404 Errors: Make Them Stop!

Posted on Jan 06 2012
404 Error Message

Prevent this error message

Picture this: someone clicks “View Photo Gallery” on your site. Oops, the images don’t come up (let the finger pointing begin!). There are several reasons this might happen but we can address those at another time. If you have 50 photos in that gallery, that’s 50 requests to the server that create Page/Image Not Found errors in your logs (these are known as 404 errors).

404 Errors are the result of requesting a webpage or file that is no longer available; metaphorically speaking: calling a phone number that has been disconnected. Chances are you’ve encountered this a time or two.

What’s worse, if there are multiple users on your site, that’s 50 x 10…20…200! Who knows how many!? Thousands of errors can result in less than a minute!

Your hosting provider most likely automatically detects these errors and when you hit their threshold, they block your IP address (usually 200 in less than 5 minutes is the threshold). Too many of these errors slow down a server for everyone using it so hosting providers may block that IP to avoid affecting others.

Prevent this from happening by taking a few measures with your website:

1. TEST! TEST! TEST! Before you go live and after any changes you make to your site, test it out. Click every link, view every photo and enter every data field, scrounging for errors. If it’s broken, fix it!

2. Review your log files. A Log File will document where and when 404 and other such errors occur, making them easier to find and fix.

3. Redirect the page. If a webpage consistently throws errors, redirect it until you resolve the issue. Some programming knowledge will be needed but can spare you from many future headaches.

In cases where a page is not found, site owners can create customized error messages to better describe the problem, usually with a design that won’t be arrested by the fashion police! (Assuming your designer didn’t learn to design in Front Page! – Just kidding Microsoft).

If preparing for errors sounds like preparing for failure, think again, it’s quite the opposite! Search engines can take several weeks to update their indexes, leaving links to non-existent pages for your potential visitors to follow. These links will undoubtedly return embarrassing error prompts, so being prepared for such instances will spare you some customers lost to the competition.

Questions? Comments? Reply!

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