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Do you have a 404 strategy?

Do you have a 404 strategy? Do you know what a 404 is? First off lets describe what a 404 is just in case you don’t know. When somebody comes to your website using a URL that does not exist by default your server will just send the user a 404 error which shows your visitor a white page with huge letters that say “NOT FOUND”. Most the time the person just hits the back button and moves on. The answer to the other question should be obvious.

I’m not going to get into the technical side of how to create a 404 page there are lots of blog posts and articles already out there. I’m going to talk about your strategy. What is your goal? Do you want to entertain, solve the problem, or act like nothing happened?

Here is a list of strategies that people use and the pros and cons of each.

1. Redirect all 404 traffic to the front page. This only slightly better than doing nothing. This confuses some people. They clicked on a specific link and they end up at your front page that may have nothing to do with what they clicked on.
2. Create a template page of your website and put a page not found message on that. With this method at least now they know that something went wrong but still does not help the person. They still can’t find what they are looking for.
3. Create a custom 404 page with some logic that tries to guess what the person is looking for. I would also put a search box on this page as well. If part of the URL is correct like the folder you can have a specific 404 landing page with a list of things they might be looking for. Try to help the visitor find what they need.
4. Create some gimmick like a funny video, cartoon, or game. This can get you some attention and might get you some viral attention. Here are some examples.

Another benefit to using a custom 404 page is that you can put your analytics code on it. If you don’t have a custom 404 page it will not show up in Google Analytics. You need to modify the tracking code on your 404 page so don’t just use the normal footer. Here is a link to how to modify that code. It is very important to monitor your 404 errors. You can find where people have linked to you incorrectly. You can send them a message to fix it or 301 redirect it to the correct page.

{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Anders blogger in profitable marketing May 18, 2009, 9:14 am

    Many SEO companies claim that the SEO process can generate profitable traffic. I do not agree to this statement because I think that the issue is far more comprehensive and needs expertise from other professionals, persons who known more than merely the IT business

  • SixChannels May 27, 2009, 5:37 am

    Go for 301 redirect URL, it is the best option I feel

  • Chris Jones June 25, 2009, 9:39 am

    Although I was aware of the 404 error (mainly through seeing it on other sites) I hadn’t implemented it on my site yet. I’m new to this seo business and my free ps3 site still has it’s original four pages and nothing else but I guess as time passes and the site grows it’s easy to have left links somewhre in the distant past that no longer point to a valid page. Once I’ve got my re-desgin sorted a 404 strategy is the next job.

  • Jason October 15, 2009, 12:58 am

    If I reroute the 404 to the main page, doesn’t Google interprete it as duplicate content (main page content is available on “several” pages…)??

  • ogletree December 18, 2009, 1:37 pm

    @Jason

    No because Google will see a 404 and they do not index pages that return a 404.

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