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Why Your WordPress Website Needs a Custom 404 Error Page

Create a custom 404 Page in WordPress

I know this has happened to you. You land on a website, and you see “404 Page Not Found”. The basic vanilla server error page letting you know that the link you followed is no longer accurate.

Then what? When I run into this, I'll look for a basic menu to guide me or remove the last part of the URL in the location bar down to just the dot com portion, which will take me to the site's home page. Then, I'll do a quick scan for what I clicked-thru through. If I am really motivated, I may stick around and find something similar on the site.

Most times, I do not. Nor can you count on your site visitors to hunt and peck either. (This is where having simple, intuitive navigation comes into play.)

Opportunity Lost

404s happen. Especially if you've had your site for a while, it becomes even more difficult to track all your posts, pages, and deletions. 404s are produced for several reasons. The most common are:

  • You deleted a post or removed a page and didn't put a redirect in place.
  • Typo in the URL.
  • Trying to access your password-protected content.

Let's be honest. Getting site visitors is not easy. So when they do land on our site, we want to give them the best experience possible. And keep them there for as long as we can.

If we have deleted, moved, or modified a page or post to cause a 404, that is not a user-friendly experience. So what we want to do is make sure we minimize the potential of site visitors ditching out because they cannot find what they clicked-thru for.

WordPress Plugins Make 404s & 301 Redirects Easy

Using 301 redirects is a way to avoid this. A 301 redirect is when you point the deleted page's URL to another on your site that is applicable and/or similar. I use the free Redirection plugin for this process. In addition, I use Yoast Premium, which has redirection tools built-in.

But what if you don't have a similar article or one worth pointing the old URL to? You certainly don't want to send visitors to an article that isn't really what they are looking for, again causing a poor user experience.

Enter the 404 to 301 plugin. This plugin will let you point any 404s to a specific page that you create to look the way you like with the info and guidance your site visitors will appreciate.

404 to 301 will redirect all 404s and automatically create a 301 redirect to your custom page. The plugin will also log every 404 error for you to address individually.

Turn Your 404 Page into a Conversion Tool

While we can control 404 pages when we delete a page or change a URL by immediately putting in place a 301 redirect, what if you forget to do the redirect? Or what if you deleted a page a while ago that is still displaying in search engines?

Don't forget about outside links into your site that are out of your control. Links to those deleted pages or posts can also produce 404 error pages.

Enter your custom crafted 404 page.

With your custom 404 page, you can reflect your personality, be creative, and offer a useful resource to site visitors. By taking this approach, you give them the ability to choose what their next click is instead of just leaving your site. Or hitting the back button.

404 pages are an opportunity to guide visitors on what you know they are most likely looking for (or may not know what they are looking for). While custom 404 pages can also be humorous and fun, I prefer to take a site guide approach.

Here are two of my site's custom 404 pages;

On each, you can see how I used graphics and content to guide visitors on what they may be looking for, from bulleted lists to graphics to the top 5 articles that visitors may find helpful.

Use your imagination!

You know what folks seek out most. Look at your stats. Here's what you want to include on your custom 404 page:

  • Have a note at the top of the page that what the visitor is looking for cannot be found.
  • Include a pointer to your search bar/box.
  • Mention the location of your menus for visitors to discover their options.
  • Create a list of most view resources.
  • Use graphics that match the look and feel — and personality — of your website.

Put your personality on display, include your site's overall feel and get creative. Make your custom 404 page unique to you with the primary goal of anticipating how you can best help site visitors who land there.

Once you get your custom 404 page in place, then any missing pages or if site visitors typo domain name, they land at your site guide. That's what I call user-friendly!

At your service,

Judith: WordPress Consultant and Business Coach