How to Manage URL Redirects and Error Pages

How to Manage URL Redirects and Error Pages

301s and 404s? Find out which error codes you need to watch out for, what they mean, and how to deal with them.

Written by Matt Allen

4 min read

Error codes and HTTP status codes

Sometimes when you try to visit a web page, you’re met with an HTTP status code. These are messages from the web server about the status of the page you’re trying to visit.

Understanding status codes and how to use them will help you to rectify any potential errors on your ecommerce store more quickly, to ensure visitors are able to navigate your site successfully.

You can even utilise some of these status codes to provide assistance to search engines and visitors. A 301 redirect, for example, (which we will discuss later) will let search engine bots know that a page has been moved somewhere else permanently. Someone browsing your website won't be aware of the 301 redirect as such - they will simply land on the page you have redirected them to, rather than on a broken link.

HTTP status codes and error codes are all 3 digit numbers (for example the 301 in a ‘301 redirect’). The first number is always a 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 which classifies the status category. The second and third number in the code then indicate what the specific status is, within the broader category.

HTTP status code categories

1xx = Informational responses: The server is processing the request.

2xx = This indicates success. The request was completed and the server gave the browser the expected response: the visitor is on the page they were looking for.

3xx = This indicates a redirect to another page. The request was received, but there’s a redirect of some kind.

4xx = The site or page couldn’t be reached. This is an error on the website’s side, as opposed to the server’s, and appears when a page doesn’t exist on the site. Most people are familiar with the ‘404 page not found’ error.

5xx = This is a failure on the server’s side, not the website itself. The server failed to complete the request.

What are the most common HTTP status codes?

  • 200: This refers to a page in perfect working order.

  • 301: A page that has been permanently moved, or redirected to a different URL.

  • 302: This is a temporary redirect (as opposed to the permanent 301 redirect).

  • 400: An error message from the server to say the request was corrupted.

  • 401: What someone sees when they try to access a restricted web page but aren’t authorised, for example if they’re not logged in.

  • 404: This error is shown when a page or site cannot be found.

  • 410: refers to a page that has been removed from the site permanently.

  • 500: The most common HTTP error - this is an internal error, for example if the server is overloaded and can’t handle requests properly.

  • 503: A page that is down for maintenance.

How to fix 404 errors on your ecommerce store

404 page errors are common and most people will be familiar with seeing these when the page they’re looking for can’t be found. These typically occur when:

  • you transfer your site to a new domain or platform (such as moving from Magento to Shopify)
  • a page no longer exists (for example if you’ve deleted a product from your store)
  • you change your url structure

It’s important to keep an eye on your 404 errors as it’s frustrating for your users to keep ending up on them. Over time, it’s likely that they will appear as your site or content changes, but as long as you’re aware of them they can be dealt with easily enough. To manage 404 page errors on your ecommerce store, you need to make use of 301 redirects - consider a url redirect tool to make the job easier.

Redirecting a page to a similar product or a relevant collection page is a great way to keep customers on your site, especially if they were expecting to find something specific.

If you're wondering how to 301 redirect URLs on your Shopify site, you can use a URL redirect tool like Easy Redirects. It lets you upload and redirect URLs in bulk so you can point them to new URLs all at once, and on an ongoing basis it alerts you to new errors as they occur so you can manage and fix 404 errors easily.

If your store offers limited edition products and one-off collections, then you may end up removing products regularly and will need to redirect redundant URLs. Implementing a strategy that anticipates and manages your redirects means that you can provide better user experiences and journeys for your visitors.

Creating a great 404 error page

While you want to minimise the number of 404 pages you have, it’s inevitable that at some point they will exist and people may land on them. This is a great opportunity to be creative and customise your 404 pages. Many digital businesses see the 404 page as being the end of a customer’s time on your site. When they land on a 404, they go elsewhere. But does this have to be the case?

Your customer has hit a page on your site that they weren’t expecting. An extra page in their journey. Use it as part of your marketing strategy - see it as an opportunity to engage with them in an unexpected way - make it humorous, reinforce your brand or make a striking apology. Most marketers would kill for the chance to put some extra messaging in front of their customers!

You could implement a search bar or put links in the 404 page to other areas of your site so they can find the section they’re looking for.

The best 404 pages on ecommerce sites give your customers a reason to continue exploring. Or even better, they give your customers a reason to spend money with you. Our favourite and most effective 404 pages have been ones which include amusing offers. Acknowledge the fact that you‘ve messed up, and compensate your customers for it. 10% off their next order will probably be enough to not only save you from a lost visitor, but also to get an extra sale AND to make it look like you’re great at customer service to boot.

If you’re looking to migrate ecommerce platforms, why not get in touch? We’re experts in moving stores to Shopify and have an experienced team of designers and developers who build world-class sites!

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