Where 404 Art Thou?

Recent traffic analysis of a client website which was moved (by another design agency) has meant that literally thousands of visitors for the best part of the last year have simply been… LOST!

Here’s the scenario:

Client decides to get a new website design done. Since this is a co-operative group, no-one “remembers” to contact the original designer (that would be me) as the original contact person had long gone from that group. They decide to go ahead with what was originally meant to be stage two of the intitial concept which began some years ago in late 2006.

Their website, which was recording about 1000+ unique visitors every month for highly competitive terms, was “re-designed” last December.

While it looks a lot more “schmick”…

  • Instead of having 15+ highly optimised pages on the site, they now have six (and not so well optimised).
  • Instead of allowing for some sort of redirection for the now “missing” pages… they did nothing – i.e. no 301 redirection to tell the search engines old pages have been permanently “moved” (essential when you do HAVE pages which are already indexed and already performing well).
  • The 404 error page that came up for the missing pages? Well, it doesn’t “do” anything with the lost traffic that may have arrived as it is coded incorrectly, and does NOT show images, navigation, style etc properly – in fact it looks like it is the “error” 🙂
  • The number of visits to the website drops from a consistent 1000+ unique visitors a month to around half of that…
  • The old “bookings” page was generating 200-300 hits every month… then the number of leads/enquires generated directly from the website dries up.

And then after some months… someone asks “Well… Why isn’t the new site working???”

Here’s Why…

When contemplating a redesign of your existing website… do keep these things in mind:

Redirect Replaced Pages with proper 301 redirection. In fact, try NOT to change the structure of the site if at all possible especially if it was working well for you. Why the pages were “removed” in the first place is a question it seems no-one can answer 🙂

If you must change the structure or remove pages, then have a working 404 Error Page which is effective at “doing” something with lost traffic! In this case, a contact form right there could have worked a treat (especially since the new site didn’t even have one).

Technical note : Suggest you USE ABSOLUTE PATHS and NOT relative paths for ALL of the page elements referenced on a 404 page (i.e. for ALL images, style sheets, javascripts, links etc)… to make sure that THIS PAGE simply “works” as intended!

Some clients (for whatever reasons) WILL simply forget about their web guy when discussing their website… and make decisions based on what was probably “marketing speak” into their ears from slick design agencies who are more concerned with getting a sale and not about the actual performance of the client’s website!

So DO remember your web guy! Ask him/her for guidance. They might be aware of the “bigger picture” for that website. They are certainly the best place to start with any rethinking of concept or design (assuming you haven’t had any “issues” with them in the past).

Web guys (or gals)??? Keep in touch with your clients! Just because a job is “done”… doesn’t mean it is finished.


While an old site may well benefit from a revamp looks-wise… if you do decide to do that, it might be best to heed the old adage…

If it ain’t broke… don’t fix it!

Often “glamming” it up may hurt your conversions in more ways than those already described.

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