There's going to be times when things just don't work properly. Normally, I shut my computer down at night (a good practice to get into for personal and non-essential computers), but one night I didn't. The next morning I realized that I had left my computer on so I gently shake the mouse to wake everything up and what I saw put a smile on my face.
As the guy who is in charge of the website, I would get frustrated when things didn't work properly. Then one day I realized that this was just going to happen. That there was nothing I could do about this issue except to take preemptive measures to avoid inconvenience. I realized that even the companies much larger than mine still had issues, hence the image above. This image appeared because a webpage wouldn't load. Most of the time this is fixed by refreshing the screen, sometimes it takes a few minutes for a server to catch up with all the request that are coming in, and sometimes this means that something is actually broken. When this does happen, because it will at some point, will customers get a funny message that makes them smile, that lets them know the company is human and not perfect, or will they get a blank page and be confused about what is happening? A few companies have taken a very lighthearted approach to this issue and some have forgotten about it.
What will your customer’s see? Whether the choice is made to be a little fun on the 404 page or keep it basic, there needs to be a couple of simple things that are always included:
1. Make sure that the customer knows what happened. This doesn't mean that a paragraph has to be written, but simply a basic explanation.
2. Give the customer some direction. This may be a link to the homepage or it may be a note that says to refresh the screen. Regardless of what is chosen, make sure that it is clear how to proceed.
Below are a few examples of good 404 pages. I realize the image is small, so to see a larger version of the image simply click on the name of the image you want to see.