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What Are Custom Error Pages?

Custom error pages allow website owners to replace the standard error pages provided by their host — i.e., the pages users see when they encounter a 401, 404 or other errors while browsing a site — with personalized ones. These custom pages can improve brand consistency and customer engagement while still providing critical error information.

What Are Error Pages?

Anyone who's given the Web more than a cursory browsing has encountered an error page — probably more than one. Traditionally, these pages include some basic information about the error, as well as the specific code assigned to the error.

Error pages are displayed when a file is not found, a link is broken, or another error has occurred, either on the server or the computer of the user browsing the site. Common error codes you've probably come across before include:

  • 401: Unauthorized. The file or directory you tried to navigate to is password protected, and you haven't logged in.
  • 403: Forbidden. The permissions for the file or directory you tried to access aren't set to be accessed from the web.
  • 404: Not Found. This is the most common and well-known of all web error codes. It means that the web page or file you've tried to navigate to doesn't exist. This error could be cause by a typo or a deleted or renamed file.
  • 500: Internal Server Error. This error means there's something wrong with the server the website is hosted on that prevents the page from loading.
  • 504: Gateway Time-Out. This error is similar to the one above. It means that the server hosting the website you tried to access didn't respond to your browser's request for the page, meaning the server is probably down.

By default, error pages are plain and basic HTML pages that give the error code with no styling or images.

However, some hosting providers give their customers the opportunity to replace the "boilerplate" error pages served to customers with customized versions. These custom error pages can be enhanced with more detailed information about the error that's occurred, or redesigned to fit the overall theme of your site and reinforce your brand.

Why Use Custom Error Pages?

Seeing an error page is never a fun experience since it means that, for whatever reason, you're unable to view the page or file you were trying to.

Unfortunately, even the most well-managed websites experiences errors at some point or another. That's why many brands design custom error pages in order to give their users a better experience whenever an error inevitably occurs. A friendly, helpful, and perhaps amusing error page can go a long way to keep your visitors' frustration to a minimum.

One example of an effective error page is Twitter's Fail Whale, an image that appeared when Twitter's servers were overloaded. The Fail Whale was so successful it became a meme in its own right.

How to Customize Your Website's Error Pages

Custom error pages are generally accessed using your hosting control panel (e.g., cPanel, Plesk, etc.). While some hosts do offer drag-and-drop editing for custom error pages, you may need to know at least some basic HTML in order to create and edit your new pages.

For more advanced edits, such as adding active content or customer feedback options, you may need some scripting knowledge. You could also hire a web developer to help create and set up custom error pages for you.

After creating your own custom error page, you will need a way to inform browsers to redirect to your custom page when they encounter an error. You can usually do this via your website's .htaccess file, using a file manager via cPanel.

Before making any changes, be sure to get the full details from your hosting provider about available options and any necessary file updates you may need to make to replace the server's existing error pages with your new custom ones. Depending on your hosting provider, the methods for setting up your new error pages may differ.

What Are Some Things You Want To Include On A Custom Error Page?

404 error pages are some of the most unique, often humorous webpages on a site. Many content management systems include a custom error page in their templates, but they often use standard 404 text and integrate it into a template.

Custom error pages allow your website to stand out from the rest in what could be your weakest moment - a visitor not finding what they expected to find. If you want to create an effective custom error page, it might be good to add links to your most popular pages, add funny images, or write the content of the page in a sarcastic, conversational text. Taking these actions on a page that visitors normally expect to be generated by a bot will help humanize your brand and potentially keep visitors on your site after finding something broken.

Web Hosting Plans With Custom Error Pages

Custom error pages are generally included as a part of your hosting control panel, and as such don't generally affect your monthly hosting fees. However, some hosts may charge a premium for customizations or help setting up your custom error pages, so be sure to get the whole story before you sign up for a hosting package.

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