Tips for Better SEO Pt 4 : 404 error page not found

Fiddling with your URL
How do you feel about your users fiddling with your URL? No, this isn’t a naughty question. Let’s say a user wants to buy a book and uses a link of www.bookshop.com/horror/author/stephenking.html, then decide they really feel like reading horror but not necessarily Stephen King. To broaden their search they just drop off the stephenking.html and hope to get a list of all horror authors. When they do this, will they find a real page of horror authors or be presented with a nasty ‘404 page not found’ error?

The optimal outcome is for the user to be presented with the aimed for list of horror authors or whatever. Try to have this set up for your site if possible. If it is unavoidable to go to a 404 error page, ensure the page has a simple navigation back to a home page and/or a good search facility on that page.

What is a 404 page and how do I make the most of it
When a user comes to your site via an incorrect URL which identifies your site but not a valid page, or comes via a link which has been broken, or navigates with an incorrect URL as above, they need to see something.

It is important for them to not get the equivalent of ‘the number you are calling has been disconnected’. However this is often what a user sees – a blank page with ‘404 Error- Page not found’. When this is the sum total of what a user sees, they become frustrated, go elsewhere and usually carry a poor view of your professionalism.

If on the other hand they receive a page of useful information and help, they are more likely to remain within your site and you are more likely to be regarded positively.

Therefore, some of the things you can include on a custom 404 error page can be:

A friendly response retaining the look and feel of your site and branding image
A link directly back to your root or home page
A link to the html site map allowing a detailed view of your site
You could also have links to the most popular pages on your site or related content pages
Google has a couple of useful tools when it comes to site error pages. The first one is a ‘404 widget’ which can make your 404 page more useful to your visitor. The widget has a functional logic which can offer alternative relevant pages based on the incorrect URL entered. This helps to stop the 404 page feeling like a dead end.

The second tool is a Google Webmaster Tool which finds the sources of those who come in on 404 error pages. This is especially useful in contacting others who may have your URLs incorrect on their sites, email newsletters going about with wrong information or correcting internal link errors etc.

Look at incorrect URLs as an opportunity to show how customer focussed you are and to provide exceptional service.

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