This is our 404th Daily Golden Nugget. In honor of that number we're going to review what a 404 website error is and how to use it for your advantage.
First, let's explain the basics of what a "404" actually is.
As websites grow and change, it's common to move or delete a web page, but sometimes the links throughout your navigation or in your content are not correctly updated. Other people might have shared your pages or linked to pages of your website, and those links will never be updated. Generally we refer to these non-updated links as "out of date links."
The next time someone clicks one of those out of date links, they won't find the page they expected to because your website will realize something is wrong and will show the user an error message.
Behind the scenes of the website, in your log file, you will see the number 404 to indicate that a page was missing. When the 404 error is triggered your website will show the user that special error message, usually the page file name is "error.html."
Within the website programming industry the number 404 and the phrase "error page" are synonymous.
Even if you don't change or delete your own pages, other people might have mistyped one of your page names, or perhaps someone tried linking to you incorrectly. Each of these would trigger the 404 page to appear.
Error pages become especially important when you redesign your website. Undoubtedly, many links to your old website design will no longer work and visitors will see the error page for the many months it takes for links to be updated or fade away into cyberspace.
Most web hosting companies will create a standardized error page for you, but you should customize that page, and keep it updated.
Here are some ideas for your error page:
1. Make it look like your website; don't use the default page provided by your host.
2. Instead of simply saying "Page not found" you should create a friendly message like "Sorry, we had to send the page you're looking for back to our jeweler's bench for repair. Please use our navigation to explore the rest of our site."
3. You could use the error page to introduce the current special offer or announcement. Perhaps your message could say "Sorry, that page was not found. Instead we found this special offer you might be interested in."
4. Another error page idea is to highlight a few items from your product catalog. The error message could say "Sorry, that page was not found. Perhaps you would be interested in these popular jewelry styles."
In conclusion, the 404 error page on your website serves to tell users that what they are looking for is no longer available, but you should also use it to help build business. Think of how you deal with customers in person when they ask to see out of stock items; the same strategy of suggesting alternative styles in person is exactly what you can accomplish with your website's error page.
An error page is NOT the same thing has a redirect (that's called a 301 or a 302) and you should not link your error page to simply take one back to your homepage or another page. Your customer will either think they've clicked the wrong button, go back and do it again; or, they'll assume your website is badly coded and your pages don't link to right places.