There are many reasons why users may try to access a page on your website that does not exist. No matter how hard you try to prevent it there will always be internal and external links to pages that no longer or do not exist.
Web pages are often deleted from websites as they become irrelevant or page URLs change as pages are moved during a website reconstruction. Many times you’ll find that there are websites or user bookmarks that still link to these old pages, or search engines may have the old page still in its index causing it to continue to rank well for certain queries. Maybe a page has moved but some internal links were not changed, or perhaps someone simply mistypes the URL of the page they are trying to access.
Implementing a custom redirect prevents surfers from finding the standard “404-Page Not Found” error if they click on a bad link within or directed to your site. Instead, users are taken to a customized page that lets them know the page they were looking for has moved or been removed while also directing them to the correct area of interest or additional services you offer.
Building a custom 404 page is as simple as creating any standard web page with a few exceptions:
- There will be no links to this page, it will simply reside on the server.
- You need to be sure all images and hyperlinks are absolute rather than relative. That means this page must use the full URL rather than the file path shortcut (http://www.yoursite.com/thispage.htm vs. /thispage.htm)
One of the most famous customized 404 pages, and one of the most useful to visitors, is the one found at apple.com: http://www.apple.com/anypage/. You’ll notice the standard navigation is at the top, just like any other page, a customized not found message, and lots of links to information that you might be interested in.
When a visitor is taken to a custom 404 page rather than the default one, that visitor is more likely to continue surfing through your site, perhaps making a purchase. Getting the default page not found message tends to drive visitors away on to other sites or searches.
This post is part of a continuing series on the topic of:
Optimizing for Maximum Search Engine Performance
Sub-Topic: Search Friendly Elements.