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Use Site Error Pages as a Marketing Tool

Don't leave your website visitors in the dark. Find new customers by turning your error page into a marketing message.

At some point, some of your site visitors will likely land on a "404 error" page. Perhaps your server can't find the web page they're trying to reach because it's been moved, deleted or renamed. That URL no longer works, but unfortunately, it still shows up on sites, blogs and search engine results pages. Don't panic. There's a simple solution to turn a mishap into marketing: Customize your 404 page.

Start by making your error page design mimic your home page design. By incorporating your site's look and feel, as well as site navigation, visitors are quickly reassured that they've got the right company. Just let them know they've got the wrong page. State that the page they are looking for can't be found, but don't stop there.

Invite lost visitors to click around; any site navigation you've included will show them where they can go. Also, link to your site's search tool, if you have one. That can help them quickly locate the information they're trying to find. Most important, provide links to helpful resources on your site. This is powerful.

You can direct them to your online newsletter, or any opt-in offer, to get them on your e-mail list. And you can recommend your products and services so they'll take a step closer to doing business with you.

Watch your words, however. When transforming your error message into a marketing opportunity, avoid the hard sales pitch. After all, you can't be certain what these visitors want. So phrases such as "buy now" or "order today" could scare them off. Instead, offer suggestions, recommendations and resources. These types of informational words point people to particular pages without any pressure to buy.

And feel free to have fun with your 404 page. An entertaining error page isn't a new concept. But now, in addition to amusing visitors about your page's disappearing act, you can leverage today's user-driven communities such as blogs and social networks to publicize it. This could turn your concealed page into a communication and marketing gem.

Catherine Seda is an internet and search marketing expert. She's also a dean of LA College International. Get her "Top 10 Internet Marketing Mistakes" report at www.catherineseda.com.

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This article was originally published in the February 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Lost and Found .

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