At SpringTrax, we find it is useful to distinguish between technical errors and broken experiences. Both are closely related, but each are unique. Each also require a different type of solution. So what is the difference between a technical error and the broken experience?
Technical errors are the actual, technical reason something broke on your website. In the case of 404 errors, the technical error is that the page the visitor requested was not located on the server. This is a technical issue, and it requires digging into the technical side of your website in order to understand what exactly went wrong. For instance, was the page not found because it was accidentally deleted or because of a server malfunction?
Ultimately, your goal with a technical error is to get rid of the error. However, fixing the technical error usually requires some type of programming knowledge. In the case of 404 errors, you fix 404 errors by correcting the links or redirecting the broken URL to some other page.
Broken experiences, on the other hand, are how you display the technical error to the visitor. In the case of 404 errors, the broken experience is what you display on your error page. Handling the broken experience doesn't require technical know-how. Instead, handling the broken experience requires understanding the people visiting your website and understanding how they might perceive the error message.
Unlike a technical error, you can't "fix" a broken experience. You want to improve the broken experience so that the people who encounter the error are less frustrated by the error. In other words, you want to make the experience people have with the error better. For 404 errors, you can improve the broken experience by helping people move forward after they've encountered the error.
After explaining the difference between a technical error and a broken experience, the common response is: "We'll just fix the technical errors and won't need to worry about broken experiences!" If only that worked...
Technical errors are an inevitably. At SpringTrax, almost every site we work with has had a sudden increase in 404 errors after they thought the errors had been fixed. The same is true with other technical errors. Your server might crash unexpectedly. Your contact form might stop working. People might enter in invalid data when using your shopping cart.
You, of course, want to fix these technical errors and do everything you can. But, in the online world everything depends on technology working and no technology will work 100% of the time. That is why you want to focus on the broken experiences.
When your technology breaks, and hopefully it doesn't break often, you want to ensure you handle the broken experience in the best way possible. As a result, it is worth focusing on your website's broken experiences to see exactly how you present those technical errors to your visitors.