When spending time and effort on contingency design companies accept the fact that everything, even the perfectly tested website, will show weak spots at some point. It is difficult – if not impossible to predict all users behavior and experience shows that even the tiniest configuration change on a server can give web-masters serious headache.
The problem may also be on the user side and here typical examples could be a wrong URL returning a 404 (page not found) error or wrong input given to a form. The main idea of contingency design is that it doesn’t really matter what caused the problem. What matter is that we need to do whatever is possible to retain the visitor, user or customer by making sure the situation is taken care of professionally. This can be giving a status, useful directions, alternative options etc. in a way that show we care about the person visiting the site. Even better however by preventing problems before they show up. Adding clear instructions to your users e.g. when filling out a form is part of good contingency design. If you have restrictions on specific input fields in a form you need to communicate this clearly. Lets have a look on what you can do when users run into trouble!
Something is missing! 404 pages
Sometimes people don’t remember correctly, type a wrong URL or we may have moved a page without taking care of redirection. When a visitor hit a dead end and get a 404 error the main goal is to provide good options for leading the person back into the site.
There are several ways to do this. A popular one is adding a search form or some you can also add key enry points to content on the site. On a blog this could be the most popular categories, most viewed or commented articles.
Finally adding some funny graphics to make the situation less serious may be useful.
Useful Related Tools for WordPress Webmasters
Redirection is a WordPress plugin to manage 301 redirections, keep track of 404 errors. What makes it a special plugin is the automatic redirection it provides if anything change permalink inside WordPress (works for admins only). If you update a page or a post and the URL is changed without you are paying attention Redirection will keep you safe and your visitors will not get a 404 when coming from old links. Further link juice from old links will be maintained for SEO purposes.
Broken Link Checker (WordPress)
This plugin will check your posts, comments and other content for broken links and missing images, and notify you if any are found. While pretty smart and effective you should keep an eye on resources as it may be putting extra load on your server when running. There are options to set this up as needed. With more than 1.000.000 downloads this is one of the most popular plugins!
With this plugin you can easily add an Archives pages in your site using a shortcode – i.e. it can be used on your 404 page to provide users multiple ways back onto your site. This is a example but there are other similar plugins you can use to get this result.
404 Page Examples
We provided a huge list of 404 pages earlier and you can find inspiration here.
When the shit has really hit the fan! Maintenance pages
Getting back on track when a busy website is experiencing serious issues can be pretty hard and in the meantime users may experience runtime errors, pages that hang etc. To make servers easy to work on and to respond to user request in a decent way the top priority is to:
Load off visitors to a maintenance page
There are various ways to achieve this but the main point is that you need a process to direct all traffic to a simple page that your servers can serve without putting load in the system. On this page you can inform users about the situation and what you are doing to recover.
Maintenance page related tools
Ultimate Maintenance Mode (WordPress)
This plugin displays a screen-shot of your website with an overlayed window and the reason your site is down.
5sec Maintenance Mode (WordPress premium plugin)
This plugin comes with 6 beautiful, funny templates to make your visitors less angry while you’re offline and a flexible timer and progressbar feature.
CGC Maintenance Mode Pro (WordPress premium plugin)
CGC Maintenance Mode Pro is a plugin for WordPress that is designed to make it extremely easy to safely perform upgrades and maintenance on your site. A key feature I like about this plugin is that while in maintenance mode, unauthorized users are sent to either a WordPress page, external URL, or custom template. Authorized users on the other hand, specified by IP, are permitted to see the site as normal (if running). This allows for real life testing before sending users back.
Maintenance Mode Notify (WordPress)
Notify your visitors when you’re updating your blog by showing a nice message in the page.
Maintenance Page Examples
As you can see below the large well known sites all do it and typically add a bit of humor to cheer up the potentially sad and frustrated users.
Hope you liked this article and that you will share your views on this topic below. Also if you have some examples of great contingency design I would love to see them!