Error Message Primer

By Deane Barker on December 2, 2003

Error Messages: More Important to Your Web Site Than You Think: Good error messages are an often-overlooked detail of every Web site. This article dissects them, from “Placement and Format” to “Voice” (is “pompous indifference” a good voice?) to “Length.” Well-done.

Error messages are essentially the driver’s side air bags of a Web site, the reserve ripcord that alleviates a user’s virtual, downward spiral. An effective error message should quickly save the user after the primary design and content of an application fail to guide the user down the path of success.

It’s important to understand, though, that effective error messages don’t just benefit the users of a Web site. Effective error messages ultimately benefit the creators of a Web site by retaining users’ interest and attention by creating a less frustrating online experience and building site loyalty, which helps to guide users toward the final goal intended by the site’s creators.