Best Practices for “File Not Found” Page

Many thanks to Leslie O’Flahavan of E-WRITE for allowing me to repost this item that appeared perviously in her Writing Matters blog:

When my recent search for USAID information on preparing your family for an avian flu pandemic dead-ended in a 404 “File Not Found” page, I expected to head back to the drawing board: Google. Then I took a closer look at USAID’s error message page. (Click on the thumbnail to get a full-size, readable view.)


Rather than stranding the user, it tries to help by:

  • Linking to the USAID home page where the user may be able to get her bearings and start the search again
  • Linking to the site map, which may seem like a “vintage” method of way-finding but which some users actually prefer
  • Linking to the Help Desk, a page that explains in easy-to-read text what each of the main content categories contains, what drop-downs are, and the right-hand navigation relates to the content on each page
  • Providing a search field and allowing the user to search all/part of the USAID web site or the Internet instead.

Now THAT’s attention to detail.