Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Web Watch: Revisiting 404 Error Pages in UK University Web Sites

Brian Kelly revists 404 Error Pages in UK University Web Sites.

A survey of 404 error pages on UK University Web sites was carried in June 1999 and the findings were reported in Ariadne issue 20 [1]. After a period of 2 years the survey has been repeated allowing trends to be identified. The findings are given in this article.

Why are 404 pages important? Put simply, 404 error pages are probably one of the most visited pages on a Web site. If user's type a URL in incorrectly, or follow a link which has been entered incorrectly, or if the Web site has been reorganised the user will see the 404 page. So it is important to provide functionality and help information to assist the visitor finding the resource they are seeking. In addition, if your institution has invested in a look-and-feel for its Web site it is only sensible to ensure that the 404 page uses the branding.

Current Findings

Details of the current survey are given elsewhere [2]. A summary of the findings are listed below.

Table 1: Summary of Types of 404 Pages
Type of 404 PageFindings 1999Findings 2002
Tailored message (displayed correctly in IE5)3688
Tailored message (but problem in IE 5)50
Server default (which causes problems with default setting in IE 5)11465
Issues redirect21
Mis-configured server50
The default setting for Internet Explorer version 5 means that Web server error messages below a particular size are not displayed; instead a client-side error message iss displayed.
If a redirect is issued by a 404 page, this can cause navigation problems (the Back button may be difficult to use).


As can be seen from Table 1 there has been a significant trend towards use of tailored error messages. This is very pleasing, although there is still a large number of institutions which use the default server error message [3].


Commentary on interesting approaches to use of 404 error messages is not given in this article. However the suggestions given in the previous Ariadne article are still valid, and readers with an interest in updating their 404 error page are advised to read this article [1].


  1. WebWatch: 404s - What's Missing?, Ariadne, issue 20, June 1999
  2. Results of Survey of UK HE 404 Errors Carried Out in June 2002, Brian Kelly, UKOLN, June 2002
  3. Summary Of Results of Survey of UK HE 404 Errors Carried Out in June 2002, Brian Kelly, UKOLN, June 2002

Author Details

Picture of Brian Kelly Brian Kelly
UK Web Focus
University of Bath

Email: b.kelly@ukoln.ac.uk

Brian Kelly is UK Web Focus. He works for UKOLN, which is based at the University of Bath