Website ownership is like owning a house. Sometimes there are issues that come along with it that you don’t know about until it is open and shown to strangers. Especially as a website matures and the content strategy evolves, links can get misdirected or you will have site downtime (planned and unplanned) that may affect the visitor experience. Fortunately, you can prepare for these occasions and even make a potential negative interaction a positive one with a custom designed 404 and maintenance page.
What is a 404 Page?
Indicating that an error has been detected, the 404 page is a standard response stating that the client (your web browser) can’t connect with the server (the place the website lives). The response is triggered usually by three things:
- Pages that have been removed or deleted
- Pages that never existed – usually a typo from a visitor typing in the address
- Pages that were renamed and not properly redirected (via 301 or 302 redirects)
Three-digit codes (like 404, 301, or 302) are a few of many HTTP response codes that exist, from 100 to 599. Each code responds to a specific status or order and is maintained by IANA. All existing web browsers are programmed to understand the code and display the appropriate page or message. The first digit of the status code explains the category of response:
- Client-related errors
- Server-related errors
Having broken links are your website can negatively affect your SEO and ADA conformance, and be a big jump off point for visitors to leave if not addressed. Fortunately, most CMS’s offer the ability to design a custom 404 page with intact site navigation to bring a visitor back to the place they wanted to go. At the minimum, you will want to style the page consistently with your other site pages and add a link back to your home page and potentially your site search features. You can also use the opportunity to get creative – taking a design approach that is consistent with your unique brand tone and imagery. Refence the ZAGInteractive.com 404 page example below.
What is a Website Maintenance Page?
A website maintenance page is a page that should be set up to show if a website has to be taken offline for any reason. There are usually two main instances where a site would need to display this public-facing page:
Planned Maintenance: A maintenance page is used when the site is taken down to do planned server-level or CMS changes and updates. It’s an effective gateway to tell users how to continue to do business until the site is back in full working order.
Unplanned Outages and Errors: The other scenario where a maintenance page is used is for unplanned outages. When an interruption like this happens, it can be very disruptive to operations and can take extra time to come back up. A maintenance page is a great way to avoid confusion and focus on the user experience, and give the customer clear guidelines on how to alternatively conduct business until the site comes back up.
Similar to the 404 page, this is an opportunity to create a positive user experience despite the possible frustration. At ZAG Interactive, all of our website builds include a basic maintenance page that includes a logo and a link to any critical third-party logins (e.g. an online banking portal), allowing the visitor to know what’s going on, as shown in the example below.
Many clients want to go beyond the standard maintenance page designs, customizing it more to align with the rest of their website. As shown in the example below, custom designed maintenance pages serve more as temporary landing pages that give even more information about how to get in contact with the business while the website is temporarily not available.
When you are designing or redesigning a website, make sure you talk to your digital agency about standard deliverables for 404 and maintenance pages so you better understand what is going to be right for your business or institution. Done well, these pages are small opportunities to retain customers in places that already live in your website structure, even if things happen to your site that are beyond your control.
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