The 404 error code is a universal experience of frustration for computer users, because it indicates an unforeseen problem.
What an Error Code Is
An error code is an error message that has been assigned a numerical code. The code 404 is displayed when an Internet address cannot be found. Worse, it is a “client side” error, meaning it’s on the visitor.
Reasons Why an Address Can’t Be Found
The internet it is full of broken links, corrupted image files and incomplete information.
Links can go bad over time. Products may get removed, content might get deleted, or there are changes to permalink structure.
A visitor will get the 404 error page if they click a link to a deleted or moved page, or if they mistype a URL, or if they click on a broken or truncated link.
Why the Error Code is 404 When an Address Can’t Be Found
Numerical ranges were given to error categories. All of the status codes that are client errors are numbered 400 to 499.
Rumors of how the 404 was named go way back to the early 2000s.
It was said that 404 came from room 404, a room that contained the web’s first servers at CERN, or the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Switzerland.
It was where the World Wide Web inventor had his office, and he could not be found most of the time.
Mostly, when code is written, programmers don’t want to waste time writing long messages for common error situations, so they keep it short. There was also an issue with memory when the code was written. They had only 64k of memory to work with.
The numbers were designated by programmers on a whim. Assigning the number 404 to “not found” was arbitrary.
Humor Can Improve the Situation
Better to laugh than cry! And the right error message can turn the situation around and turn a visitor who couldn’t find a company page into a loyal customer. A 404 message should reflect the company brand.
Tumblr, for example, gives this message: “There’s nothing here … Unless you were looking for this error page, in which case: Congrats! You totally found it.”
What to Do
When a visitor gets the 404, they don’t care about why – they want a solution.
Connect with the visitor, by replacing technical language with human language. Instead of a default message, use terms like, “Oops! This link is broken”.
Don’t blame the visitor, even though it is their fault.
When explaining what went wrong, don’t use absolutes, use phrases like “might have” or “possibly” so that there isn’t a feeling of blame.
Put solutions on the 404 page so that visitors know what to do next: provide a list of posts containing keywords related to the link they were trying to use.
Keep people browsing by offering menu navigation, links back to the homepage, a sitemap, a search bar, or popular posts and popular products.
The 404 error doesn’t have to mean the end to a search!