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Guide To Handling 404 Re-Direct Errors
Posted by Cameron Francis on September 13, 2013 in SEO

Mistakes are bound to occur. They can occur as the result of a user mistyping your URL, or you may have neglected to fix an old link.  At times, some of your prospective clients will end up on your 404 page.

This page is displayed at times when a server is unable to find a specific page on your site. Unfortunately, the majority if marketers view this error page as if it were a technical issue, and do not give it another thought.

404 Error Page

These 404 pages are infrequently given the thought and importance they are worthy of. There are numerous considerations that, if ignored, may have an adverse effect on your site’s performance. Therefore, how should 404 re-directs is handled?  Why do they have relevance to internet marketers?  Let us examine these questions in more detail.

Damage Limitation

You will never be able to totally eliminate the need for having a 404 error page. Even if your entire link structure were flawless, there will always be users who mistype a URL, particularly if they are using a mobile device.  In addition, you can’t control the URLs that are used to link to your site from other sites. Therefore, mistakes will inevitably occur.

However, the errors that are most harmful and embarrassing are those that occur when a user ends up on your 404 page after clicking on an internal link on your site. You do have control over these types of errors! There are various tools you can use to determine which of your pages have 404 errors, one way is to refer to your Google Webmaster Tool or use another tool. You will then be able to examine each page with an error and replace your faulty links.

Other tools you can use to find 404 errors include Link Sleuth and Screaming Frog. In addition, you can make use of Check My Links, which is a browser extension that you can get from the Chrome Store.

What Is The Effect On SEO?

Many Webmasters utilise 301 redirects to bring visitors to the homepage of a site, as opposed to bringing them to a 404 page. Although this is the best option for retaining link juice from incoming links, it is not always the best option from the perspective of a user.

If there is a page that has a lot of relevant, high authority links and you have elected to eliminate that page, then it is best to use a 301 re-direct to another page on your site so that you retain its link juice. It is also a good idea to correct these links at their source, buy reaching out to site owners who are linking to the page that is eliminated and suggesting a replacement page to them.

Nevertheless, in most instances, it is better to send your visitors to a 404 page. If they were expecting to land on a specific page, and they end up being re-directed to a homepage, they will likely be a bit frustrated and confused. In this case, it is better for them to land on an informative and helpful 404 page.

Constructing A Suitable 404 Page

A 404 page is completely customisable and editable similar to any other site page.  In order for it to have a beneficial purpose, you should adhere to the guidelines that follow:

  • Content – Like other site pages, the function and tone of your text copy is vital if you want to have visitors take the actions you desire. Ensure that your copy is re-assuring and welcoming.
  • Appearance – The appearance of this page should be similar to the rest of the pages on your site. If a visitor lands on a page that does not have the functionality or branding that they were anticipating, the have a much greater likelihood of quickly exiting the site. Keep your visitors engaged by maintaining consistent appearance and branding.
  • Assist Your Site Visitors – Tell your visitors what action you would like them to take next. Provide some type of call-to-action.  Assist them in finding what they were seeking by giving them the links that are most relevant or providing them with an option to perform a search of your site.  

Be Positive On Your 404 Page

There really isn’t a way to circumvent it. Your 404 page will be visited only when some type of error has occurred.  No matter what you do, these errors will occur. If you want to retain your visitors’ respect, you should shoulder the responsibility for these errors.  Nevertheless, an error does not have to be such a negative thing. With eTraffic Web Marketing, you can take this opportunity to inject some humour into your site and turn it into a positive experience!

Instead of viewing your 404 page as simply a technical necessity, you should view it like other site pages. It has a specific function, and if it is designed and targeted properly, it can assist in re-engaging visitors and help them to have a positive site experience.

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Cameron Francis

Co-Founder

Cameron Francis is the CoFounder & Managing Director of ETRAFFIC, Melbourne's #1 Creative & Digital Marketing Agency. For over a decade Cameron has been providing growth marketing and digital strategies for over 2,000 small businesses, start-ups & entrepreneurs around the country.
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Cameron Francis is the co-founder of The eTraffic Group which started as a 2 man start-up from his lounge room, to a 50 person+, multi million dollar company.

For over 10 years Cameron has been providing growth hacking and digital marketing strategies for small businesses, start ups & entrepreneurs. He helps companies like Retreat Caravans, Melbourne Real Estate, and Roth Newton grow their revenue.

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