I finally had a little time today to update the Archdiocese of Saint Louis' 404 Not Found page. Drupal has built-in 404 handling, so I simply created a new node, added in the content of the 404 page in the node body, and went to the 'site information' page to set 404 errors to that node.

Archdiocese of Saint Louis - 404 Page

In redesigning the page, I wanted to fulfill two goals:

  1. Make people comfortable, not upset.
    The person just hit a missing page, and this threw them off from whatever they may have expected. Best to try to soothe their minds, rather than throw a huge error in their face. Nothing's worse than the Apache default page, in Times, with black on white. I created the page not found graphic in Photoshop, and added a soft line rather than a hard black horizontal rule.
  2. Offer options to help users stay on the site.
    A lot of people will immediately hit the 'back' button if they hit a 404. Give users an incentive to stay on the site. I ask them to either search the site, or navigate using the links at the top of the page.

Don't overlook 404 pages, maintenance pages, etc., when developing your website. They are seen by more people than you'd hope, and they are still a good tool for evangelization—keep people on your site, and comfort them with good design.