A few weeks back, we talked about the main sources leading visitors to 404's on your site. But, what are some of the more unlikely sources leading visitors to your site's 404 errors? Here are three of the more obscure ones we've seen at SpringTrax.
When you buy an online ad, you have to provide a URL that ad will link to. This is the link people will be taken to after they click on your ad. Typically, you aren't linking to your home page but instead have that ad link to a specific landing page. That landing page is connected to that specific ad, perhaps with a certain deal or a certain message.
Unfortunately, we've seen a number of instances where people entered in a bad URL when configuring their ads. We've also seen cases where the ad was configured correctly but after a few months of the ad running, the landing page was deleted as part of an effort to clean up the website.
In either case, when people click on the ad, people are taken to a 404 error page instead of the landing page. That means you paid money for somebody to see your error page. Ug.
Don't let this happen to your site. When you create ads, test the URL. If somebody else is adding or removing pages from the site, make sure you recheck your ad links on a regular basis.
A common tactic on direct mail advertising (or tv and radio) is to provide a URL unique to that direct mail campaign. The same is true in radio and TV advertising. You don't want those people who saw your ad to go to your home page. Instead, you want those people to go to a page on your website specifically about that offer. So, because of that it makes sense you would provide a specific URL in the ad for people to go to.
To help people get to the relevant page about the offer, the postcard you mailed or the TV/radio ad script asks the people who received or heard or saw the ad to learn more at yoursite.com/offer.
Unfortunately, some people are going to type "offer" incorrectly. Others are going to think you said a completely different word and try typing that word in instead ("offer" might be confused with "promo" or "special"). When people type in these incorrect URLs, they will see your site's 404 error page.
To prevent this on your website, avoid giving specific pages in your direct mail, TV, and radio ads. Instead, ask people to go to your website. This is usually easier for people to remember than some longer URL to a sub-page on your website. What are you more likely to remember? "Go to springtrax.com" or "Go to springtrax.com/current-special-offer"?
If you go that route, make sure you have something on your website's home page about the direct mail, radio ad, or TV ad that people saw so that they know what to do after going to your website.
Another alternative, especially for radio and TV, is to ask people to Google your company's name. You can then buy an ad through Google that shows up when people type in your company's name. This ad on Google can lead people to your webiste's home page, or to a page specifically about the ad in question.
These methods will reduce your chances of people finding your site's 404 error page.
Another source people usually don't think will be that big of a deal when it comes to 404 errors is social media. So much of sharing on social media is automated by the push of various share icons, like those at the bottom of this very blog post.
However, some sharing still happens by people copying & pasting URLs in the address bar. A common behavior is for people to remove tracking code from the URL. Let's say you wanted to share a URL to a SpringTrax blog post, but had to copy and paste the URL.
Would you copy and paste this:
A lot of people will opt to remove the additional data out of privacy concerns. However, when they attempt to remove that tracking code information from the URL, they accidentally break the URL in the process. For instance, you might end up a URL like these instead (both of which will go to a 404 error page).
To prevent this on your website, do what you can to automate the sharing process, including sharing via email. That way your visitors don't accidentally create 404 errors for you.