How to make your 404 page work better for you

404 pages come up a lot in SEO audits and also with designers looking to be a bit more creative. Blending good design with SEO compliance and usability sometimes doesn’t always go to plan, which may be surprising given how trivial a 404 page may seem. But 404 pages are not rare – they occur on even the most well maintained site. So it’s worth looking at Google Search Console to find out if there are any 404s, look at why they’re being triggered and what message you give to users when they happen.

Recently, one of my favourite web design sites, Web Designer Depot, discusses 5 ways to use 404 pages well written by James George.

I generally agree with the sentiment behind the article. The 404 page on your website should be customised (as opposed to a plain server driven one) and it should be useful. Otherwise it’s not working in your favour. As someone with a background in design and an even bigger background in SEO & Digital Marketing, I’m throwing in my my tuppence worth on the matter. I’ve had many battles with clients when it comes to the 404 page, often just trying to keep things ‘within brand guidelines’.

The 1st point talks about linking to your best content. I agree with this. Giving people suggestions of where to explore (even though those pages may be in the site nav) is a great way to keep them on the site and to help them continue their journey. Just make sure your link placement is clear and it wouldn’t hurt to use a heatmap tool to see how people interact with this page.

The 2nd point suggests giving out a freebie in exchange for their email address. I haven’t come across this in my experience and I understand what this tries to achieve but I’m not sure of how well this would convert. Some sites have great success when they throw an email subscription box in your face randomly but in the context of a 404 page, I guess it remains to be seen how effective this would be. But I don’t disagree with this point – I’ve just not seen it in the wild in my own limited experience. If you use this, I’d love to learn more about how this works for you, especially if you’ve got other ways of capturing email addresses on your site.

The 3rd point recommends adding a search box and the example screenshot shows twitter’s 404 page. this is excellent because of the context – it’s not like twitter has landing pages to send you to (like e-commerce or a service provider) so it merely suggests searching by username, first or last name. I like this and think for an online store, this would work well in combination with linking to your best content (refer to 1st point). Like the 1st point, using a heatmap tool would be insightful. I highly recommend Hotjar for this.

The 4th point says to add a contact form to the page because although the user didn’t find what they were looking for, for whatever reason, the contact form still gives them a quick easy way to contact you – and this would be useful if they were short on time, for example. it also views this tactic as a way to get bugs reported more easily and that’s always a good thing.

The 5th point is something I don’t agree with – because it says don’t use humour but the example used isn’t funny – it’s just condescending and rude. A lot of great 404 pages use humour and it’s really about being in good taste. Accusing your users of being stupid isn’t funny – and I say this having done a bit of tech support in my time! Sure, more often than not, it’s a classic case of PEBKAC but doesn’t mean your 404 page can’t be funny. If however your attempt at humour gets in the way of being helpful, then it’s not worth the effort. So what if you’ve got a funny comic or caricature? Does it help the user understand what’s just happened or why they ended up on this page? does it give them options on what to do next? if it doesn’t, then you need to rethink your 404 page strategy.

As with the conclusion of the article, I agree – you shouldn’t really be doing all of the above on your 404 page. What you should be doing is looking at what will work best within the context of your site. Above all else, being useful to your site visitors should be your primary focus. Which is why I agree with one of the commenters who says not to label it as 404 (to users) because most people don’t now what it is. I know people are getting smarter and many will associate 404 with an error but look beyond the status code and do something practical with your 404 page.

Pro tip: setup Google Search Console for your website to monitor how Google crawls your site and identify 404 errors that may come up – you’ll be richer for the experience, trust me!

UAE Digital Marketing Interviews – PPC with Lukas Krejca

Kicking off the first of many UAE Digital Marketing Interviews for 2017 is Lukas Krejca who is deeply passionate about PPC and Performance Marketing. He’s been in Dubai for a few years, working with ROI Hunter where his main focus is performance marketing on Facebook. He also runs Dubai PPC which hosts regular PPC training sessions in Dubai – something he’s really enthusiastic about!

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Planning for the year ahead, one month in

2017 is well underway, January is just about over and you’re probably still wondering how to get through the year without letting everything slip away.

By now you should be executing on your 2017 strategy, which you hopefully formulated in late 2016. The thing is, a lot of people haven’t planned ahead. In fact, I’ve just met with some folks who have started the year with no clue and are vainly seeking out band-aid fixes for what can only described as a gaping flesh wound that is bleeding profusely.

It’s not pretty but it can be saved! And this is how you can take charge of the year ahead, even if you didn’t plan ahead!

Figure out what you want to achieve

Goals, objectives, blah blah. Look at your website and ask yourself: what do you want out of it? Is your goal more traffic? Do you want more ad clicks? Do you want people to spend more time on your site? Do you have an email newsletter and want more subscribers? Do you sell stuff and want more of those things to be sold? (technical jargon here). Whatever it is, work it out and make a simple list.

I want more traffic. I want more email subscribers. I want more people to buy my book….

Work out why you want to achieve that goal

Why do you really want more traffic? What difference does it make whether you have 100 people a month visiting your site or 1000 people visiting? Some goals are superficial and don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things (do you really care for pageviews?). Now for most websites, more visitors means more ad clicks which means more revenue which keeps the lights on. So that’s understandable. Same for sites that sell things. More product sales, more revenue etc. This is for simple sites, not eBay! When you really try and understand why you want to achieve something, you can figure out if its worth targeting.

I want more traffic because I can get more clicks on my ads which will bring in more revenue.
I want more email subscribers because I want to cement myself as a thought leader in my niche.

How will you achieve that goal

Now you may not have a whole range of tactics ready but you can at least put together a list of top level ideas on how you hope to hit your targets. If your goal is to get more email subscribers, I’d say a good place to start is checking to see how people are guided to sign up for your newsletter. Understand the process, identify blockers. I would say using something like Hotjar or Kissmetrics or similar can help you identify how people use your site and you can figure out why they don’t sign up. The next thing to look at is your current list and perhaps look at open and unsubscribe rates – there may be a pattern you can identify which gives you an idea of where to fix things.

If you want more traffic, look at your content. What’s resonating well? What’s topical? Use keyword suggestion tools and see if you’re writing about the things people are searching for. A friend runs a small business selling himalayan salt and himalayan salt lamps. So I suggested writing content like: ‘what is himalayan salt?’ and ‘what are the benefits of himalayan salt lamps?’ and even ‘debunking myths about himalayan salt’. This provides extra value to readers and can help turn visitors into buyers. Throw in some videos (I use Animoto for quick and easy video production using just the images in my asset library) and you’re really diversifying your content and appealing to a wider audience. The idea is that your content has to address all possible angles. You’re telling them what you sell, why its good and then addressing possible concerns. Boom. You get the idea.

For every thing you want to achieve, there’s a lot of ways to approach them and your results may vary but it’s worth exploring all ideas because you may be surprised by what sticks. Short Instagram videos may turn out to be the most valuable promotional tool in your arsenal – and how easy are they to make?!

How will you measure your success?

Once you know what you want to achieve, why it matters and how you’ll run towards achieving your goals, how will you know if you’ve been successful?

Sure, if your goal is more email subscribers, you’ll see more sign ups. And if you want more visitors to your site, traffic will increase. But it’s a bit more than that. You have to use the right tools to give you the right data so you can know for sure what is going on, whether you’re moving forward or not. Being able to see this clearly helps you decide how to proceed with the rest of your strategy. But just as important is knowing how to interpret the data your tools give you and not just simply to know what is working and what’s not.

You need actionable insights

I once saw incredible stats for a wedding videography business where there was apage that pretty much stole most of the traffic away from the homepage, service page and contact page. It was a simple page listing popular wedding love songs in alphabetical order. But interestingly it had a 90% bounce rate despite receiving 80%+ of the traffic to the website! You’re probably asking about time on page and that averaged around 7 minutes! It’s just a list from A to Z with no imagery, no links to videos or songs, or any sort of search or filtering option. So here we have a page that focuses on content that is in high demand, has a high dwell time but huge bounce rate. What does this tell us? Its popular, keeps people on the site for a long time but they may just leave the site completely without converting.

For me the next step would be to see user flow beyond this page to see how many people go beyond this page to contact the business for a booking. Because a page of this nature should be generating a tonne of leads. So with the data on hand, we can investigate further and make a decision.

The year is yours for the taking

I hope this helps put things into perspective so you can plan ahead for 2017. It may be a month in but the year is not lost. 2017 is yours for the taking – all you have to do is work out what you want to get out of it, why you want it, how to get it and when you’ll know you’ve got it. Simple enough, right?

Let me know how it goes for you. All the best for 2017!

Should I have Arabic URLs for the Arabic version of my website?

Yes. Ideally, you should have Arabic URLs for the Arabic version of your site because it makes for the best possible user experience. If you’re an Arabic SEO or have to help with Arabic SEO strategy, read on.

To cite an example, at propertyfinder.ae, URLs for each language were at one stage all in English, with the Arabic versions containing /ar/ and English URLs /en/. Google is pretty smart at translations so even when we searched in Arabic, it was able to return the correct /ar/ URL despite having English in the URL (eg. https://www.propertyfinder.ae/ar/rent/dubai/apartments-for-rent.html). We saw incremental increases in traffic from Arabic queries as a result though we did also implement a number of other SEO fixes to the site afterwards so we can attribute success to that as well. The main thing is that we didn’t see any negative impact (not even a dip in traffic or rankings) so we know that what we did, to translate English URLs on the Arabic version of our site was the right thing to do.

In a country like the UAE where Arabic is the official language but where English is so widely spoken, you could probably get away with with English URLs for both languages and simply using /en/ and /ar/ to differentiate the content. In a country like Egypt where just about everybody is a native Arabic speaker, your website should aim to have Arabic URLs at a minimum. Saudi Arabia is an interesting example in this case because although native Arabic speakers make up the bulk of the population, there is a great number of expats who are mostly non Arabic speakers so having a website in both languages with URLs in each language makes the most sense.

I mentioned earlier that Google does a great job of translating queries and delivering the correct/best URL – and nothing changes that however if you truly want to create the best possible end user experience, then it would be best to have URLs that use the local language.

I should note that this is easy to handle during the build of a new website because you get to bake it in. For existing sites and in particular, large complex ones, you really need to work out the time cost trade off and whether this is the best use of your resources. Ultimately, you should aim for the best user experience and work towards localised language URLs but your situation may not make it feasible, at least for the foreseeable future. At propertyfinder.ae, we noted that the correct URLs were being returned in Arabic so it’s not like we were losing out on potential traffic. However since the company has a goal to be the best and provide the best experience, a decision was made to be as relevant to the local audience in each country where PF operates and thus began the major URL translation project of 2015!

One thing to note about Arabic (for non Arabic speakers) is that it is read from right to left. Now you can imagine how that might look and what complications arise when you combine English and Arabic in the one URL.

Here’s an example:


The syntax is: domain.ae/language/rent/location/apartments-for-rent.html

And here’s the equivalent Arabic URL:


With the syntax: domain.ae/language/apartments-for-rent/location/rent.html

Now this may seem like a problem but it actually works just fine in Arabic, because of the way the language is written and combined with English. I know this because my Arabic SEO counterpart said so (!) and because we haven’t seen this affect the site negatively. There’s a lot more to URL routing than I know but the devs have assured me this is how it’s meant to work and like I said, it seems to be working just fine.

If you were to do this for Spanish or French, you wouldn’t run into this issue because it uses the same script as English. You would omit special characters but essentially, the letters are the same. Arabic SEO has its own share of nuances and this is just one of many things I hope to explain so you too can enjoy great Arabic SEO success.

So TL;DR: be as relevant to your local audience as possible to create the most amazing end user experience ever by using URLs that make sense coupled with content that is brilliant. Arabic is a very widely spoken language and should not be underestimated in any Arabic SEO and Arabic website project.