How do you cope with 404 messages?
Broken links can quickly kill and bury a site – when consumers visit and get an error message, nine times out of ten the just move on to the next listing. Trust me, there is NOTHING a web surfer hates more than clicking on a link in eager anticipation only to be faced with the inevitable ‘File Not Found’.
Several proxy servers also can’t differentiate between a ‘hard’ 404 (which tell you that the actual URL is not working) and a ‘soft’ one (which usually means that the remote host is down) -the latter is a self resolving problem, but the consumer won’t know that if all they get is one generic message for both situations.
People expect web search to be very nearly automatic. Sites that load slowly or have broken links leading to them will wither and die while consumers find faster pathways to travel. It doesn’t matter if your site is ten times better than anyone else’s if the road is barricaded. A consumer confronted with a 404 message when trying to access a particular page will often make a metal note, consciously or subconsciously to disregard your site from that point on, even if they used you in the past.
Your site will be mentally categorized as ‘broken’, and you will not only have lost all their business but any business they might have referred, as well as all possible backlinks form them or future visitors referred by them. Not good.
Check all of your links. Next month, check them all again. Do this on a regular basis. This doesn’t just mean internal links or links in your search rankings – you have to include links in articles that you have posted, as well as any other links you may have managed to place out on the web.
Pay particular attention to links from other sources that go to specific pages other than your home page – you might need to contact a few people and hand off an updated URL, or use a redirect to simplify matters and get traffic to the right place. Other site owners who link to you will appreciate the fact that you are providing an updated link as they don’t want broken links on their site either!
You can check all the links in and out of your site by logging into your Google Webmaster Account and clicking on the site you wish to investigate. Once in your account, simply navigate through the different pages on your site. Keep a record of where your inbound links are coming from.
After you check all your inbound links, move on to your internal links. Ending up with a 404 message from inside your own site is just embarassing. Check and double check all of your page to page links to be sure that your site is fully navigational.
Now check all outbound links as well. You don’t want to appear sloppy or give a poor impression by having a 404 message pop up when someone tries to check out a site you recommend. You not only embarrass yourself, the site you are linking to has fallen down on the job. Get rid of file not found, 404 and other error messages, and you won’t end up with visitors who feel they made an error by visiting you!