'HTTP 404 Not Found' reads the title. It's not pretty. As web surfers, we have all collided with 404 error pages, and some endeavour to correct the error be checking the URL for stupid mistakes that often happen. In this article Steve talks about handling 404 errors with Apache, and also suggests ways to keep visitors on your site by making the content of your 404 page informative and useful.
Implementing Sensible 404 Pages With Apache - Designing the error document (Page 3 of 4 )
Now that we’ve got the technical discussion out of the way, let's get into how exactly to effectively design a 404 error document page. Here are a few tips when furnishing your document:
Keep the design constant: That is, whatever design your web site supports, consider keeping that design when building your error document. This is not mandatory, however. If you have a good reason to stray from your design, then do so. Otherwise, keep it constant.
Use attractive dialog: Do not use the word error. Error signifies something is terribly wrong, and while that may be so, you should give that information to your visitor in a very friendly way. Instead, consider writing "Sorry, the page you were looking for is not available at the moment".
Include contact information: Obviously, you want to fix the error, so give the user every opportunity to e-mail you about the error. Some users will not bother to do so, but you still need to give them the opportunity.
Keep the visitor moving: Often, 404 error pages are like road blocks, or brick walls that the user cannot pass through. You need to break through the barriers and allow your visitor to keep travelling through your web site. If your web site supports a search capability, include a form on your error document to let them search for the information they were originally seeking. At the very least, include a link to your home page.
Give them a site map: When the user clicks upon a page that is no longer available or one that was mistyped by the webmaster, consider adding a link to a site map page, or include your site map right on your 404 error document so the user can get their bearings within your site, and can locate their desired content quickly and easily.
Give them help: List tips on your error document page to help the visitor diagnose the error. For example, ask them to double check the URL in their browser's address bar. If it's correct, politely ask them to e-mail you to report the error. Also suggest that they visit your home page (or search utility) to find the information they are after.
List some popular links: Provide the user with a few links to your most popular content areas of your web site, as it is more likely they were searching for that content than anything else.