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Improve Your 404 Page And Help The Visitor

Apr 26, 2008
So what is a 404 page?

Say for example the visitor intends come directly to your website's .../products.html page but by mistake types .../product.html. What happens than? The page the visitor had requested do not exist in the folder and thus the page will not be downloaded.

It may also happen if the visitor is coming to your webpage from another website that had a broken link. Thus when the visitor clicked on the link, it put him or her on a page that never existed or was moved to another directory by you.

So what can you do with it?

Most of the web servers offer a custom 404 page with the phrase 'the page you are looking for is not found' or simply 'page not found' followed by some other default instructions on what to do. We all have seen some 404 pages during web surfing.

You can leave the page as it is and loose a hard earned visitor or prospective customer or you can make a customized error page to help the visitor find out what he or she is looking for.

However, you must know that it will not help you to improve search engine rank but it would definitely help you retain a visitor in your website. Some webmasters have worked a bit extra to create interesting 404 pages and they are actually getting a lot of links for those error pages. Do a Google search for 'interesting 404 pages' and you will see some creative people at work.

How to build a custom 404 page!

Most of the web servers have pre configured the system to look for a specific file when a page is not found. All you need to do is to add 'ErrorDocument 404 /notfound.html' in the .htaccess file and create a notfound.html page and upload it in the main directory. The notfound.html page would be shown to the visitor when the requested page will not be found.

Now you are almost done with the process. But can we move a few steps forward to help the visitor with a custom made 404 page! Here are few tips on how to do that:

1.Use the same template in the 404 page that you use in the main site with the same navigation. This would help the visitor to go to whichever page they want.

2.Some webmasters simply redirect the visitors to the home page from a 404 page. But this is not good from a user's perspective. To the most you can put a link to the Home page and ask the visitor to click on the link to go to the home page and start all over again.

3.Internal search engines can be good solution at this stage. You can also build a Google custom search engine to search within your site. Now put that custom search engine in that 404 page and ask the visitor to search for what they are looking for. This is more important if you have a really big site with a lot of deep links.

4.Do not forget to apologize to the visitors for the missing page.

5.You can always be a bit creative to decorate the 404 page depending on your target market and your product's brand image. A pet shop and a consultancy firm should not show similar error page design.

6.If necessary you can put a properly structured sitemap in the 404 page. It may help the visitors to easily navigate through your website.

7.You can also ask the visitors to inform the webmaster about the broken link. In this case always use a simple one click form.

Helping the visitors like a pro is the best way towards better search engine rankings. You should follow this rule for a sustainable golden future.
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Discover the best kept secrets by asking an SEO expert. Find out how to improve search engine rank for your website using web 2.0 strategies.
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