How to Improve StumbleUpon's 404 Page?

What’s wrong with this 404 page on StumbleUpon? Before we start, the cats are lovely and SU is a goldmine. Saying that, there’s always room for improvement.  Read how to improve error messages, help, forms, and other crisis points if this topic interests you.

What is a 404 Page?

First, what is a 404 page?
It’s the page you’re shown, when the site’s search engine (or index) can’t find what you’re looking for.
In other words, you search for some phrase, it searches the index, and if it’s not there, you get a 404 page.

How to write 404 Pages

I know it sounds simple but develop the page with the reader in mind. Instead of telling them that they made an error or, even worse, there is nothing you can do for them, look at the problem as an opportunity.
Here’s how:

  • What word, phrase or acronym did they use? Capture this in a log file. If it keeps coming up in searches, see if you need to add it to your index or list of keywords.
  • What were they trying to find? For example, if they typed in the name of the product incorrectly, be smart enough to give them the correct page?
  • What should they do next? Here’s where  StumbleUpon could improve the page very easily. If your site has a directory (or site map), add this to the 404 page. Instead of hitting Back, maybe they will use the site map instead.
  • Mind your Langauge. Don’t blame or suggest that the user got it wrong. Keep it light and find ways to help them get to their destination. For example, include a link to your tech support’s twitter account. That’s what it’s there for, right?

How to improve 404 Pages

There’s often something negative about 404 pages. I think this may be because they are often:

  • Written as an after-thought.
  • Often by the developers (not web writers).
  • Seen as low value.

Try to turn this around. Look for ways to help stranded readers find their way back to the page – or close to the page – they were looking for.
Give them at least two way to do this. For example, include a site map and a contact form on the 404 page.
You want them to contact you, right?
If not, then they’ll pick up on this and go elsewhere.
And this may be the real problem with 404 pages. When I land on one, I feel that it’s my fault. Words like ‘error’and ‘incorrect’ should be removed from these pages.
Instead, flip it around. Ask how you can help them find what they’re looking for?
StumbleUpon got it half right with the cute cats and the map… but they forgot to show us, the lost reader, the map.
How would you improve this 404 page?

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