Thursday, 27 November 2008

What page errors? Soft vs. hard 404s

One of the websites I look after demonstrated its amazing crapness to me the other day when I discovered the supplier that ran it / produced it for me hadn't configured it for hard 404s, they'd used soft 404s.
  • Hard 404 - tells your web browser that the page you've tried to access does not exist. Precisely it tells the browser that the server (website) exists but it couldn't find the page you wanted. More on 404s here.
  • Soft 404 - the page you're trying to access still doesn't exist but instead of telling you so it returns a 200 response code. Now it may well show you, the user, an error page similar to a hard 404 but it also might just redirect you to the homepage so you don't actually know whether the page is broken or not. More importantly it doesn't tell your browser the page doesn't exist.
T-shirt with the 404 error code on it
Do geekier t-shirts exist?
Now substitute 'browser' for 'search engine spider' in the above definitions and hopefully you can see that by having soft 404s instead of hard 404s search engines will just assume that all these dead pages exist (or just get confused, not crawl you properly and ruin your search rankings).

If on the other hand you return hard 404s search engine spiders will know that page doesn't exist, won't index it and will move on. There's also no reason why a hard 404 response also can't show a nice pretty page explaining this to humans - such as Google's 404 page.

Now back to my example, Google had reached a page on my site that didn't exist (due to a link to a dud page on another website) and instead of ignoring it, had indexed it and it was appearing as the first hit on Google for my site name. So users clicking on this link went straight to an error page - not good.

By changing the soft 404s to hard 404s Google won't index this page, and my home page is the top hit on Google for my site name - better.

Not sure what your site returns? Think of a page that doesn't exist on your site, i.e., and enter it into this handy online tool that will tell you the HTTP status code (that's the bit that says 404 or 200).
UPDATE: If the above tool doesn't work try this one from

Never use soft 404s, it's the first thing I check on any website build. It's amazing how many sites still use soft 404s, such as Wikipedia. Maybe there is a good reason for it? Somebody care to tell me?

Useful link - How to make a snazzy 404 page that's good for SEO

Monday, 24 November 2008

Blogs need multiple authors to succeed

I read this nice review of the internet's top blogs and what we can learn from their success a couple of months ago and have tried (with moderate success) to incorporate some of the thinking into the blogs my company runs.
Number of blog authors on the internet's top blogs
Image copyright - SEOmoz

There are lots of blog articles called "10 top tips to create a great blog" but how do we know whether any of it works? Well the facts contained within that review are just that, facts. They are the state of play in the blogosphere today so pay attention; it can't all be good luck, big brands and Perez Hilton.

The one phrase I take from the whole thing is the following:
“Can't do it all by yourself? Neither can the experts. 80% of the top blogs have more than one primary writer.”
This is so obvious, the advantages are clear:
  • More people, more posts, more content
  • Get different view points on the same subject
  • Attract different audiences by having this varying content
The strategy for any company with a number of blogs should be obvious. Take all your bloggers and ask them to categorise all their posts by subject. Then turn these subjects into your blogs rather than the bloggers. So if you have a number of internet marketing bloggers create blogs on specific subjects such as SEO, PPC, usability, email marketing etc.

Search engines look for content based on keywords. Therefore a blog based on a subject area contributed to by a number of bloggers will work better than a blog on a variety of areas written by one blogger. It will also be more useful for your readers, which after all is the point of all this, isn't it?

Friday, 21 November 2008

A tea mat with sugar and milk preferences

For part two of my tea-related internet sites I bring you the amazing! Enter your colleagues names and tea (or coffee) preferences and get a mat for your tea tray.
A tea stain mat and a Chomp bar
Which would you choose?
Chomp or mat?

Never again will you have to scribble down everyone's needs on a manky post-it note or god forbid, try to remember what everyone wants.

The only thing that makes this invention maybe less clever is the fact that when you make your tea-stain mat you'll find they want £5.99 off you so they can post it out. I was expecting a PDF so I could print it out myself! Grr...

And what happens when someone is made redundant (a real risk in the current economic climate)? Do I have to go back to tea stain and spend another £5.99 removing them from the tea mat? And with less people in my team the price we'll have to pay each for the joy of having a tea mat will increase. I know that many people in my team will baulk at the suggestion that I want £1.20 off them to update our tea mat. You could buy 12 Chomps for that price.

This invention has failed at the final hurdle I’m sad to say...

Back to the manky post-it note - now that WAS a good invention.

Other tea-related internet sites
Part one - A random tea-maker generator
Part three - A tea colour chart on a mug

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Only print specific sections of a web page and save the world

P*ss off advertisers the world over by only printing out the bits of a web page you want. logo
The oxymoron that is
environmentally friendly printing

To be fair I’ve been doing this for years and single handedly saving the rainforests and defending pandas by copying any text from a site I want to read in a non digital format into Notepad and printing from there.

However you often want more than just the text (like pictures) and you've only a big red LED light where your laser printer should have a green LED light for presence of magenta ink and you know that printing all the adverts on a web page will push it over the edge.

So for you I present ", save the money, save the environment, print what you like". Really if I felt they were truly serious about saving the money and saving the environment they wouldn't be encouraging printing at all but I guess they're half way there and "save a bit of money, and a part of the environment" doesn't have the same ring to it.

Thanks to my colleague for forwarding me the link, it's really straightforward; the site lets you input the URL you wish to print then remove page elements before printing, such as MPUs, side bars, removing background. It also works the other way round - you can just select the bit of the page you want and isolate it. Internet Explorer did crash when I tried big manoeuvres when printing my own blog such as removing the background or isolating one blog post. Firefox on the other hand coped perfectly and quickly.

I rarely print stuff and when I do I just do my copy and paste to Notepad trick - plus a lot of sites have print style sheets these days which cut out clutter anyway but nevertheless it's a clever gadget with a good heart. Just remember to only use it in Firefox.