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Building a better ‘404 error’ experience


May 2, 2011 - 2 Comments

It’s an unfortunate fact of big web sites that links break. That’s definitely true on Cisco.com, where we have around two million pages to manage. But we know there is almost nothing more annoying than clicking on a link, only to receive a 404 ‘File Not Found’ error when trying to access a document.

To address this pain point, Cisco has developed a mechanism that handles broken links in a new way that will make the broken link experience a little less like a dead-end.

If we can find a document title similar to the one associated with the broken link, the web server will present some alternate links from which to choose.

Why not just fix all those links?

The fact is, we are constantly maintaining the links on the site. But we will never be able to fully eradicate 404’s from the web experience.

We perform routine site maintenance, as well as targeted 404 sweeps, to catch the most egregious instances. However, these efforts have little or no effect on user bookmarks, embedded links inside TAC case notes, or other external references to Cisco.com content.

Our new innovative approach is designed to get users past the 404 ‘dead-end’ and to inject some logic into the broken link process. By enhancing the standard Cisco.com 404 page, we provide alternate suggested links through the use of a link archive and Cisco.com Search. If a document URL changes, we will have a document reference that can be used to search for and possibly provide a new location.

The link archive has been seeded with over 50,000 historical links and the new Smart 404 process supports any language found on Cisco.com.

Although the system is not yet ‘smart enough’ to help resolve every link ever part of Cisco.com, it is a start. And with the continuous update process enabled on the backend, the database will grow to meet the needs of future broken links.

Want to see this in action? Just click on this broken link:
http://www.cisco.com/web/qatestsite/Smart404_2.0/Smart404_2.0Page/index1.html

We are already seeing evidence that this innovation is helping us deliver a smarter and more satisfying web experience. Let us know what you think.

Example Smart 404 results page

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2 Comments

  1. I'm glad to see one of my Original concept is seeing the light of day again - I did the same thing at iPlanet 10 years ago and for Sun.com (Sun Microsystems, acquired by Oracle) 9 years ago. In the version I did, it handled redirects, warning users about links that changed with a configurable expiration period, and reported the location of broken URLs so that updates were possible. While we never got to the dynamic 'Smart Enough' piece either, the goal had been to enable us to dynamically 'Recommend' alternative urls using meta data from the system. I always thought I should Trade Mark the Functionality.

  2. Hi, I just tried http://www.cisco.com/webexperience/bullding and this is definetly a made up Link, so no old link from the past... but i just think that you should improve some links like this also, which might be totally wrong, but sometime something like this just happens... Maybe you could place some basic links for the user..or a cool massage... because if i only see: The Page You Have Requested Is Not Available i might just close the cisco page... and i think its all about not losing a potential customer