Sunday, October 04, 2009

7 Ways Of Handling 404 Error Messages

Last week I wrote about 404 errors and how to track them in your web analytics tool. In this post I am going to look at how various sites are dealing with 404 error messages and provide your 7 ways of handling 404 pages on your site.

The best way to handle the 404 error messages is to not have any by properly setting redirects in case of a redesign, proper sitemaps etc. But despite your best efforts there will be cases when your visitors will get the 404 errors so you just have to be prepared. This post will show you how other sites are doing it so that you can decide what will work for you.

I looked at few of the top converting online retailers and few others random sites to see how they are handling 404 error messages.

Here is what I found

  1., the site with the best conversion rate, notifies the visitors that the page does not exist and then provides a link back to the home page. It also keeps the top navigation intact on the 404 page so that the visitors can easily navigate to the other pages on the site.
  2., does a nice job of providing products recommendations to the visitors on the 404 custom error page. It also shows the top and left navigation on the error page for easy navigation.

    Proflowers redirects the visitors to the home page of the site. In some cases it displays a message notifying the visitors that the page was not found but in other cases it just redirects the visitors to the home page. Lack of an error message might confuse the visitors who intended to go to a particular page and not the page they were redirected to (home page).

    Coke adds little humor on the 404 error message page. You can’t avoid reading the page.
  5. Microsoft

    Microsoft makes an attempt to understand where the user intended to go. It parses out the “Not found” url and then runs the internal site search to show relevant results. Good attempt by Microsoft on, however I did not see the similar attempts at Bing or MSN sites.
  6. Google

    The company that tries to understand user intents on it’s search engine makes no attempt to understand what the visitor is trying to do. It could have used something like “Did you mean…..” but it does not.
  7. WebTrends

    Webtrends does a nice job of providing a site map on the 404 error page. Omniture does similar thing on their 404 error page.
  8. Adobe

    Adobe even asks the visitors to send them feedback on the broken link. Like many other site it provides several links back to other content on the site.
  9. RedEnvelope

    RedEnvelope goes one step further and provides an error message, product recommendations and a 10% off coupon for the inconvenience that a missing page might have caused.
    Go ahead and try it and get 10% off on
I also checked Roamans, QVC and Coldwater Creek, few of the other sites listed in the top conversion rate list and did not find any custom error pages.

7 ways of handling 404 error messages

Let’s recap and look at the various ways you can handle 404 error messages.
  1. Redirect the visitors to the home page. Make sure it is clear to the visitors that the page was not found and so they are being redirected to the home page. (
  2. Have a basic custom error page that notifies the visitors that the page was not found and then provides a link back to the home page. Make sure you have your navigational elements on the page. (
  3. Add humor in your 404 message just like
  4. Show the sitemap (links to various sections and pages on the page for easy navigation. (WebTrends)
  5. Make products recommendations. Recommendation could be targeted based on what you know about the visitors (past purchases, current browsing behavior etc.) or simply show the best sellers list. (
  6. Interpret what a visitor might be looking for and show the possible results/links. You can use the internal search similar to what Microsoft does. (You have to be very careful with this solution as there is always a possibility of misinterpretation).
  7. Provide a coupon for instant conversion. (RedEnvelop)

Do you have any other example to share? Send them to me.


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  1. You pulled together some great examples. Error rates or pages are common data we analyst look at, but it is always nice to see what other companies are doing to handle them. I guess we need to look beyond serving content, but think of other alternatives as well. Thanks for the great post!

  2. Anonymous7:51 AM

    I find this post helpful. Thanks.

  3. Good post. Thanks!


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