How to create a helpful 404 Page

Posted on 2015-04-02

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Getting traffic to a website is hard – once we get people to our site, we want them to stay. Given the nature of the web a certain percentage of links leading to a site will be broken and people who click on the link will be shown a 404 “file not found” error. Many users faced with a 404 error will simply give up and move away.

The reason for that is that many 404 pages are a dead end just informing the visitor that the content he came across for does not exist.

Of course the main point is to avoid 404 errors. It’s your part to ensure that all internal links are working. On a site with a huge amount of pages this could be quite a challenge. Beyond that you cannot control links from external sites. Maybe you’ve changed the URL structure of your site and existing links now point to nowhere. Or someone made a copy & paste mistake. Or whatever…

The fact is that you can’t completely avoid 404 errors on your site. That’s out of your hands!  So if a visitor tries to access a page that does not exist do not lead him to dead end! Give your visitors somewhere to go.

The current default WordPress Theme Twenty Fifteen shows a search box and also many other Themes do so. Half a loaf is better than none. But only a very few users will try a search. Normally most of those who will be faced with a 404 are new visitors. They don’t know anything about your site and the first impression they get is an error. Most of them will leave immediately.

To keep them on your site it’s absolutely essential to give them an idea what your site is about and to show them that it’s worth to stay. Most of them will give your site a second chance. Just a few links make all the difference!

Unfortunately customizing the 404 error page is not a knickknack in WordPress. The template for the 404 error page is part of the Theme and you need programming skills to change it. And secondly you will lose all changes when switching to another Theme.

Luckily there is a much easier solution without the need of coding…

How to create a helpful 404 page in WordPress with just a few clicks

For this example I’ve used the current default WordPress Theme Twenty Fifteen. Just type in an URL that surely does not exist on your site to see the 404 error page. The following image shows the default 404.

WordPress 404 error page

With the right Plugins installed and a few minutes later it looks like shown in the following image.

WordPress 404 error page

To achieve this I’ve used the following Plugins:

All in all about maybe 20 minutes of work to create a helpful custom 404 error page in WordPress.

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