404 Errors – they could be costly mistakes

Author: Nola Young

The Scenario:

 You want to do some online shopping so you bring up your favourites and click on the entry you want to go to. But, when you get to where the site is supposed to be located, you find out it’s not there anymore. Instead you get a 404 Error.

The Question:

 What is a 404 Error and how can I avoid them?

The Answer:

 A 404 Error means that a page is not found. It could be that the Web site doesn’t exist anymore. But, more than likely it means that a particular page is no longer available. There is nothing you can do to avoid 404 Errors, but there is something Web developers can do to ensure this does not happen to potential site visitors.

It is important to first understand how this happens. In the process of marketing your Web site online, a developer will submit one or more of your site pages to the various search engines. Typically, the home page (called index page) is the most frequently submitted page. However, through the process of evaluating page relevancy, other pages may also be submitted. The search engines will then send a spider out to index your page. Sometimes the spider will travel further down your site and index more than just your main page. As well, a spider can get to you by means of a link from another Web site. Even if your site is not submitted to the search engines, these spiders (who crawl the Web) can come upon your site and index your pages.

When your pages have been successfully submitted to the search engines, you may still have further changes to make to your site. For example, you might change a page directory, or take the page down completely and add another one in its place. Or, you may rename a page, for example, the “Contact Us” page and simply call it ”Contact.”

Then when someone goes to a search engine to find a particular item and they search for something (a keyword) that has to do with your business the page that the search engine pulls up could be the one from your site that you’ve recently taken down, changed the directory of or renamed. The search engine may not have sent another spider to your site since your last update so it thinks that the page is still available. When they click on it, guess what happens? They’re given a 404 Error! This can also happen if someone has bookmarked a particular page on your site. The same rule applies.

The Solution:

The solution is so easy, you may be saying why didn’t I think of that before. I know I did! But, it means you need to have very strict practices in place so that you do not forget.

When you need to move a page into another directory, create a new page in the new directory. Cut and paste the information from the old page to the new page. Then, on the old page (which is now blank), type something like “Sorry this page is no longer updated but, please visit our homepage @http://www.yoursite.com.”

It may also be a good rule not to rename pages unless you are completely sure that your page is not indexed in the search engines or book marked on someone’s computer.

Another option is to check with your Web hosting company to see if they offer a 404 redirect. This ensures that when any page off your domain (i.e. www.yourcompany.com/nopage) is entered, that doesn’t exist, the visitor is automatically taken to a specified page like your index page for example.

You never want to turn potential visitors or customers away. Always protect your site against 404 Errors. If you don’t, it could be a costly mistake.


Nola Young is the president of KW Digital Solutions. Send your comments or questions by email or call 519-741-7641.