404 error

Creating a 404 Page in WordPress- The Easy Way

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Have you ever felt that sinking feeling when a “404 – Page Not Found” error pops up while browsing a website? As an internet user, I know I have. Finding a broken link or landing on a missing page as a dead end is confusing at best and frustrating at worst.

But as WordPress website owners, we have an opportunity to turn this negative experience into a positive one for our users. With a custom 404 page, we can create an error message that is empathetic, helpful, and keeps users engaged with our sites.

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Creating your own custom page for 404s in WordPress is thankfully quite simple these days. Plugins like Rank Math SEO have the option to set a custom 404 page the easy way, or you can use a specific 404 plugin if you’re not using Rank Math.

Either way, the key is to design a 404 page that fits your brand personality and actually assists users. Include lighthearted visuals and copy, links to popular site pages, and clear calls-to-action to aid navigation. Inform users that the page is missing, apologize for the inconvenience, and guide them to other relevant content.

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With this reader-focused approach, your 404 page can actually enhance the user experience and leave a positive lasting impression. By transforming standard error messages into moments of empathy and assistance, we can delight users and keep them engaged with our sites.

Note: I don’t recommend redirecting 404 pages to the home page. I find it leads to confusion when a visitor lands there unexpectedly and don’t know how they ended up there.

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Understanding 404 Pages

A 404 page is a standard HTTP status code that indicates the requested page cannot be found on the server. When a user clicks on a broken link or mistypes a URL, they are directed to a 404 error page. WordPress automatically generates a basic 404 page, but creating a custom, unique 404 page gives a WAY better user experience!

That sinking feeling when a website page disappears before your eyes. We’ve all experienced the frustration of landing on a disappointing 404 error page when clicking an outdated link or mistyping a URL.

But as website owners, these missing page moments also provide an opportunity to assist our users. Rather than presenting visitors with WordPress’s bland default 404, we can customize an error page tailored for our sites’ look and feel.

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An on-brand, friendly 404 design allows us to add a bit of empathy into the experience. We can include visual elements echoing our homepage aesthetic so users know they are still in the right place, just on a page that no longer exists. Clear, supportive copy also goes a long way—explain what happened plainly, apologize for the inconvenience, inject some humor to lighten the mood.

A custom 404 should help guide visitors to other relevant pages on your site to keep them engaged. Navigation links, site search box, and calls-to-action can aid users in finding what they need. Turning 404 frustration into delight while keeping them engaged with content is the ultimate goal.

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Importance of Custom 404 Pages

An engaging, branded custom 404 keeps them on our site and exploring new content.

More than just aesthetics, these missing page templates actively aid visitors in finding what they originally sought out. Search bars allow users to pinpoint new keywords. Quick links to popular content or recent posts provide easy redirection. Clear wayfinding copy and calls-to-action guide visitors to better navigate our sites, so they find something—anything—that piques their interests.

On top of bettering the user experience, a properly executed 404 gives our SEO a boost too. Fewer site errors means less bot-detected broken links. This keeps our pages from getting penalized by search engines.

And the improved ability for visitors to self-navigate content gives pages more opportunities to display usefulness and value to Google.

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How 404 Errors Impact User Experience

404 errors can significantly impact user experience and lead to frustration and confusion. When users encounter a 404 error, they may assume that the website is broken or unprofessional, leading to a negative perception of your brand.

Plus, users may leave your website and never return, leading to a high bounce rate and lost opportunities for engagement and conversions.

To mitigate the impact of 404 errors, it is essential to create a custom error page that provides helpful information to users. A well-designed 404 page can help users find what they are looking for and encourage them to continue exploring your website, leading to a positive user experience and increased engagement.

Custom 404 pages are essential for any website. They can significantly impact user experience, reduce bounce rates, improve SEO, and mitigate the negative effects of 404 errors. By creating a custom 404 page, you can provide valuable information to users and help them navigate your website with ease.

Designing Your 404 Page

When designing your 404 page in WordPress, it’s important to consider the user experience. A well-designed 404 page can help retain visitors and keep them engaged with your website. Here are some tips to help you create an effective 404 page:

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Incorporating Search Functionality

One way to make your 404 page more user-friendly is to include a search bar. This allows visitors to search for the content they were looking for, even if they landed on a broken or non-existent page. By incorporating a search bar, you can help visitors find what they’re looking for and keep them on your site.

Using Humor and Creativity

Another way to make your 404 page more engaging is to use humor and creativity. A clever message or image can help ease the frustration of landing on a broken page and keep visitors interested in your site. However, it’s important to strike a balance between being humorous and being informative.

Adding Helpful Links and Resources

In addition to a search bar and creative messaging, it’s also a good idea to include helpful links and resources on your 404 page. This can include links to your most popular pages, a sitemap, or a contact form. By providing visitors with additional resources, you can help them navigate your site and find the content they’re looking for.

Overall, designing a 404 page in WordPress is an important part of creating a user-friendly website. By incorporating search functionality, humor and creativity, and helpful links and resources, you can create a 404 page that engages visitors and keeps them on your site.

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Creating a Custom 404 Page in WordPress The Easy Way

When a visitor encounters a 404 error page on a website, it can be frustrating and confusing. However, creating a custom 404 page in WordPress can help make the experience less frustrating for visitors. In this section, we will discuss three ways to create a custom 404 page in WordPress.

Using Rank Math 404 Redirection

If you use Rank Math already, this is by far the easiest way to create a custom 404 page. Start by creating a new page, and name the page something like Error. This will be your eventual 404 page. Mine is pretty basic but has an info box with a short apology, a short spacer to break apart the blocks, a search bar to help them find what they were looking for, and a block of the most popular posts.

Here are the specific Kadence blocks I used, along with how they look on the page.

NSJ 404 page

If you are using a page builder plugin like Elementor Pro or Divi Builder, you can create a custom 404 page using the builder’s drag-and-drop interface. Its the same process of creating a new page. Then, you can customize the page using the builder’s design tools.

Once you have your page ready, head over to Rank Math > General Settings>Redirections. Click the Custom Redirection and paste the new page’s URL in the Custom URL field, and set the redirection as 301 Permanent Move.

While you’re in there, make sure the Auto Post Redirect is enabled. This automatically creates a redirect if you change a published post’s link, which leads to less 404 errors from happening in the first place.

Once you hit save, your custom 404 page is DONE! You can go into the page and make any changes when you feel like it without needing to redo the 404 redirect.

Rank Math Settings

Using a WordPress Plugin

Another easy way to create a custom 404 page in WordPress is by using a plugin. There are several plugins available in the WordPress repository that can help you create a custom 404 page. Some popular options include Smart Custom 404 error page [404page] and 404 to 301 – Redirect, Log and Notify 404 Errors.

To use a plugin, simply install and activate it on your WordPress site. Then go to the plugin settings page to customize the 404 page. You can add text, images, and links to make the page more informative and engaging.

Editing the 404.php File

Another way to create a custom 404 page in WordPress is by editing the 404.php file. This file is located in your theme’s directory and is responsible for displaying the 404 error page. Note: I don’t recommend this option unless you’re experienced with working with PHP files.

To edit the 404.php file, you will need to access your site’s files using an FTP client or cPanel. Once you have located the file, you can edit it using a code editor. You can add custom HTML, CSS, and JavaScript code to create a unique and engaging 404 page.

Working with Page Builders

Creating a custom 404 page in WordPress can help improve the user experience on your site. By providing helpful information and engaging content, you can turn a frustrating error page into an opportunity to connect with your visitors.

Best Practices for 404 Pages

When creating a 404 page in WordPress, it is important to keep in mind some best practices to ensure that the page is effective in retaining users and maintaining brand consistency. Here are some guidelines to follow:

Maintaining Brand Consistency

A 404 page should maintain the same look and feel as the rest of the website. This includes using the same fonts, colors, and design elements. It is also a good idea to include the website’s logo and navigation menu to help users find their way back to the main site.

Optimizing for Search Engines

A 404 page can be a good opportunity to optimize for search engines. Including links to popular pages or categories on the main site can help search engines crawl the site more effectively. It is also important to include a clear message on the 404 page that explains what has happened and offers suggestions for what the user can do next.

Monitoring 404 Errors with Analytics

It is important to monitor 404 errors using Rank Math or Google Analytics. This can help identify broken links or other issues that may be causing users to land on the 404 page. By identifying and fixing these issues, website owners can improve the user experience and reduce the number of users who leave the site after encountering a 404 error.

Overall, creating a custom 404 page in WordPress is a good idea for any website. By following these best practices, website owners can ensure that their 404 page is effective in retaining users and maintaining brand consistency.

Advanced Customization Technique

Creating a Child Theme for Custom 404 Pages

Creating a child theme is a great way to make customizations to your WordPress site without risking losing your changes during theme updates. This is especially important when it comes to creating a custom 404 page.

To create a child theme, you’ll need to have access to your WordPress theme files. You can do this by using an FTP client or by accessing the Theme Editor in the WordPress dashboard. Once you have access to your theme files, create a new folder and name it something like “mytheme-child”.

Next, create a new file in the child theme folder and name it “functions.php”. This file will contain all of your custom PHP code. To create a custom 404 page, you’ll need to add the following code to your functions.php file:

function mytheme_404_page() {
    global $wp_query;
add_action( 'template_redirect', 'mytheme_404_page' );

This code tells WordPress to use a custom 404 page template when a page is not found. You can create this template by copying your theme’s 404.php file into your child theme folder and making any necessary customizations.

By using these advanced customization techniques, you can create a custom 404 page that not only looks great but also improves the user experience on your WordPress site.

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How To Cut Down on 404 Errors

While transforming 404 mishaps into positive experiences is great, avoiding those error pages in the first place should be the ultimate goal. As website owners, being proactive can help minimize the chance users ever see those dreaded missing content messages.

How can we cut down on future 404 errors? One of the simplest ways is by installing a high-quality SEO plugin like Rank Math. This monitors all internal site links and flags any broken paths. If you see one popping up often, you can create a custom redirect that takes users where they intend to go, or a very similar post.

Implementing Redirects for Common Mistakes

Redirects are an important tool when it comes to creating a custom 404 page. By redirecting common mistakes, such as misspelled URLs or outdated links, you can improve the user experience and keep visitors on your site.

To implement redirects, you’ll need to use a plugin like Redirection or Rank Math. One of the reasons I like Rank Math so much is this is often a paid upgrade on many other plugins like Yoast, but is included in the free version of Rank Math.

To create a redirect, simply enter the old URL and the new URL into the plugin’s interface. The plugin will then automatically redirect visitors from the old URL to the new URL.

Use Pretty Links Plugin

Another great option is Pretty Links. This lets you create short, attractive links that you can change the destination any time. Let’s say you participate in a bundle and provide them a regular url (domain.com/title-of-product).

But then a few days after the bundle, you decide you want to shorten/change the name and link. Any links that have been shared will lead to a 404 error, resulting in a poor user experience and possibly removal from the bundle!

But if you’d given them a Pretty Link (domain.com/producttitle) you could just change the Target URL and your links will function perfectly.

pretty links

Run a Broken Link Check Scan Monthly

This is one of the tasks I mention in The Busy Website Owner’s Guide to Website Maintenance, but running a broken link check scan monthly is key to getting ahead of any broken links resulting in 404 errors. I like Broken Link Check because it’s FREE and easy!

Select to report all occurrences and it will show you the page where they appear. If it’s an external source you linked to that’s been removed, you can find a new resource. If it’s internal, you can update the link and avoid those 404s in the first place.

Broken Link Check

At the end of the day, 404 errors are an inevitable part of the web experience. Try as we might to prevent missing pages, links change, pages you’ve linked to disappear, and fingers will slip when typing and put the wrong URL.

But rather than accepting lackluster default error messages, we have an opportunity to get creative. With customized 404 pages, we can turn frustration into a much better user experience!

About me

Hi There! I’m Natasha.

I’m a digital marketing expert based in the scenic mountains of Colorado with my husband Dan and our crazy rescue pups Roxy & Rico.

I’m here to share my in-depth knowledge, experience, and passion for building and flipping websites.

Join my Facebook group for all the tips on buying, growing, and selling websites here!

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