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I'm designing a new 404 page and I was wondering: should a 404 page simply have a list of relevant links, or should it try to solve users' problems using natural language?

For example, Apple uses a humanising error message followed by a list of links to different sections. Useful!

However, would a visitor be better served by offering them a few, select, natural-language solutions? Such as a list like

  • Did you want to see the rules?
  • Do you require help?
  • Are you looking to read the articles?

Obviously user testing either of these would be the best solution - and current practice is to provide lots of links - but what do people think?

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    Good question. I wish I could add to this. I would go with both: natural language questions and underneath a list of grouped, well-labeled links – Mayo Jan 28 '15 at 18:15
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I would go with the natural language option supplemented by potentially relevant links. Natural language help makes sense from a marketing/branding POV but from a technical perspective, the questions or guidance you provide may facilitate the user in refining their own idea of what it is they're looking for, which in turn would reduce frustration.

I experienced this myself recently when I was looking for some information about a problem I encountered while using an eCommerce site: I didn't know exactly how to proceed further so searched the site's knowledge base for what I felt was a description of the problem; it turned up a 404 page but based on the questions/suggestions in the 404 itself, I was able to re-think and refine my description of the problem to match how the company would define it such that my next search immediately turned up the exact information I required. On most other sites that use only a list of links, I usually have to click around to open and close a number of pages to eventually find one that has what I need. I learn little or nothing about my own requirements (as the site fulfills them) along the way, there's no "friendly guide" feel, and I may waste time or give up before I find what I was looking for.

  • TL;DR: Ultimately only the user is the best judge of what's relevant to them; they may not recognize relevance unless their idea of it is clear, or conversely they may mistake an irrelevant link to be relevant. It would be their own 'fault' but nonetheless UX would be negatively affected and IMO the best 404s act as a guide or a springboard to further our understanding of the problem as well as a list of potential solutions. Natural language goes a long way in establishing this and is also likely to keep the user interested/engaged till the desired solution is found. Plus branding. – CodeCharming Jan 28 '15 at 18:25
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The links on a 404 page should suit the problem either Simple navigation for one or a detailed list of information.

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