Posted to Ben Finklea's blog on September 22nd, 2009

404 Errors Explained

Search engine optimization (SEO) can be an intricate process. That means the little things matter and they can matter quite a bit. One of the little things that can drive traffic away from your site faster than Mark Martin in the Sprint Cup is 404 errors. It is very important that you check your 404 error pages on your website, no matter how fine-tuned you feel your site is. No sure what a 404 error is? Here is an explanation of 404 errors, why they are important, and what you can do to customize it.

What is a 404 Error?

A 404 error is an error that a web server creates that indicates a “page not found” or a “file not found” on your website. Whenever a visitor to your website gets a web page that doesn’t exist any longer, your website should tell them that the page or file cannot be found.

Why is Checking Important?

I’m glad you asked. By not having a web page available, you could be missing out on tons of traffic to your site, especially if it was a high profile landing page for links. You also miss out on the link juice. Sometimes a 404 error occurs because the link between your web page and another site was mis-spelled and sends the web surfer to a page that doesn’t exist. If you were to find and fix your 404 error links, you will redirect visitors to the website, retaining the traffic, their possible conversions, and the link juice that comes with the link.

Customize Your 404 Error Page

With a customized 404 error page, someone who follows a bad link will visit a web page that looks like your current website but deliver the same message of an error and offer to redirect them to the correct page. You are more likely to retain traffic and not upset would-be customers. To see what your 404 error page is now, enter an invalid URL for your website and see what pops up.

Following a link to a 404 error page can be just as frustrating as running up to the bank just as they lock the door, flip over the “Closed” sign, and mouth the word “sorry”. The bottom line is that your website shouldn’t have any mis-leading links or error pages that discourage people from visiting your website. It’s bad online customer service and, in an era where most feel customer service is dead, your website can rise from the 404 error pages to lucrative online prominence.