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If you’re keeping up with our series, you should already be on your way to a better website by correcting some basic mistakes. Although our next tip won’t necessarily improve your website, it will improve access to it, and your website can only be useful for customers (and profitable for you) if they can actually get to it.
Mistake #4: Dead Links Pointing To Your Site
This has happened to you: you’re searching online for something… let’s say a contemporary lacquer coffee table to fit into your ultra-sleek living room. And you see the perfect title in Google: Contemporary back lacquer coffee table for sleek modern living rooms and you know that could be the one! You’ve practically got your credit card in hand, and you click the link, eager to see the fabulous modern furniture this vendor has to offer and… The page cannot be found.
There go your dreams of a coffee table, along with that vendor’s chance of making a sale. If you’ve got a web site and you hope and pray and maybe even optimize a little every day so that people find your site in search engines and visit it… then you don’t want this to be you.
It’s frustrating as a consumer to think you’ve found a great website only to find out you can’t access that website. Most people will not give a moment’s thought to whether or not the site still exists and how they might be able to get there otherwise. They will simply move on. Before you start losing sales, read more about the common ways that people make this detrimental mistake.
The Missing 404 Error Page
There are several reasons why a link to your site may be broken. Perhaps you renamed a page, moved it to another location in your file structure or deleted it entirely. Whatever the cause, the “old” link is no longer directing people to the page they expect to see.
The simplest thing you can do to avoid losing customers with dead links is to create a custom 404 error page for your site. The 404 error page replaces the generic browser error page that pops up when a link is broken, but the difference is that your own 404 page is designed to capture visitors on your site.
When visitors reach a browser 404, they have no choice but to go back and try another web site. But when they hit your 404, you have the chance to tell them that the page they want is not available, and specifically direct them to other products, services or pages.
The Misused 404 Error Page
It’s not only a good idea to have a custom 404 error page, it’s required if you want to maximize the potential of your web site. But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for breaking all those links in the first place. A 404 page should be your backup plan, a catch-all to make sure you’re not losing a single customer. But it shouldn’t be your only – or your primary – plan.
Hitting a custom 404 page can be just as frustrating for customers as a generic browser 404 page. If you’re that customer looking for a special contemporary coffee table and the vendor tells you it can’t be found, you may or may not be inclined to search the site for another table.
Best case scenario, you’re a good sport and look for another table. There’s still no guarantee you’ll find it, especially on a large ecommerce site, or one that’s not structured well, or one without a search box.
If you change pages and end up with broken links then you definitely do not want to use a 404 error page and risk losing customers who don’t bother to search further. Besides, if you’ve got more than one or two overlooked broken links, you should pay more attention to how your site changes so you can plan effectively around those changes.
The alternative is to set up a 301 redirect, which is the perfect solution in cases where the page does exist, but it’s simply been moved or renamed. If you’re the vendor with the black coffee table and you’ve still got it for sale but the link to it has changed, then a 301 redirect is an invisible direction that says “any time someone looks for the black coffee table at this old link, send them right to the new one”.
No interruption for the customer means no problem finding your product. And no interruption for the search engine means your site doesn’t suffer in search results.
Broken Inbound Links
This one can be impossible to head off all the time. If other web sites are linking to yours, there’s simply no way to be sure that they’ll do it correctly every time, or that they’ll be willing to fix broken links when they occur. But given how important those inbound links are to your overall success in search listings, it would be a mistake to ignore them.
You should monitor inbound links to your site. This can be a big job if your site is popular. But – at the risk of being redundant – inbound links are important, so it’s a job worth doing. When possible, you should get those web site owners to correct your link. Otherwise you should be prepared to head off problems by using a 404 and 301 strategy.
So far, the mistakes we’ve shared are pretty common, can ruin your day in a number of ways, and can require a little bit of know-how to fix. Lucky for you the next few mistakes are pretty straightforward… things that web designers and developers do that are just downright silly and can ruin a perfectly good day for no reason.
Do you know whether there are dead links pointing to your site in search results?
Read More In The “Rookie Mistakes” Series
- Rookie Mistake 1: Annoy Customers With Your Contact Form
- Rookie Mistake 2: Use Bad Photography
- Rookie Mistake 3: Bad Links
- Rookie Mistake 4: Dead Links Pointing To Your Site
- Rookie Mistake 5: Forgetting You’re Not A Rock Star
- Rookie Mistake 6: Too Much (Useless) Information
- Rookie Mistake 7: Dizzy Background
- Rookie Mistake 8: Misusing Technology
- Rookie Mistake 9: Mangling Your META Data
- Rookie Mistake 10: No Call To Action