Have you ever clicked a site listing on the search results in Google or Yahoo only to find a “404 Error – Page Not Found” message? Of course you have! How would you know if the destination site no longer exists, or if that particular web page address (URL) is no longer supported? You don’t know and probably don’t care, since you are likely to navigate back to the search results page and select another site.

If the destination site still exists, but that particular URL no longer does, then that site owner has just missed an opportunity to entertain a targeted and interested website visitor. This tip can help you turn that miss into a hit.

These days, Dynamics Online and other website designers are more likely to redesign an existing site than we are to design a new site from scratch. As a website’s structure, content, or underlying technology changes, the new site’s URLs will likely not exactly match the previous site’s.

For example, a website redesign may result in the discontinuing of a URL for a specific parts page: www.example.com/specific_part

However, searches in Yahoo or any other search engine may list the URL in the search results page, and will continue to list it until that search engine re-indexes the site. That may take weeks or months to happen. This URL might also be linked to from other sites, and those outdated links might persist even longer.

The site owner needs to answer the question, “What would you like to appear in place of the discontinued URL?”

One approach is to identify the individual discontinued URLs and pick a URL on the new site that most closely matches the content of the old site. In the above example, that might be the new Parts page found here: www.example.com/new_parts

In that case, we would design a page, with the same URL as the discontinued URL, which immediately redirects the visitor’s browser to the most appropriate new page URL.

Another approach, better for larger websites with 10 or more discontinued URLs, is to implement a general 404 error solution for the entire site. Implementation details vary by the type of server hosting the site, but the idea is to intercept the 404 error generated by a request for any non-existent URL and redirect the visitor’s browser to either a more helpful error page or the site’s home page. You can see an example of a helpful error page here: http://www.party411.com/oldpage.html