I’ve been in the digital marketing industry for more than 10 years and I’ve seen impressive home page layouts, inspiring portfolio pieces, that entice users explore the site – even great About Us pages and Contact Us pages.
However, rarely have I come across 404 error pages that help customers navigate to their desired destination.
Many brands and businesses ignore the importance of the 404 error page, which is a huge mistake.
A 404 error is a standard response that indicates:
- A server is down.
- It cannot find the requested content (due to file or domain removal).
- The requested URL is broken.
You can learn more on this topic in 404 vs Soft 404 Errors: What’s the Difference & How to Fix Both.
The 404 page is your tool to communicate to customers that a requested page is unavailable right now. A visually appealing, user-friendly 404 error page demonstrates to customers that you care about them and are interested in keeping them on your site.
Treatment or Prevention?
Though a 404 error page is a vital element to any website, your site always has to be up and running, with pages easily accessible to customers. This means you must invest in your server and always be on the lookout for broken links.
If users can’t access your website – or numerous pages – this tells Google that you’re providing a poor customer experience, which can send your site in a downward SERP spiral, resulting in lost rankings, traffic, and conversions.
To prevent this from happening, you can use the following tools to run regular checks for broken links:
- Xenu’s Link Sleuth
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider
- W3C Link Checker
Even if you get rid of each and every broken link, it does not mean you can just forget about the 404 error page. On the contrary.
When your customers mistakenly click or fall victim to typos, a custom 404 is a must. It looks considerably better than a standard error message, and can change a visitor’s perception of your brand.
I visited hundreds of sites to find the 25 best examples of 404 error page. These gems demonstrate how a web designer’s creativity, combined with sound and high-quality copy, can turn an error into a conversion.
The world-famous Pixar features its beloved Sadness character on the 404 page, and it draws me right in. I feel your pain, Sadness, and I see you feel mine! They have included a cute text piece, playing on the plot of their popular animated film. (Worth viewing if you haven’t seen it!)
2. 20th Century Fox
Absolutely loving the Foxmovies realization of the 404 page design. Its engaging movie piece evokes both humor and sympathy (I got Edward Scissorhands the first time I visited). Not only does it trigger a wonderful film memory, but the link has a whole set of short movie clips that randomly come up on the 404 Page, with relevant pieces of text at the top of each video, which is different every time!
Design company Dogstudio shares the cutest dog themed GIFs with me on their 404 Page. Amusing, short, and sweet – just as I love them!
I also got a kick out of their homepage piece.
By the way, their Contact page rocks! I found it immensely engaging. I did drop them a line!
If you get a magnifying glass and a mini dude the first time – do not fret! Marvel does have much more in store. Just refresh the page! The amazing Marvel heroes appear before your eyes in a very theme-focused manner to suit every comic fanatic out there.
5. Emailcenter UK Ltd
Emailcenter UK Limited is the email marketing platform of choice for some of the UK’s biggest brands. They have gotten their developers on board with their 404. When I land on the error page, I get to decide who to fire for the issue, and I am motivated to stay on the site to explore.
6. Woodstreet Inc.
Woodstreet Inc. was founded to create cutting edge graphic, web, and multimedia designs. Their error page clearly demonstrates that they have indeed cut some edges.
“Ahoy!!!” resounds in my mind as I watch the angular designs of office equipment floating alongside a boat and a shark’s fin. The footer menu lets visitors peacefully move forward to surf the site to learn more about their brand, see their portfolio, explore their list of services, or contact them.
7. Daniel Karcher
Daniel Karcher, host and filmmaker, clearly put some effort into his film design studio representation. The animated airy mood of his 404 is truly captivating.
This 404 page shows a balanced interactive combination of sound and moving images. You see the imagery changing as you move your mouse back and forth.
The icing on the cake is when a train arrives and the doors open as if inviting you in. Letters come together and morph into words on the arrivals board. Fascinating!
8. Smashing Magazine
As a rule of thumb most sites bet on beautiful imagery when customizing their 404 page. These guys chose a different approach, emphasizing the text content:
- Their 404 piece is formatted in the same way as their standard article.
- The content does not interfere with the overall page layout.
- They incorporate humor, stating “Smashing Magazine’s Server” as the author, “Right Now” as publication time and a great “404 Tag” going on just under the name of the article “We Couldn’t Find Your Page! (404 Error)”.
A developer named Klaus from Denmark gives us a blast from the past in his 404 error page design.
The Commodore 64 is an 8-bit home computer introduced in January 1982 by Commodore International. It is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest-selling single computer model of all time (15 million units).
Klaus’s 404 Page takes us back to an early age in computer technology. My how things have changed!
The image that greets us on Photographer Armand’s 404 page depicts personality, emotion, and artistry. We see a different side of the Master showcasing a tired toddler.
The user, captivated by this upset baby shot, may go on to browse the site seamlessly, as if an error was never there. The viewer is offered several choices for where to go next, and the page is branded like every other page of a-fotografy.co.uk.
11. Roman Braiser
Roman Braiser, a developer in Lille, France has placed a link button on his home page to the 404, where you can try to save 404 little lemmings by providing each and every one with a parachute, or by leaving the page before they reach the ground! The game runs until the last lemming falls, and it thanks the user for lemmings saved.
12. Cirque du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil features a dreamy image on their 404 page to take the edge off the visitor’s disappointment of not reaching any content. The phrase, “Sometimes you have to get lost before you find what you are looking for,” resonates and intrigues the viewer to pursue their search. The page is branded and features header and footer menus to direct the user to the site’s main pages.
HubSpot appeals to my feelings with their error page design. The broken heart reminds us that even things we love break sometimes. HubSpot then suggests several alternative destinations while they fix what’s been broken.
14. Batman 3D
Baaaat-Maaaan! The error page on the German 3D movie website is scary, but I’m guessing that was their intent!
As you move your mouse, Batman’s flashlight follows, revealing Joker’s smiling face from the darkness. This is a successful custom 404 that elicits emotions that match the brand, in this case, the movie.
Internet Movie Database’s 404 page features quotes from characters of great movies like “The Big Lebowski” (1998), “Back to the Future” (1985), “The Matrix” (1999), “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004), “Groundhog Day” (1993), and more. The page redirects the user to the home page.
16. Hakim El Hattab
Hakim El Hattab, a Swedish front end developer, makes me feel as if I should not have gotten to this 404 page. The eyeballs actually follow you around as you move the cursor! In my book, this web designer knows where he’s headed.
9gag’s approach to 404 page design totally echoes their overall mood and content.
John Travolta is never boring and he never goes out of style! A great thing is that this page also features their App download! Double tasking. Very wise!
Mickey Mouse is one of the world’s most recognizable cartoon characters, and he appears on nearly every every page of Disney’s site. His face portrays the surprise of a user who has not found the anticipated content. I’m ready to come back for that adorable face of yours again, Mickey, even if it’s on an Error page.
The United Kingdom Disney Site suggests a variation of surprise:
Play-doh has molded a googly-eyed squirrel to inform the user of a mistake. They brilliantly suggest you go shopping right from their 404 and provide further links within their specific industry.
Amazon uses adorable little Soju to direct the lost user to their home page. How can you be upset when such cuteness redirects your search?
21. Dave Barton
This 404 page is only interested in a committed relationship. Dave Barton’s personal site features a torn piece of newspaper on the 404 page that mimics a dating ad, seeking what every 404 Error Page should be looking for: An HTML.
Short and sweet.
Don’t forget a photo!
22. Blizzard Entertainment
Blizzard Entertainment blames me for my error with an artsy 404 page reflecting their industry and brand message.
23. Embrace Pet Insurance
Embrace, a pet insurance company, laughs about an error in their own way, saying their clients ate the page. Those naughty fellas!
And they renew the design from time to time too:
On their nonexistent page, CSS-Tricks sends us a message that’s hard to misunderstand, thanks to the design.
“You’ve ripped a hole in the fabric of the Internet. Love, Chris from CSS-Tricks”.
The message plays on their URL name:
They’re sorry about their name too! Props for creativity!
Elative, a creative agency based in Palo Alto, created this encrypted header for their error page. Choosing an image of a stranded astronaut, they wisely suggest returning to Home Base, keeping the page space-relevant.
I had a great time researching this article for you. I wish you knew how many 404 pages fell short of my expectations. With all the work they devote to their brand, many companies would do well to step up their game with an engaging Error Page.
Screenshots taken by author, August 2017.