404 Error Prevention for Your Website Launch
By: Kimberly McCormick, Bayshore Solutions Director of Corporate Marketing
Completing your website’s final launch to “Live” and open-to-the-world status is a very exciting time. It can also be a very nervous time, hoping that all your bases are covered to make a truly seamless experience for your site visitors, customers and target audiences. You want to ensure that your visitors are captivated with your new website and do not encounter the dreaded “404 – page not found” error for links they click expecting to arrive at their desired destination.
There are some obvious pre-launch redirect actions that your website project managers will ensure are taken, and there are some not-so-immediately-obvious site link exposures you will want to ensure you’ve covered. You basically need to think about every way possible that people are linking to your website.
Here’s a checklist to help cover these bases:
“Obvious” Old-Page-to-New-Page Redirects
Pulling a sitemap listing of your old site’s web pages and mapping these to the appropriate pages on your new website is conceptually simple process. It gets a little more complex when you have hundreds of pages on your website, when you are retiring some content, or reorganizing it.
We experienced this in our recent website redesign with a reorganization of the way we presented our awards from a chronological to an award program type presentation. This involved retiring a lot of pages and developing differently grouped pages. Links from numerous on-page images, past press releases, newsletters and other sources needed to be audited and redirected.
In a previous article on content development I shared a helpful tool I use to organize this: my “Mission Control” spreadsheet. This template documents both website page redirects and other site launch items such as meta-data, goals, status checklists, etc. You can download this helpful template here.
“Not-as-Obvious” Links to your Website
Paid Search Ad Destination URLs
It is just cleaner to avoid redirected links to take a click on your paid search ad to the right page on your website. We know Google will punish ad destination URLs redirecting to different domains. While Google may not directly punish in-domain redirects in ads, your website redesign is a great time to ensure you keep your Ad Destination URLs clean.
Don’t Forget Your Ad Extensions
You’ll want to review any Ad Sitelink and other extensions to ensure these successfully link to the correct page, especially when your redesign includes a change in site structure.
Ad Destination URLs updates can be prepared in advance to minimize “in-review “ downtime and enable an instantaneous “flip of the switch” activation to align with your new site’s launch.
“Friendly“ or Mnemonic URLS
You may have set up various easy-to-type-and-remember URLs that are already redirected to support campaigns. Review these campaign materials to ensure that target visitors will land on the correct new website page.
What are any other possible ways visitors get to your site? Take a few moments to think this through and ensure their path is seamless.
Don’t Walk, Run with Your Crawl Errors
In the period immediately after site launch, you want to carefully monitor your Webmaster Tools and Google Search Console, acting quickly to address 404 crawl errors and sitemap submissions. While “normal” frequency for processing redirects might typically be a semi-monthly or monthly, depending on the depth of your website, you will want to address this weekly or perhaps even daily.
And Because No One is Perfect
Use your 404 error page as a relationship–building opportunity when a lost page scenario does happen. Don’t just settle for a stark, plain-text error code communication. Maybe even have a little fun with it.
Apologize that your visitor isn’t where they expect to be. Welcome them, and definitely give them a few links on that “404 error” page to the most-popular or likely pages on your site that they may be trying to access.
One of Bayshore Solutions’ great strengths is our website delivery teams that include Designers, Developers, Project Managers and Digital Marketers, to ensure that your new website is not only beautiful and functional, but that all the avenues are addressed to ensure it is ready to engage your audience and to go to market.
Contact us today to learn more.