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How to use 404 traffic
What is 404 - file not found?
"404" is the server response code if requested file (page) cannot
Often is reason broken link from an other site, e.g. link to your
site was added with url contains wrong name of
page, wrong page extension, etc..
Visitors are following those links, search engines spiders are following those links. If there are many "missing" pages, search engines maybe will not tolerate that and that could be a problem for site ranking.
How to fix broken link?
After every update of any page, check if links on that page are correctly added, (click on link to check). First you need to fix broken links on your site.
Than, take a look to site statistic. Find "404 errors", or "missing files". Look at files listed there, and try to find from where those pages are called (referral string). If there is no referral string (-), that is probably some spider or visitor trying to guess url. If error hit is coming from some site, try to contact webmaster of that site. However, you can use error page or redirection to fix that problem.
htaccess and custom error pages
Htacces (.htaccess) is server directory configuration file.
With htaccess, default server configuration can be partially
overridden (for your site). Problem can be when that file is
hidden, (real name is .htacces).
Server has default error pages displayed when some page
cannot be found. That page is useless for you.
There is an option to change that. Make simple 404.html page,
upload to the root of your site and using hosting control panel,
if that feature is available, add 404.html as 404 error page.
How to boost conversion rate using 404 traffic?
Many affiliates are spending hours and days promoting their sites anywhere. Nothing bad, but you need to know what is happening at home.
So, analyze website logs, look for 404 response codes, research referrals, find way to use those requests.
That 404.html above. With search form, with list of corrected links, with additional affiliate links, according to interest, can be much more than dummy default page with link to main page. Different 404.html added to other directories (separate htaccess also), helps in better targeting.
And, that is only one way. Instead of 404.html, you can add link to server side script (perl, php). In that case script can handle requests better. Redirecting visitors, or simple displaying affiliate links according to request.
You can sell 404 traffic. Even when that traffic is not always targeted, maybe it is worth to try.
You can redirect missing pages to existing pages,
again using htaccess, adding line like this:
Conclusion? 404 traffic CAN bring more income, just if used properly. So, instead of "404-Not Found, back to main page", make "404-Cash Found" error page.
For those who wants to cash more - here is the 404 secrets ebook (with more details) about using and selling 404 traffic.