Customize default pages

Some pages from your website, flow, ... may be an afterthought as they are not part of the core of your offering. Those "default" pages are also blank canvases that you can use to deliver a better user experience.

What I call default pages are all the pages in your website, application, ... that you haven't developed yourself or that are not considered the core of your application.

Laravel's wonderful 404 page. The message is clear, but the user experience is bad... Provide an easy way out!

That could be :

  • Error pages such as 404 (Page Not Found), 403 (Forbidden), ...
  • Confirmation pages from tools like email marketing platforms unsubscribe forms, ...

How to customize ?

There would be multiple ways, depending on the page you want to customize, where it is, the tools available, ...

Some examples are :

  • Within your development framework. For example, in the Laravel framework, you can define a fallback route that would be used if none other match. There you can get rid / customize a default 404 page. There are also way to customize the exception handlers for server errors, etc...
  • If you can configure your web server (nginx, iis, apache, ...), you can specify handlers for various types of status code ( It can be a good idea even if you set something up in your framework. Issues can happen at various point. An issue at the nginx configuration level wouldn't reach your code.
  • If using 3rd parties tools, some will allow defining content or designing pages inside their own environment, other will give the ability to redirect to your own pages where you can have more control.

What should you put on your page ?

Most of the pages in the "default page" category are what I would call terminal pages. Meaning, in most cases, they are the end of the road for the user.

There isn't much he can do if the page isn't found, after unsubscribing to a newsletter, ...

As such, to me, a good replacement page must have those 2 components :

  • A clear statement of how the user got there, what has been accomplished. Usually, the default pages have that part covered. "You've unsubscribed from Company Inc. newsletter", "404 Not Found",  "500 Server Error". It is hard to make it clearer. Your new page must have that. Tell your user how / why they came onto that page.
  • A way out giving the user something else to do. That's where you can make a difference. The content is up to you, and you need to define what applies best in each context. Help your users continue their journey.

 Here are some example :

  • An e-commerce company could provide alternative products to consider when a user lands on a 404 Page (the original product page the user looked for doesn't exist anymore), but the user is looking for something, maybe some similar product could satisfy the need.
  • A SaaS product could display pricing information, instructions on how the user could get access to a specific feature, a link to the login page, ... in case of a 401, 403. Give a way to access what was wished.
  • A user unsubscribing from your newsletter could still be interested in what you have to say. You could link to less known aspects of your businees or interesting facts about it.

If you can infer some context from the small amount of data available (likely only the request URL), you can customize a bit further the content and contextualize based on that.

In most cases, especially for error pages, a user will be disappointed for not being able to do what he wanted. You can turn that bad experience around by providing something new to do that could result into a similar outcome.

Use those blank page either as branding / marketing opportunities or a way to increase the engagement and satisfaction of the user.