Seeing 404 error pages as a way to build a relationship with readers

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Creative 404 error page that illustrates how you might feel when you stumble across one. (Not quite sure what’s up with the creature, but he’s so ugly he’s cute.)


Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of TED talks. I love the breadth of topics they cover, and how they add depth to what may otherwise seem like a surface-level experience.

I recently watched one about the experience of stumbling upon 404 error pages that alert people to broken links.

Renny Gleeson, whose background is in advertising, shows several examples of 404 pages in his talk. There are lots of other good examples, including these. The New York Times also has a creative one that links to a list of the Most Popular/Recommend stories.

But too often, 404 pages are dull; they draw people away from a site and rarely turn frustration into satisfaction.

Gleeson makes the point that “[A 404 page] is the feeling of a broken relationship” and says that “every error is really a chance to build a better relationship.” I love that last line and thought about it in light of our recent corrections audit.

It also reminded me of something that my colleague Craig Silverman wrote in his piece on why the public lacks trust in the media: “By publicizing and acknowledging our mistakes and failures, we show vulnerability. We show our human face. We make ourselves worthy of connection — and trust.”

And we build a better relationship with our audience.