Building a better ‘404 error’ experience
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:
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.