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April 16, 2011

404 Errors Drive Visitors Away

A “Page not found” message – also called a 404 error message – is the standard response from a web server when it can’t find a requested URL, or web address.

Imagine driving across town to visit a business and finding a “Closed” sign on the door during open hours. A 404 message is like that “Closed” sign – it says your site isn’t open for business. If you’re trying to do business on the web, you want to make sure your site can be easily found, around the clock.

The web is like a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week mall. People expect websites to be available all the time. When someone clicks a link to your website and gets a “Page not found” error, they’ll likely regard your website as broken, or nonexistent. If they’re really motivated, they might try to find your website by other means. If they aren’t strongly motivated, they won’t.

Why Do 404 Errors Occur?

Anyone can receive a 404 message if they’re trying to get to your site by clicking on a broken link. This is the most common cause of 404 errors.

A link can become broken for a number of reasons. People often rewrite web page URLs when they’re redesigning their site, or they may try to enhance search engine optimization (SEO) by including keywords in the URLs.

When a URL gets rewritten, any link to that page using the old URL is instantly broken. It can’t take someone to the page anymore.

How to Avoid 404 Errors

Help would-be visitors to your site avoid the dreaded “Page not found” error by following these tips:

  • Submit new pages to search engines immediately.
  1. Submit to Google
  2. Submit to Bing
  • Read Link Juice: Save Every Drop for tips on making sure links to old pages are changed to point to the new pages. The article includes a list of tools for locating your old links, both on your own site and around the web.
  • If you’ve changed the URL for a page on your website, redirect visitors to the new page from the old one, using a 301 redirect.
  • You can also redirect people manually. You can revise the web page at an old URL, inviting people to visit your new page. Make sure you include a link to the new page. It’s also good to offer your contact information if you think people may be confused and may need to communicate with you directly. It’s a good way to build trust with your site visitors.
  • You can check with your web hosting company to see if it offers a 404 redirect. When a user enters the URL for an old page, your web hosting company can redirect a visitor to a page you specify, instead of returning a 404 error.
  • Stay organized by recording changes to your site. Then you can go back and fix links when you’re done.

Mistypes and 404 Errors

People can get a 404 error if they mistype your website’s domain name in the navigation bar of their web browser.

You can’t account for every possible mistyping of your domain name. But if your domain name is easy to mistype or misspell, you can purchase these commonly mistyped domain names. Then create a 301 redirect from each of the mistypes back to your website. It’s a good way to capture website visitors who might otherwise go astray.

Check out how your home page looks to search engines and people with the free Home Page Analysis. Want a deeper look at all your site’s pages? Try an AboutUs Site Report.

This article was contributed by Suzi Ziegler of (visit). Suzi shares her love of words with as a writer and editor. Have a question for Ms. Ziegler? Contact her here