12 Days of Google Christmas

12 – 404 Page Errors…And How They Affect Your Site

By | 12 Days of Google Christmas, Google Webmaster Tools, Web Crawlers, Website Content | No Comments

You would think that we would have something really great as the twelfth day of Christmas, like 12 new positive reviews on your site, 12 new likes on your Facebook page, or maybe even 12 new followers on Twitter. Sadly, having Google show you 12 404 page errors on your website is kind of like waking up on Christmas morning with a lump of coal in your stocking.

What is a 404 Page Error?

A 404 page error simply put is an error that is generated when a page cannot be found. It can happen for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the most common.

Typo in a link

We’ve all done it before…we’re working at such a break-neck pace that we inadvertently misspell the name of a website or page name on a website. The easiest way to avoid this is to use your internet browser tabs. Tabs are one of my favorite improvements in the internet browser experience in the last five years. They allow you to have multiple sites open in a single “window”….but I digress.

In most browsers, if you press CTRL+T (Command+T on a Mac) your browser will open another tab. On this second tab, browse to the page to which you would like to link your page and copy all the text in the address bar. You can use  CTRL+C (Command+C on a mac) to copy the link. Now go back to your page where you are placing the link and in the link field type CTRL+V (Command+V on a mac) to paste it.

Changing a website page name

Every page on your website should have a name. If you have an older site or if it wasn’t built by someone who understands search engine optimization, chances are your page names may be something like services.html, products.html, or contact.html. If you are working with a search engine optimization company, such as Turn the Page Online Marketing, one thing that will be suggested is optimizing your page names.

Instead of calling a page products.html, if you sell kitchen faucets at killer prices for example, a better page name would be affordable-kitchen-faucets.html. Or if you install faucets locally, you may want your services page to be called something like faucet-installation-kansas-city.html.

However, when you change the name of a page, even if you update all your menus and links within your own website, you never know who may have an external link to that page floating around on the internet. The best thing to do to avoid a 404 page error, is to add a 301 redirect that points your old page name to your new page name. You will mostly likely need to contact your website host for help in adding a 301 redirect, unless you have advanced access to a control panel for your website.

Changing your website domain

Although we don’t often recommend changing your website domain because of the authority that comes with the age of a domain, sometimes it is unavoidable. So if you are going to change it, you could end up with a lot of 404 page errors floating around out there with links to pages on your old domain.

Similar to a page name change, if you change domains, you will want to initiate 301 redirects. Don’t make the mistake of adding just one 301 redirect from your old website to the new website domain. Best practice is that you add a 301 redirect for every single page on your site.

When a website page is deleted

Lastly, if you feel the need to delete a page on your website, users will also receive a 404 page error for any links that were going to that old web page.

I know I sound like a broken record (similar to the 12 days of Christmas song), but the answer once again is a 301 redirect. Even if you aren’t replacing the deleted page with a similar page, you should still redirect users to another page on your site. It’s best if you can add a 301 redirect to a page that has similar information as the deleted page, but if all else fails, redirect it to your home page.

Accidents happen, so make it look pretty

Even though Santa checks his list twice, I’m sure he’s made a mistake from time to time and you will do the same when it comes to 404 page errors on your website. So in the event that you do end up with a 404 page error on your site, you can at least be prepared for it by make a “pretty” 404 page error.

You might be wondering what the heck that means, but I’m sure you have seen it before. A standard 404 page error sort of looks like a blank page and when most users see it they immediately respond by hitting the back button on their browser due to fear of the unknown.

If you have a savvy web developer, they will have already created a “pretty” or custom 404 page error for your site. This will look like the rest of your website with possibly a link to your sitemap. That way, when users come across a broken link, they still feel like they are on your site and they have a quick way to find the page they are looking for.

To test your website to see if you have a custom 404 page error, simply go to any page on your site and type some additional gibberish into the address bar before the .html (or .php, .aspx, etc.)

Google Webmaster Tools is ready to help

Just one of the many great things about Google Webmaster tools is that once you are logged in, you can quickly see on your dashboard if you have any 404 page errors, referred to in Webmaster tools as “crawl errors”.

So here’s to hoping you don’t wake up with coal in your stocking or crawl errors on your site on Christmas morning. We hope you enjoyed our 12 Days of Google Christmas!


12 Days of Christmas – Day 9 (Unique Visits)

By | 12 Days of Google Christmas, Holiday Greeting Video | One Comment

9,000 Unique Visitors

Before we delve too far into the intimate details of Google Analytics and all things “Unique Visitors,” there are a few things I need to get off my chest. As Turn The Page’s resident motorcycle riding, cigar smoking, rum drinking resident bachelor I have to say that when it comes to The Twelve Days of Christmas, excluding the nine maids a milking is a true crime against humanity. Just saying.

Now that we’ve officially established that I’m definitely not a prince even among the non-princely, let’s get down to the only reason anyone in their right mind would choose to peruse my attempts at literary diatribe, Google Analytics Unique Visitors.

What are Unique Visitors?

First, let’s tackle the question of what are Unique Visitors? And, how does Google, that John D. Rockefeller of the web world, comes up with its magical little numbers?

Unique Visitors are a function of those wild little cookies you’re always hearing about when talking about web browsers. Unfortunately for me and my inner fat kid, web browser cookies have nothing to do with those Girl Scout Thin Mints I love far too much.

Browser cookies are bits of information stored in Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, or whatever other browser you use to surf the digital highway. The underlying goal of cookies is to shorten the time it takes to load your favorite web pages. The first time you visit a website, a “crumb” from one of those cookies is placed in your browser and unless you clear them, it lets Google know it’s not your first time on the site. Every time someone visits a site and there isn’t one of those delicious cookies in the browser, Google Analytics tags them as a “Unique Visitor.”

The unique visitors number helps give you an idea of how many new people are stopping by. Great you say, but what happens is someone clears their cookies? There lies the fly in the ointment.

Take Caution When Comparing Unique Visitors

Google’s Unique Visitors  statistic is not the Holy Bible in terms of new visitors. To bring it into perspective let’s look at an example.

  • On Monday, Lindy, the Turn The Page Christmas Elf, visits your website on her home computer using Apple’s Safari browser. This is unique visitor number one.
  • Knowing Apple products (yes Amy Driver, this is here just for you), Safari crashes and our favorite elf reloads your page using Firefox, which would represent unique visitor number two.
  • At work Lindy the Elf visits your website on her work computer establishing unique visitor number three.
  • Now let’s say her employer clears the cookies from all their computers daily. This means when Elf Lindy visits your site again the following morn, even though she uses the same computer, it becomes unique visitor number four. That’s right, one true unique visitor counted four times. So how do we interpret the unique visitors statistic if it’s off?

Use the Statistic From a 10,000 Foot View

Use the unique visitors statistic to gain a 10,000 foot view of the overall trend of your website. Be aware that if you try to read too deeply into that analytic, you can muck the whole thing up. There’s a level of innate inaccuracy within this tool. You need to look at the number over a longer period of time with a larger sample size. This should help to average out the switching of browsers and/or use of multiple computers and give you a more accurate perspective of the overall trend. Okay, now that we’ve cleared the air on that there’s still a landmine or two that needs to be avoided.

What Matters is What You’re Doing with your Unique Visitors

What really counts is what you’re doing with all these unique visitors. In the end it’s really about conversions. Bare with me, I’m going to revert back to my company bachelor status in a muddled attempt to make it all clear.

If I head out to the bar on Friday with the intent of meeting a fair maiden, hit on every single one of the nine maids a milking and fail to get a single one of their phone numbers, how successful have I been? Not very.

So, in the world of online marketing, at the end of the day, you need to be looking toward your conversion goals (i.e. the date next Friday after I collected all nine maids’ phone numbers).

Set a Goal of Return Visitors on Your Website

My final lesson is to not be so focused on the idea of new visitors that you forget that one of the biggest goals is getting them to come back and turn into something other than a unique visitor. You want them to request a quote, buy a product, click on your blog, or call you. That’s the ultimate goal of your website.

As always I hope this helps and if you’re one of the nine maids and you’re reading this, you have no idea how upset I was when Rob cut you out of Turn The Page’s Twelve Days of Christmas. The good news is if you shoot me an email we can sit down over a glass of wine and I’m positive together we can convince Rob to include you next year. Happy holidays and put a little rum in your eggnog for me.