An error page can either use the same template as the rest of the site or a different one.

With Error 500 (Server Error), it is preferred for the error page to be as simple as possible to lower the probability of the error page itself causing another Error 500. With other errors, this should not pose a problem.

Other than technical reasons (some technologies might only allow static error pages), only few pros come to mind:

  • different layout will emphasise that something is wrong
  • redundancies are eliminated

When the error page uses a different layout, it might be less obvious which site the error page comes from, though.

An example of a site (although not a typical web site) using different layout for error pages is Google. Another example is Ghost blog – compare with Drupal blog.

It seems to be less common today, some sites that employed different layout in the past recently switched to a single template.

Are there any other reasons for creating a separate layout for the Error 404 page?

2 Answers 2


Interesting question.

I see what you mean. I definitely think having a separate layout has its advantages.


  1. It breaks the flow the user is in and presents an error page. This is crucial because if indeed this is something that cannot be found, the user need not be confused to take the steps in the same layout again. Since this is bad news, you can give the user suggestions of what can be done otherwise.

  2. It prevents the user to access your website using the error page and then using the other layout to navigate through. An error page needs to be concise and precise of what you're conveying.

  3. Starbucks is a good example. Although it features too much text than needed, it breaks the user out of the flow and instead of taking him back to the page they were, it encourages solutions to head to the Homepage or site-map. A new layout also allows you to get creative with the visual design and branding.

  4. Here's an example that keeps the existing layout. Zomato manages to get the user to know what's wrong but due to the similar layout on top, it might take a few seconds till the user knows what's up. However, it is certainly better than Drupal which one needs to scroll down to know that they are on the error page, still a bad example of how using the same layout can get a little confusing.

  5. Taco Bell has a good solution. It has a navigation menu on the left, so it still keeps the original layout but happens to take most of the space to convey the bad news. Hence, this is one of the creative compromises you could take if you really want to include the layout in.

  6. Here's a really bad example. Burger King uses plain text to convey the news and it is populated by its layout on all ends. The user will be overwhelmed by the layout and won't notice what the page wants to convey.

With the delicious examples above, I think it's safe to convey that a separate layout will allow you to get a lot more creative while conveying the error precisely and allowing suggestions on what to do next, while breaking the flow of the user which is important to convey the news.

  • Why, then, do most sites, despite technical hindrances, go to great lengths to use the same layout?
    – Jan Tojnar
    Jun 21, 2016 at 14:13
  • Using the same layout isn't necessarily a bad thing if implemented accurately, however most websites don't implement it correctly. For example, Drupal and Burger King have used the same layout but they hardly can be compared with the following good implementations: webascender.com/Portals/0/Blog/404-Error/404-airbnb.png webascender.com/Portals/0/Blog/404-Error/404-uber.png Many articles WRT Branding suggest using the same layout, to keep consistency. But if the purpose isn't served of conveying the NOT FOUND error, it doesn't make sense. Jun 21, 2016 at 15:10

The content and layout of your pages should fit the users' needs at that point.

Consistency is usually the best way to go but there are exceptions and one of these is the 404 page.

There are a couple of reasons why 404 pages tend to differ from the rest of the site:

1) Technical - 404 (and other server error pages) should reside outside of any content management systems so that they can be launched even if the CMS has failed. They are usually also free of database or framework functionality for the same reasons. This means that they often cannot share the same templates and functionality as the rest of the sites pages.

2) Design - 404 pages convey an uncomfortable message for users: "whatever you were looking for is not here". That's not a very user friendly message so lots of sites attempt to use design or even humour to mitigate the users' bad feelings and help them find what they may have been looking for. This, combined with the technical reasons above, can mean that the design of all server error pages (including things like '400 - Bad Request', '401 - Unauthorised', '403 - Forbidden', '500 - Internal Server Error', '503 - Service Unavailable', etc) can vary greatly from the basic template style of the main site

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