W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-ig@w3.org > July to September 2006

Re: User friendly 404s reconsidered

From: Orion Adrian <orion.adrian@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, 24 Jul 2006 08:43:31 -0400
Message-ID: <abd6c8010607240543i6127c8e5k4d01ab3f53ed7a49@mail.gmail.com>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org

> Should an error message include a local search engine?
> My overall point of departure is that simplicity is the most important
> aspect of both usability and accessibility. It is also good for the
> maintainer of webpages in the long run.

I would disagree with this premise. I believe that there is a target
complexity for every situation that is the right amount for your
target audience. Simplicity as a target tends to lead to overly-simple
interfaces that don't properly use the screen real estate that's
available to them forcing users to take extra steps to get a useful

> On my own website, www.smackthemouse.com, I only have a search engine at the
> homepage. It makes the homepage stick out and gives it more character and it
> makes all the other pages less crowded. Better put the search in one place
> and put more focus to the task, than adding it also to the end of an error
> message haphazardly.

There is a certain level of crowding you want. You want to use the
screen real estate well. While you could remove elements from every
page and just put them in a special location, I believe that provides
for a bad experience. Some features work best when they exist either
everywhere or in most places. Search tends to be one of those
features, especially in the context where someone is trying to find
something that isn't browsable like a link that results in a 404

> I don't recommend a "Back" link in error messages because the user most
> often arrived from another website. Hitting BACKSPACE or a similar link in
> the error message, and the website probably looses that user.

This falls into the category of annoying the person into staying at
your site. It doesn't work and it ultimately loses you the customer.
You could place as many roadblocks as you want, but good customer
service will be more beneficial to you in the end. And it's not like
users don't know how to use the back button on their own. My
suggestion is to leave the back link in there.


Orion Adrian
Received on Monday, 24 July 2006 12:43:41 UTC

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