Two powerful weapons in the battle for search engine visibility and customers
By Kent Lewis
These days, it’s much easier to get lost in search engines, than to be found. As the Web grows and evolves, many sites are redesigned, leaving orphaned or “dead pages” in their wake. While site visitors appreciate improved content and features a new site can offer, they get frustrated by clicking through to blank white 404 error pages on the old site. Building a custom 404 error page is an elegant solution to this problem, while providing an excellent search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
Mapping it Out
Before we go into too much detail on 404 error pages, let’s take a brief detour into the world of site maps. If you don’t have a site map on your Web site, you need one. It’s simply a visual outline of primary and tertiary pages within your site. Some site visitors appreciate visual navigation as a quick way to assess the overall size and structure of a Web site and get to the information they want within one or two clicks.
Not only does a site map enable visitors to locate the specific information they’re looking for, it also provides a similar benefit with search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. Search engine robots crawl Web sites on a regular basis, yet they often miss pages within a site due to poor navigation and hyperlink structure. By creating and submitting a site map to search engines, you’re allowing search robots to spider and index the entire site within just a few clicks. The result is a cost-effective search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
Now that you have a better understanding of the benefits of a site map search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, we can get back to the topic at hand: custom 404 error pages. As described earlier, a standard 404 error page is a blank white page that says “The page cannot be found.” While the fine print suggests visiting the home page of the URL in question, visitors often find it easier to click the back button to return to the search results and visit another site (like your competitors).
The best way to capture visitors from dead pages still visible in search results is to create a custom 404 error page that looks like your Web site template. It should have your logo and navigation, and in the main content area, it should say something like, “We’re sorry this page is not available, please visit the links below to find what you are looking for.” The “links” that follow would be content from the existing site map. Now a visitor is able to locate what they are looking for rather than leaving, further validating your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
Once you’ve developed your site map, use that as a baseline to build a custom 404 error page. Since you’ve already submitted the site map to search engines to ensure all current pages are indexed, you don’t need to do anything more but sit back and watch your traffic increase. Once the spider is served a 404 error page instead of a dead link, two things happen: the current listing maintains position longer and the spider is directed to the current pages, improving overall visibility and demonstrating effective search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
In the end, creating a custom 404 error page based on the site map allows you to retain current search engine visibility while driving lost traffic to the appropriate areas of the site and improving overall site conversion. There is perhaps no faster, easier or more affordable form of search engine optimization (SEO) strategy available to marketers and site owners today.