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December 15, 2008

Create Your Own Customized 404 Error Page for Increased Traffic

By design, the server that hosts’ your web site delivers a 404 Error / Page Not Found when a surfer clicks on a link that the server cannot find or something else unexpected happens. The most common error page is the HTTP 404 “Not found: The requested URL/whatever.html was not found on this server.”

This generally happens when a person clicks on a link for page that has been removed, renamed or otherwise changed.

If you were to enter the link below into your browser and hit the enter button you would see my own custom 404 Error page: (This link is not active and will present you with my custom 404 Error page.) What happens to your web visitor who gets that error message on your site without a custom 404 Error page?

Generally speaking they’re off faster than a “speeding bullet” looking for the information they were seeking – probably to a different website. That’s something you really don’t want to have happen and it can be prevented with a custom 404 error page that gives them options on the error page that will tell them how to find what they were looking for.

So the answer is? Create your own custom 404 Error page that suggests other resources on your site and then helps redirects that person to them.

In essence you’re capturing traffic that you had, but lost and didn’t know it, and keeping that visitor by helping them find what they need and possible turn them into a buyer for your product or service later on.

But “I don’t have the time or know how to make a custom 404 page”, you say.

Well good news – it’s not as hard as you think. If you have about 30 minutes and your server is a Apache or Unix web server then it’s virtually a snap to do

** Your Custom 404 Page Design **

In my opinion your custom 404 error page should provide at least these components:

  • A simple statement that the requested URL was not found on your site.
  • A brief description of some of the most common mistakes that couldhave lead the visitor to the missing page.
  • A “plug” for one of your Free products or services

You can of course add other components like simple java script code for date & time and IP address display, etc. if you really want to impress someone with your technical wizardry.

Your page also should carry the look and feel of your web site, so you should include your header or footer or both so it is clearly branded as yours. You may wish to include some other links for your site that lead visitors to other pages you may want them to visit.

Here are the basic steps:

  1. The simplest method is to create your new custom page, then upload it to your site in the same folder where your home page is located. Servers vary in their requirements. For mine the page must have a specific name for it to function properly as my custom 404 error page.
  2. If you don’t have an .htaccess file you need to create one in the same folder where your home page is stored, (in some cases, the file may already exist; on servers with Front Page extensions this file is automatically created). ¬†You’ll need to do a simple edit inthis file. Use your text editor or server editing features to add the following command: ErrorDocument 404 /filename.html (where “filename.html” is replaced by the name of the actual file you want to appear as your Custom 404 Error page.)

You could, if you prefer, to insert your home page when a 404 error occurs. In that case, the correct command to add to your .htaccess would be: ErrorDocument 404 /index.html

The above example assumes your home page is named index.html. If not, replace it with whatever name you are using for your home page instead.

If you use Microsoft Internet Explorer and the option to Show friendly HTTP error messages is enabled, the file size of your custom error page must be no less than 512 bytes to function properly. Otherwise, the program will show a generic message.

There you have it. Design your page, follow the two simple steps above and you’ll soon have your own custom 404 error page that will capture lost visitors and keep them on your site.

One final note – before you start on setting up your own custom error page check the FAQ or knowledge base for your website’s server for the specific requirements for making sure your new page works.

Ed Duvall – For more information on promoting your website and Free online business Resources visit