By Nardo Kuitert, U-C WEBS
[Published in The Wellington Advertiser, September 2010 for the Centre Wellington Chamber of Commerce]
Dead links – everybody hates them.
Especially if you get that awful generic 404 Page Error “The page cannot be found”.
Don’t know what those first two sentences were all about? Allow me to quickly explain what “dead links” are. Dead links (on websites or in emails) point to a non-existent web page. It could be that the Internet user wants to go to a misspelled web address. But the most common reason for a dead link is a removed or renamed page. When you try to visit such a faulty address, the web server will provide you with what’s called a 404 error page: “The page cannot be found”.
Renowned website usability expert Steve Krug says “You know from your own experience as a Web user that paying attention to usability means less frustration and more satisfaction for your visitors, and a better chance that you’ll see them again”. So, if website owners know how frustrating those dreaded 404 error pages are (“Page Not Found” – gggrrr) from their own experience, what are they doing on their own websites to prevent this mishap from happening to them? What can they do to make their website’s experience obvious and effortless?
For starters, install a safety net. Website visitors do not need to see that generic white “Page Not Found” page – you can create your own custom 404 error page. On it you can say “sorry for the inconvenience” and “may I direct you to the site map or home page”, and perhaps even offer a site search box – so that stranded website visitors can continue on your website with as little interruption as possible.
But ideally this custom 404 page page is rarely used, of course. Because you should review your website’s statistics for 404 errors, and regularly run link validation checks. Just visit for instance http://validator.w3.org/checklink/ and check whether your website has any dead links. And once you found dead links on your site, you should of course repair those links. Point them to the right web address (maybe you have a typo in an external link?), add 301 (permanent) or 302 (temporary) redirects to moved pages, or remove outdated links altogether.
The web is constantly evolving – you will need to evolve with it.
Nardo Kuitert is an Internet Consultant with Fergus Website Development and Optimization firm U-C WEBS (www.u-cwebs.com). U-C WEBS also offers Internet advertising opportunities on www.ferguspages.com. (link opens in a new window)
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