your error page, respond with clear and accessible language. Use jargon (like “404 error”) and you’ll push already-frustrated visitors further away.

3) Keep It Brief and Focused
No one wants to be there. Feature too many options and explanations (in different colors and fonts, as ILCA does here) and you’ll boost visitors’ frustration level, instead of lowering it. And keep design minimal, with no distractions.

Follow my “Nonprofit Website Error Pages” Board on Pinterest.

4) Get Visitors to the Content They Want, a.s.a.p.
The heart of this page is making it as quick and easy as possible for visitors to get to the content they’re seeking. Feature these two navigation tools:

  • A search box enabling visitors to enter their search term right from the error page
    (see NTEN’s error page)

    • Hint: An embedded search box is preferable to linking to your search page, which forces visitors to make an extra click. Go for the easy wins!
  • Links to most popular pages and posts: Jump on the fact that your visitors may not know where to go next. Guide them to your top content (most accessed, most critical to achieving your goals, or most recent) while they’re open to suggestion. The Catskill Animal Sanctuary’s error page does this well.
  • Best to provide a search box AND links to top pages
    • NPR’s error page features a search box and links to key pages. I recommend you do the same. Bonus: The NPR team adds a touch of humor with links to lost people and things—from Amelia Earhart to the 18 1/2 minutes of erased Watergate Tapes.

5) Make Them Laugh
So many organizations excel at injecting a laugh into this unfortunate situation. Laughing visitors will find it harder to stay annoyed at you. No need to sweat this, but if you can do it, do so!

Nonprofit Website Error Page

Follow my “Nonprofit Website Error Pages” Board on Pinterest.

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Nancy Schwartz on February 17, 2016 in High-Impact Websites | 2 comments
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  • Thanks for including us. We’re inspired with ideas for the next one!

  • You do great 404! Thanks for sharing such a useful model for other organizations.

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