Click Here!
Article Sections: | Internet Marketing | Web Design | Web Development | Business | Internet and Businesses Online | Self Improvement |  
>> Home > Internet Marketing > Traffic Analysis

Custom Error Pages keep your site traffic!

By Michael Bloch
Posted Wednesday, September 22, 2004

I had previously written regarding this problem a couple of months ago. I have revised the article with some added information.

HTTP 404 - File not found is a browser error message that we've all grown to know and hate. On a number of search engines, it gets to a stage where we feel that all their links will return this result? How is this happening, who is to blame and how do we fix it?

On reviewing my server logs, I had noticed around 1% of all requests from my site will return this HTTP error code. One of the reasons for it was a stupid mistake I made around 6 months ago. I wasn't happy with the naming of a couple of my files, so I renamed them without considering the consequences:

- The files had been on my site for a few days

- During that time a couple of search engine bots had crawled through the pages. A search engine bot is a software program that scours web sites for content and returns the results to a search engine database. The search engine interface feeds off this to return links and descriptions to surfers when they have entered their search criteria

- Since I changed the names of the files after the bot went through, the pages in their original state no longer "existed".

- The search engine query results reflect the database entries, pointing to the wrong filename, visitor clicks on the result - 404.... aaaaaaaaargh!

It would appear that some search engines only update their results once or twice a year, such is the hugeness of the task of spidering the web these days. Last month, the percentage of requests to my site that resulted in this HTTP error code was 2%, the previous month to that - slightly higher. While I am happy that this is reducing, I am kicking myself that I didn't think things through six months ago - we live and we learn.

404 errors may also be caused through a malformed browser request (user error - wrong URL typed into address bar)

Save yourself the shame and embarassment (and homicidal thoughts directed at you from frustrated potential visitors) - plan your site carefully before you promote to search engines.

If you do or have found yourself in the same situation as me, there is something that you can do about it (dependant upon your hosting service set up). Instead of a visitor being directed to those rather horrible "file not found" pages, you can create custom error pages. Here is an example:


The above link is incomplete which triggers a 404 response on my server.

By implementing custom error pages, you have a good chance of retaining the visitor, especially if you include the standard navigation buttons. It also acts as a means of apologising to the visitor for the inconvenience.

It isn't just 404 error messages that you can apply this to. There are a number of error code returns that you could customise, all with the goal of alleviating visitor stress and encouraging them to further explore your site. A listing of http error codes can be viewed here:

( errcode.htm)

Creating custom error pages:
You may want to check with your hosting service first before creating custom error pages as certain hosting configurations may not allow you to create custom error pages.

first design and publish the pages to your web space. You'll only really need to design a couple for the more common errors, for file not found (404) or unauthorised/forbidden (403, 401). Your custom error pages should have a brief summary of what went wrong and an encouragement for the visitor to try again or explore a different area of the site. The best custom error pages are those that match the site's other pages in navigation and layout.

After publishing the pages, you'll need to edit the .htaccess file in the root directory of your server based web(not your local copy) . Use the Edit utility (set to ASCII transfer mode) in your FTP program to view the file. The .htaccess file contains a number of settings to control who can access the contents of a specific directory and how much access they have. It can also be used to create a "URL Redirect".

If you have a FrontPage based web, be especially careful, as the .htaccess file contains other settings as well.

If you don't find a .htaccess file, you can create your own, but once again, check with your hosting service first for guidelines.

Add the following lines to the end of the file (examples provided as a guideline alter path and file names to point towards your error pages)

ErrorDocument 404 (http://blah/blah/404.htm)
ErrorDocument 403 (http://blah/blah/403.htm)
ErrorDocument 401 (http://blah/blah/401.htm)

Custom error pages are simple to create, help you to increase your site traffic and encourage better visitor/customer relations.

About the Author
Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
Tutorials, web content and tools, software and community.
Web Marketing, eCommerce & Development solutions.


Click Here!



  Articles are submitted to EDN and licensed from various content sites.
  To report abuse, copyright issues, article removals, please contact [violations (at@)]

  Copyright © Evrsoft Developer Network. Privacy policy - Link to Us

Contact Evrsoft