Google Gives Its Antiquated 404 Page a Makeover

The robot icon has fallen all to pieces and wears an expression of utter despair, but the message on Google's new 404 page maintains the company's traditional emphasis on simplicity. "That's an error. The requested URL /whatever was not found on this server. That's all we know."

Early reviews are mostly of the "It's about time" variety, with a commenter on Reddit noting, "The one before this was like 1998 Google."

[2011's 25 Geekiest 25th Anniversaries]

Not everyone is happy to see the change, however, as one contributor to Ycombinator's Hacker News forum lamented: "A part of me is sad about this. The old page functioned just fine and acted as a relic of the old Internet. I thought it was kind of cool how they left it alone, especially since it served its purpose just fine without costing anything. Not that I'm denying it was ugly as all hell."

In addition to updating its own 404 page every decade or so (whether it needs it or not), Google provides advice for "creating useful 404 pages" at its Webmaster Central. Here's a sample ... and you can decide for yourself whether the company practices what it preaches.

  • Tell visitors clearly that the page they're looking for can't be found. Use language that is friendly and inviting.
  • Make sure your 404 page uses the same look and feel (including navigation) as the rest of your site.
  • Consider adding links to your most popular articles or posts, as well as a link to your site's home page.
  • Think about providing a way for users to report a broken link.

And here's one of my own: Strive to keep yours from becoming as famous as Twitter's fail whale.

(Update: Count Danny Goodwin at Search Engine Watch among those flagging Google for not following its own advice: "Geeky fun no doubt. But interestingly, Google breaks one its own rules for creating useful 404 pages: to 'help people find the information they're looking for, as well as providing other helpful content and encouraging them to explore your site further.' ")

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