Store traffic, 404 errors, and Google Webmaster Tools

All of us running a Web site, whether it’s an ecommerce store or not, have one objective in mind: bringing people there, and making sure they have a good experience when they do come.

A “Page Not Found” is a classic example of what you don’t want: somebody is visiting, yet you’re not there. What can you do?

  1. Fix the links
    Obvious, but not always feasible. For example, you have (typically) no control on inbound links.
  2. Prepare a nice 404 page
    404 errors will always happen, so this is a “must have”. Spend some time working on a good 404 page. Lots of good articles on the Web on this (e.g. run this search), and if you’re running a ProductCart-powered e-commerce store, check out this free template by Web Merchant Services. Bottom line: it must look good and keep visitors on your Web site.
  3. Catch and redirect!
    Should you actually put a page there, so it’s no longer a “Page Not Found”? Read on.

Which pages are worth the effort
Google Webmaster Tools can help you decide which missing pages are worth creating (so they’re no longer “not found”). Here’s how:

  • Log into your Google Webmaster account (if you don’t have one, set it up, it’s free)
  • Go to “Diagnostics > Crawl Errors > Not Found”
  • Look at the number of sites that link to that missing page (“Linked From” column). Is there a URL that is linked to from a bunch of places? That might be worth creating.

Upload a page
Now that you have a list of URLs that currently trigger a “Page Not Found” error – and might be worth turning into existing pages – you have two options:

  1. Upload an actual HTML page to that URL
  2. Upload a permanent redirect to another page (recommended)

For example, we found that there were a bunch of links to the following page, which did not exist on the Early Impact Web site: http://www.earlyimpact.com/store/support/, so we uploaded a permanent redirect to where support resources really are.