As you know if you've spent any time at all surfing the web,
sometimes you will see the dreaded 404 error condition. This
often occurs because you've entered an incorrect link (perhaps
added a ".html" instead of ".htm" at the end of the file) or
perhaps because a site has been updated recently and some links
Virtually all web sites (especially free sites) have some
generic 404 error page displayed when this occurs. This error
pages is either (a) completely unhelpful to a visitor or more
likely (b) is very useful advertising for a web host but
completely useless for helping your users navigate your site.
One excellent reason for choosing a paid host over a free host
is that you can generally modify the .htaccess file to provide a
custom 404 error page. (This is an important feature to demand
from a paid host - if they don't let you use this feature, find
another host. This is also an excellent reason to choose a host
which runs the Apache server software over other brands. For
example, Microsoft's Internet Information Server, IIS for short,
does not allow for this capability).
So let's say you create a 404 error page. What do you do with
it? It's simple - you help your visitors get back to looking
around your site.
Tell them what happened - An error occurred, specifically a page
was requested and not found.
Make sure they understand they are still on your site -
Sometimes this is not clear, so be sure you include your logo
and other identifications. In fact, the standard 404 error code
often means you will lose that visitor forever because he will
immediately assume the site is abandoned.
Give them some reasons why the error occurred - Most people do
not know what "404 error" means. Be sure and give your visitors
some tips as to what might have gone wrong. Perhaps they
misspelled the URL or a link was bad?
Help them get back to surfing your site - Give them plenty of
ways to navigate back into your site. Ideally, include your
standard navigation menu and perhaps even a search option.
Inject a little humor - A joke or funny picture can help lighten
up the mood. Remember, you are presenting an error - you want to
get them to smile so they perhaps continue surfing.
Be sure your page is over 1,024 bytes in size - Some browsers
will not display error pages that are smaller than this.
The most important thing to remember is that an error message is
stressful to your visitors. These immediately give the
impression that your site is poorly maintained or perhaps even
has been abandoned. You only have a few seconds after the error
occurs to get people back to surfing your site, so you had
better use that time wisely.
Another useful thing that you can do is call a special CGI
routine at the time the error occurs. How do you do this?
Instead of modifying the .htaccess file to reference an HTML
document, make it reference a CGI routine directly (perhaps with
the error code as a parameter). This routine can send an email
to you (and perhaps even page you) when an error occurs. This
allows you to quickly handle any errors on your web site.
Don't get too stressed out about 404 errors. Remember that no
matter how well you keep up your site they will occur
occasionally. Even if every single link inside your site is
perfect, other people will type or code the incorrect URLs, thus
causing errors. Some search engines have bugs and reference
pages incorrectly and sometimes the web server itself returns
bogus errors. The best script that I have found to perform this
function is Error Robot, available at
Personally, I prefer using a CGI routine to send an email
whenever a 404 error occurs instead of asking the visitor to
send an email. This removes the burden for quality assurance
from visitors and places it upon me, where it belongs.
What can you do to prevent or correct 404 errors?
- Check the links within your site on a regular basis. Correct
any references that are broken.
- If an external link, say from an article, is incorrect, you
can create a redirect page to move the visitor from the
incorrect reference to the correct reference. This is generally
a lot easier than attempting to get the author to correct the
- Check each and every 404 error that occurs and take steps to
http://www.internet-tips.net/Surfing/404errors.htm The Dreaded
404 error This article tells you the meaning of the dreaded 404
Htaccess file - Custom error pages You can use htaccess to
define custom error pages to trap 404 and other error conditions.
your links regularly to prevent link rot Check your links
regularly to prevent link rot.
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Richard Lowe Jr. is the webmaster of Internet Tips And Secrets.
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