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404 Error Page Options

When an Internet user attempts to follow a broken or dead link the web server will generate a 404 error. A 404 error means that the server was found, but the specific webpage or other resource could not be found on that server. Most web hosts are configured by default to return a webpage displaying the standard "404 Error" with the name of the resource and the "Not Found" message.

When a 404 error occurs, the user usually thinks either they made a mistake or their web browser made an error, but most of the time it's the fault of the destination site's webmaster. The webpage or other resource that could not be found is actually not there for reason or another.

On all but the most static websites, an occasional 404 error is unavoidable. Someone on the Internet places a link to a webpage or other resource that has become outdated and was removed. Or a webmaster has moved the resource and not placed a HTTP 301 "moved permanently" redirect in its place. As a webmaster, it is your duty to manage the websites content to minimize 404 errors.

A webmaster can use the website's control panel to configure an alternate 404 page. Below is a list of options for alternate 404 pages.

o Instead of the standard terse "404 Error - Page Not Found" message, set the 404 error page to a page with a apology; "Sorry, I can't find the webpage you requested".

o set the 404 error page to a page with an instruction; "Can't find the webpage that you requested, try checking the link for errors".

o How about a witty message? "I Can't find the webpage you requested. It's probably because I screwed up, but I'm blaming it on you anyway".v

o Set the 404 page to a page with a search box on it. You can go to Google Custom Search Engine and get a free search box that will allow the user to find anything on your website. That way they can probably still find what they came for.

o Set the 404 page to a site map. Although there is an official xml format for site maps, a site map can be a simple webpage with links to everything on your website.

o How about an advertising page? Either you screwed up or your visitor has a link with an error. Who says you can't profit from mistakes?

Whichever option you use for your 404 Error page, it's important to check your server log at least once a month. Your server log will give you the file names that caused 404 Errors and how many times each file access was attempted. This gives you an opportunity to fix your error, or if a frequent user error, to actually place some content at that location.

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