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Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008 at 11:51 am

A New Contender for Best 404 Error Message

By Robert Gorell
February 21st, 2008

As any multi-tasker/easily-distracted-person knows, this happens all the time. We click on an a link sent via email, a few scrap letters get cut off the end, and OUCH… 404 error.

It really frosts my monocle.

Last year, Smashing Magazine offered plenty of example fodder for how to flip the 404 pancake. Those ones were great, but now I’ve got a new personal favorite.

Although it may not be the talk of the town just yet, The New Yorker‘s error message ought to be. Notice how they stay on-brand while keeping you engaged with the site:

(Click to see how they keep you from hitting the ‘back’ button.)


  • The cartoon supports their brand.
  • They link to fresh content.
  • There’s in-site search.
  • Full top navigation.
  • There’s even a podcast.
  • It’s memorable.
  • It should lower bounce rate.

Note to Smarty-Pants Readers: Yes, we realize our 404 message isn’t as cool as this — yet. At the moment, it takes you to our archives page. Feel free to cast the first stone in the comments ;)

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Comments (18)

  1. Hi Robert,

    that made me chuckle :)

    My two personal favorites are
    Homestar Runner:
    the depressed web server:



  2. Julien, I really liked this one too……

  3. Cute. But, I could (and did) hit the back button.

  4. Yes, Rob, but you weren’t already on the site — and you’d been sent there without the expectation of reading any of their content.

    There’s a qualitative difference, don’t you think?

  5. That one is quite clever although I’d have to agree with the first post – those are even more entertaining! Either way, having unique 404 error message pages like those are far better than the same old.

  6. Ha, that’s cute!

  7. [...]  (Via Future Now’s Marketing Optimization Blog) [...]

  8. “..but you weren’t already on the site — and you’d been sent there without the expectation of reading any of their content.”

    If he HAD gone there looking for some specific content, he’s be just as likely to hit back upon finding it not there. In addition the “computer error” message does actually suggest it’s the website’s fault, which could encourage a back-click without bothering to check if there’s something obviously wrong with the url, such as a bit missing off the end.

    “Not your fault, computer error, this website screwed up” isn’t really that positive a message – heck they even have a fancy error page as it apparantly happens often?

    To compound the error they then gives links to stuff with quirky names:

    The Film File
    Books Briefly Noted
    Tables for Two

    “Books briefly noted” is clear and to the point. “Recordings”? What’s that, music, video, a fancy name for some pretentious old goat’s blog? I presume not video as there’s a big “Video” text in black at the side.

    A direct list of some of today’s top headlines that someone may have screwed the url up would be both more useful and likely to grab my attention. Alternatively a simple search box and “Oops, file not found, try a search or click HOMEPAGE?” would at least load much faster and narrow my choices. The homepage at least offers me up to date stuff, the search to look for something specific but such a wide choice and silly names to boot just made me wonder – ‘Do I want to devote any time to exploring this site?’. Answer: Nah.

    It left me cold to be honest.

  9. The line between being ‘creative’ and scaring off customers is quite thin. And while I’d say a fair amount of 404 pages are boring, they do the job.

    You can be interesting without scaring the heck out of customers. Here’s what we do. And it’s still work in progress. :)

  10. I love these creative 404 error pages. But I would agree, it is a thin line. User gets the error and is alreay confused, now you want to crack a joke about it. But I think it plays well with most sites. It’s all relative and based on the audience/content.

  11. Another nice one:

  12. Smufty,

    In most cases I’d agree with your critique, but there is a lot to be said for context. Judging from your response, I’m guessing you don’t often read The New Yorker.

    The category names are the ones they use in the magazine, and they’re integral to their brand. They may not be ideal for first-time Web visitors, but it would likely be bad business for them to create a disconnect between the magazine and the website. Also, you can still click on the homepage by clicking the logo on the top navigation. That’s pretty standard, and most visitors will know that intuitively without wondering why they’re not getting a link straight to the homepage. Instead of just the homepage, they’re giving you the opportunity to explore any part of the website. Not a bad idea in this case.

    Finally, in regard to the cartoon, I’m not sure it’s so serious. Keep in mind, this is a literary magazine. It’s not technically a “computer error” but something got derailed — kind of a soft jab at our reliance on technology. And, yeah, a broken experience is like a broken road. So my take is that it’s sort of like saying, “Well, that happen… Now, where were we?”

  13. Sean: Yours demonstrates a simpler approach, and I think it’s perfect for your needs. I definitely agree that the line between “creative” and scaring off customers is thin. In this case, I doubt anyone who’s familiar with the magazine’s brand would be scared away. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’m glad you made that point that creativity for its own sake isn’t a good idea.

    Rebeca: Speaking of creativity-for-its-own-sake, I really liked the 404 message you shared, but there are a couple of BIG problems with it — both of which make Sean’s point. First of all, I shouldn’t have to wait for a 404 page to load. It’s supposed to help me move forward, not back. The Flash programming makes it bulky and slow-loading. Then, once I finally get to the “about” section, there’s nothing telling me who this person (business?) is. The “press” section is equally mysterious. So, all I’m left with is that this person and/or business built a really amazing error page that left me wondering whether he/she/they did the trailers for the TV show “Lost” or the movie “Missing.” It’s really hard to tell without any prior knowledge.

    Heinz: Thank you for sharing this one, but let me tell you why they’re doing exactly what you DON’T want to do. Yes, there’s good navigation and they offer a couple of downloads, but the message is all wrong. They say, “Oops, you are lost!” Hmm… No kidding. Thanks for reminding me. By saying “you are lost,” they’re suggesting that it’s my fault. I’m lost? :(

  14. We have received positive comments from visitors about our 404 Not sure that getting comments about your 404 is a good thing (people like it) or a bad thing (they are seeing it too many times!).

  15. Heinz I’m surprised you haven’t suggested its a nice one.

  16. Love it. But GrokDotCom, your 404 needs work..

  17. Placing the Site’s logo in 404 err page is really a new concept. I liked it and gonna to apply on my site. What the 404 text would be better? Do you have any better idea? Thanks.

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