In business, it's well known that it requires less of a financial investment to keep a customer than it does to acquire a new one. Your website is no different. Once you get a visitor on your site, or get them wanting to be on your site, it takes less investment to keep them there than it does to go bring in another new visitor. Therefore it is important to do whatever you can to keep acquired visitors on your site helping them move through the conversion process. Everything, that is, short of hijacking their web browser!

One of the easiest ways to lose visitors from your site is through broken or invalid links. You've been there before... going through a website, looking for things that interest you only to click on a link that brings you to something like this:

Generic 404 Redirect Page

What did you do when you hit that page? Hit the browser back button? Close the browser? Go to a different site? Perform a different search? Turn your computer off and go outside?

Most people will automatically hit the browser back button. If they hit that page from within your own site, that back button will do OK in keeping them there. Except, since they can't find the information they want from you, they'll likely leave to find a site where they can.

But what if they came from a search engine? Or a link from another website? Or an old bookmark?

In these instances you just lost the visit, and quite possibly the sale or lead.

What causes broken links?

Here are some common ways broken links are created:

  • You rename a page and forget to change all your internal links
  • Another site links to the old page not knowing it's been moved or removed
  • A search engine ranks a deleted page and hasn't yet removed it from the index
  • Someone has bookmarked a deleted or moved page in their browser or bookmarking service
  • Someone links to your page but screws up the link URL

When the broken links are internal, within your own site, those are easy to prevent and correct. But when broken links are external, from other sites or bookmarks, you are only left with a few options short of contacting the linking site owners and asking them to fix the links. And then hoping they do.

No matter what, you can't always prevent people from linking to you incorrectly. So the onus is on you to do what you can to keep the visitor on your site despite the broken link.

Three ways to stop losing visitors from broken links:

Create a custom 404-error page

This is a catch-all solution that every site should do. If you don't have a custom 404-error page then you need to create one ASAP.

The idea here is to prevent visitors from getting the white page shown above, in favor of a customized page that keeps the visitor engaged with your site. Below is the custom 404 page from my site own site:

Custom 404 Redirect Page

A good 404-error page will look and feel just like any other page on your site. The only difference is it let's the visitor know the page is gone, missing or moved. This allows you to present some options for the visitor by providing links to follow, helping them get to their intended destination.

Keep it clean and simple. Don't burden your visitors with too many options. Provide links to your main areas getting them as close to their original intent as can possibly be determined (this can be done well with dynamic sites).

Creating the custom 404-error page is easy. Just take any other page on your site, gut out the content and replace it with your simple message and links. Save the file into your root director as something like 404-redirect.htm.

Now edit your .htaccess file with this line of code:

ErrorDocument 404 /404-redirect.html

That should do the trick.

A couple of things you want to keep in mind. Be sure you use all absolute links on this page, including image paths. This will ensure that if someone hits a broken link in a sub-directory such as www.site.com/directory/directory.html you won't have any broken links on the page that is supposed to correct your broken link problem in the first place.

You want to make sure you actually create a custom page, not just use the code above to redirect people to your home page. This can cause considerable confusion, especially if someone keeps trying a link that takes them back to the home page, when it's not the page they expect. It's polite to give them the message that something is amiss.

Implement 301 Redirects

If you are moving or renaming pages on your website then you want to implement 301 redirects. The redirect is the single best way to prevent losing visitors that may attempt to visit moved pages at the old location. By implementing the redirect, the visitor (and the search engine) is automatically transferred from the old page location to it's new permanent home. The transition is seamless and the visitor will never even know the link is broken (i.e. no thought required to keep doing what you want them to do!)

There are a number of ways to implement these redirects, but the best way is the 301 via the .htaccess file. Simply add the following code to the .htaccess file, save and upload and you should see the redirect work:

Redirect permanent /page.htm http://www.site.com/page.htm

or

Redirect 301 /page.htm http://www.site.com/page.htm

Either of those will work. The 301 is a permanent redirect, but you can also implement a 302 temporary redirect if you're making only temporary changes.
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If you don't implement 301 redirects on a page to page basis, then you'll have to rely on your custom 404 to keep the visitors on the site. But why show a "page not found" message when you can deliver the visitor directly to the page they hoped to land on? The 301 redirect simply helps you provide a better, seamless experience for your visitors.

Perform a broken link check regularly

In addition to the implementation of the strategies above, I highly recommend performing regular broken link checks. We do this once per month on all of the sites we manage. While many of the sites show no broken links month to month, it's not uncommon to uncover new broken links with each monthly check. Programs such as Xenu make checking for broken links relatively easy.

Xenu Broken Links

But just checking for broken links doesn't mean anything if you don't get in there and fix them too!

By using these three strategies you'll pretty much have all your bases covered regarding broken links. This will ensure that you keep your site free of these errors, but when links are outside of your control, you can keep visitors on and engaged with your site and moving closer to that conversion.

For more information on this topic, be sure and read Jennifer Laycock's article:

The Easiest Links You'll Ever Get for Your Link Building Campaign






Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.





Comments(11)

Great advice. I've tried to drum in the value of a custom 404 to the development team. I think I'm wearing them down. Typos are common place so you really don't want to lose out on potential traffic just because - somone didnt git the UTL rtight! :)

I love Xenu and consider it one of the essential tools in my web developer toolbelt. But note that it's only for Windows and includes a randomly selected anti-Scientology (you might have guessed a connection from the Xenu name) or anti-Microsoft ad in the reports. For Mac and Linux users, Scientologists & citizens of Redmond, you can use the W3C's online link checker:
http://validator.w3.org/checklink

For redirects in .htaccess files, there's much, much, MUCH more you can do besides just writing out individual page-by-page redirects using the "Redirect" syntax, which is tedious. Using mod_rewrite, you can harness the power of regular expressions to write rules rules that will redirect your entire site, individual folders, certain file extensions (e.g. .php -> .html), certain filename patterns, or just about any other wacky idea you can come up with. Working with mod_rewrite is, as somebody once said, like black magic, but if you can figure it out, you'd be amazed what you can do.

Check out this article for some ideas and tutorials:
http://corz.org/serv/tricks/htaccess2.php

Interestingly (regarding the title of this article), that site also has a cracking 404 script. Not only does it automatically search for broken links, it can redirect the user transparently, even sending proper headers and all. I'm playing with it right now. Link. Test.

There's even a fuzzy matching capability for catching typos.

I've try to find broken link in my blog but how I'll fix it....

Can i make redirect command from 404 and 301 to main page?
If it's fine how do i make it..please
Thanks for help

regards

You can make your home page your default 404 page, but generally you don't want to do that. You want visitors to realize they didn't find the page they were looking for. 301 redirects are a different matter though. If you have another page that is of a similar topic then you want to direct the visitor to that page. If not, you could redirect them to the home page or your custom 404 page.

Using this code

ErrorDocument 404 http://www.site.com/404-redirect.html

is very bad advice, but this rogue code seems to be plastered all over the web.

It will return a 302 redirect, as per the warnings in the Apache manual.

A 404 error is NEVER a redirect.

The 404 status should always be returned for the currently requested URL.

g1smd - I've been using that code for years and never had an issue. I just checked a non-existent page on my site (http://www.polepositionmarketing.com/dfdfd/dfdfd) and the redirect is working properly returning: HTTP/1.1 404 Not Found.

Is this not what I want it to do?

The Apache manual warns that ErrorDocument directives must contain only a local filepath, and must not contain a domain name or protocol because doing so forces a 302 redirect.

You're calling this a "404 redirect". 4xx codes are never redirects. Redirects have 3xx codes. If the URL in your browser is changing then you're seeing a 302 redirect to a different URL. The final URL after the redirect might return a 404 status, but that is not good enough. The 404 status code should be directly served at the original URL for the original URL request.

""Note that when you specify an ErrorDocument that points to a remote URL (ie. anything with a method such as "http" in front of it), Apache will send a redirect to the client to tell it where to find the document, even if the document ends up being on the same server. This has several implications, the most important being that the client will not receive the original error status code, but instead will receive a redirect status code.""

For clarification see the Apache manual.

Dear Stoney,

Is there a term/name for a making a link that stays permanent even after a the original page is gone?

I could not find it. Maybe you can lmgify me.

If this has not already been done, then it is absolutely doable: When a blogger makes a link, simply have the blogging software mirror/cache the page (e.g. "wget --mirror --level=5 http://someurl") and keep the page permanently on-site.

Pages get updated, I understand, but one can also keep a header on top of the mirrored page that says when the mirror was taken and what is the original link. Older version is always better than a broken link.

Alex

I don't know of a name for that. I don't even know why someone would go through the effort to do that just to keep a link... unless it was a paid link. :)

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