Today, I wrote an article on Custom 404 Pages on my "other" blog.
My mother, being a doting parent, cruised over to read my blog on a Saturday afternoon. (I have to be soooo careful what I say, since she does occasionally get a wild hair and read my blog). :O)
So, she read the post and then sent me an email. (My mother does NOT comment on posts -- no matter how often I encourage it). She sends emails -- or she calls. Period.
She tells me that 404 pages do not make her feel stupid, they make her angry.
She explained that since she found the website, obviously SHE didn't do anything wrong. She says that the website owner is "jerking her around or something."
She also didn't like my "funny" examples. (She was on a roll at that point). I'm sure that's partly because she's a staunch Republican and I listed one that didn't cast Bush in a positive light (see what I mean about being "careful"?). But she didn't like the other ones because they held her hostage (I guess she didn't want to click away, either. Hmmm.)
Now, please understand, my mother isn't an "angry" person -- so this attitude really surprised me. It was a total breakdown in communication and it took me awhile to understand what caused it.
It was caused because she didn't understand what a 404 page IS and what it DOES.
Once I explained that every webpage on my blog (for example) has it's own address, that starts with my URL -- but then has an extension which identifies the page -- she understood how a missing page would still leave her on my site. I then explained that outside sources may link to my website and since I'd switched content management systems lately, that there was a chance that some of those page names may have changed -- especially if I didn't redirect them all.
She told me I SHOULD redirect them all, otherwise I was being rude to my visitors. *grin* So she gets that part.
I bring up this example because my mother has been using the web nearly as long as I have. She's good at research and she's fairly tech-savvy -- but since she doesn't HAVE a webpage, there are some things she doesn't understand.
Likewise, you may have web-savvy clients and visitors from a USE standpoint who don't quite understand the way things work (like what a 404 error really is and what it means), even though you assume that they do.
It would never have occurred to me that any visitor to my site would consider a 404 error as a personal affront. Now I know better! Personally, I find it annoying and usually try to troubleshoot (I check for typos in the URL and search for another way to get to the page I want on the site). But, that's not my mother's approach at all -- and is probably not your visitor's approach either.
So if you aren't currently using custom 404 pages, you may want to consider that now. And, be sure you use a 301 redirect when you move pages -- otherwise, my mother would think you are rude. And trust me, she's the expert on etiquette!
Parting thoughts for those who have or maintain a business website:
I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. - Robert McCloskey
(Note: Photo by Anita Patterson - isn't it beautiful?)