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Increase Your Traffic by Recovering Your Lost Visitors

If you spend any time surfing the Internet, you've probably encountered a few error messages. Error messages have numerous causes, such as misspellings, outdated links or internal server errors. When an error is encountered, your server will display specific generic error pages according to the error. These error pages are not only dead ends, but they are also very frustrating for your potential visitors.

When your visitors mistype your web address or click on an outdated link and receive the dreaded error page, they'll most-likely click on their back button and never return. However, you can recover a majority of your lost visitors simply by taking the time to create some customized, user friendly error pages.

As servers run different types of software and do not function in the same manner, there isn't a simple method for creating custom error pages that will work with every system. However, if you have your own domain and your site is hosted on a Unix/Linux server running Apache, this article will assist you in creating custom error pages.

Before we begin, keep in mind, editing your server files is serious business. Even one small typographical error can wreak havoc -- make sure you make a backup copy of any file you're planning to edit.

Guidelines for creating your error pages:

1. Create your error pages in standard HTML -- just as you would create any other web page for your site.

2. Don't alarm your visitors. Never include the word "ERROR" in large, bold text. Your visitors may immediately become alarmed and think they've done something to cause the error. Instead, be apologetic and encourage your visitors to click on the navigational links to locate additional resources and information.

3. Your error pages should look just like the rest of your web pages. Each error page should contain good navigational links, a search feature, and provide information in regard to the specific error they received.

Once you've created an error page, save it as the error name. For example, if you're creating a customized error page for a 400 Bad Request error, your page should be saved as 400.html.

Here are some of the more common errors:

400 Bad Request
401 Authorization Required
403 Forbidden
404 File Not Found
405 Method Not Allowed
500 Internal Server Error
501 Method Not Implemented
502 Bad Gateway
503 Service Temporarily Unavailable

Once you've created your pages, you'll need to access your server via FTP and create a new folder called "errordocs" where you store your HTML files. Upload your new error documents into your new folder.

Your next step will be to locate your .htaccess file and download it to your computer. (If you use FrontPage to publish your web pages, you cannot customize the .htaccess file, as FrontPage uses the .htaccess file. Editing the file may cause errors in your configuration.) The .htaccess file should be located on your server where you store your HTML files.

If the .htaccess file isn't visible, you can create one within a plain text editor. However, you must first make sure your server isn't configured to hide the file. Your FTP program should enable you to choose to display hidden files and folders on your server.

Once you've downloaded your .htaccess file, open it within a plain text editor, such as Note Pad, and add the following lines below any other text that may be present:

ErrorDocument 400 /errordocs/400.html
ErrorDocument 401 /errordocs/401.html
ErrorDocument 403 /errordocs/403.html
ErrorDocument 404 /errordocs/404.html
ErrorDocument 405 /errordocs/405.html
ErrorDocument 500 /errordocs/500.html
ErrorDocument 501 /errordocs/501.html
ErrorDocument 502 /errordocs/502.html
ErrorDocument 503 /errordocs/503.html

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