It seems error pages on websites fall into two categories:
1. the incomprehensible (code, jargon, blah blah)
2. creative and perhaps over the top (cute characters, bright colours, clever words)
Neither seem to really find a balance where you can express yourself creatively, offer genuine support for the end user and also keep it technical for those who need to know.
This has all changed for me this morning when I had some trouble loading up SearchEngineWatch.com
I was greeted by this error page and it took me by surprise:
It’s got everything you really need in an error page:
1. Error code (after all, not all errors are the same)
2. A simple explanation of the error code (520 is an origin error according to Wikipedia)
3. Images that explain the error in a graphic (helps to put this into perspective for everyone, in particular novices)
4. Written explanation of the error
5. Next steps you can take to rectify the error
So not only do they help you understand what’s wrong (simple error code, explanation in words and images), they also explain how to find a solution depending on whether you’re a visitor to the site or the webmaster. This is what I call an excellent user experience and making the most out of a less than ideal situation.
As a hosting company, this is an excellent move on Cloudflare’s part and if they’re able to make the effort with their error pages, then I’d be interested to see how they fare in other areas of customer service.
From an SEO perspective, we always recommend customised error pages because errors do happen and you want to retain visitors on your website when they do occur. You want to tell them what’s up and how to keep moving through the site. I quite like the error page on Apple.com as a good guide on how to structure your custom error pages:
In the case of SearchEngineWatch.com, it’s a hosting issue, not an issue with the CMS that SEW uses so it’s great to see the hosting company take ownership of the problem in such a great way.
It’s also clear that you don’t need to compromise on what you display on the error page. It’s technical enough yet simple enough and it works for both techies and normal website users alike!
Kudos to Cloudflare – may other service providers follow in your footsteps!