What is a 404 page on a website?
Well, a 404 page is what a website visitor sees in the web browser when they are trying to access a web page or post that doesn’t exist. This is a generally unavoidable situation for all website owners and is somewhat common. And a custom 404 error page offers a great way to turn a negative experience into useful one.
Most websites have a standard error page built in that says something like “404: Page not found”. Not only is the error not useful, but it can scare off visitors and leave them with the impression that your business is unprofessional. Here’s what you need to know about how you can create your own customized 404 pages:
What is a 404 error anyway?
A 404 error is a status code that your browser displays when it encounters an error when trying to load a specific page on your website. The most likely reason for this error is that the page has been moved, renamed or deleted.
To avoid these errors in the first place, it is best practice to create redirects whenever you move or rename pages in your WordPress (or other CMS) website. For example, if you have ever redesigned your website to accommodate for new services and offerings, your web developer would have created 301 redirects that send visitors trying to reach old content to a new and more appropriate page on the new website.
At Keith Dream, we use the SmartCrawl Pro premium plugin to regularly check for 404 errors and create redirects so visitors will actually have to see the 404 page less often. Instead, they’ll be sent to an updated page with related content. 301 Redirects and Yoast Premium are also great options, however I highly recommend having your web developer guide you in creating redirects, as they can actually cause more harm than good if not configured properly.
Why should you have a custom 404 error page?
Custom 404 error pages have several benefits that can help to improve the overall website experience for visitors. Reassuring the user that you will assist them in finding the content they are looking for builds trust and shows your professionalism and determination to provide the best customer experience possible.
Having a branded and visually appealing 404 page keeps your visitors interested in your offerings and can reduce bounce rate because users will stay on your site instead of clicking away in frustration when they encounter an unknown error message or a blank page.
How to create your own custom 404 error page
While most websites will have a standard error page built-in, they are not usually easy to customize if you aren’t a web designer or developer.
Luckily, you still have options, especially if you are using a CMS such as WordPress and a premium theme such as Divi from Elegant Themes.
- If your website is using the Divi theme, this is your best option by far. Use the Divi Theme Builder to create a 404 error page template. The Divi Theme Builder makes it easy to create or import a pre-made layout and add your content without writing code. You can also use the Visual Builder feature to see your design in real-time.
- Use a 404 error page plugin such as 404 Page or 404 Solution to get you started. These will help you get started quickly and offer your visitors some direction instead of leaving them feeling lost.
- Ask your web developer to create a custom error page for you. If you are on a maintenance care plan, they will likely find the best solution for you and all you need to provide is input for the text and what kind of image you want to add.
What should you include in your 404 error page?
Speaking the text copy and image to add to your page, here is what you need to include to get the most out of your 404 page and turn an unfortunate event into a conversion machine:
- Include the main menu and a link to your homepage. This is the most important element of your custom 404 error page, as it’s what users will click on if they’re looking for something else on your site.
- Include a search box to make it easier for visitors to find what they’re looking for. If you have a lot of granular content such as blog posts or shopping cart products, a more thorough search function with filters and categories will better your chances of getting them back on track with their original intent.
- Provide links to other areas of the website that might be useful in this situation: your services page, social media links and your contact page are a good start.
- If possible include an image that makes lighthearted fun of the error (for example: unplugged microphones or frayed mic cables). This will help reduce the disappointment of a bland “Page Not Found” message and assure the visitor that you can still help them find useful information on your site.
- In general, just try not to overwhelm them with too many options. They came there looking for something, just give them a gentle nudge in the right direction so they don’t lose interest and click away to start another google search.
PRO TIP for Memberships and Sites with Courses!
If you run a membership site or an e-learning site with courses or programs, provide a place for them to log in. Sometimes members will land on a 404 page because they got there from a bookmark and they simply haven’t logged in yet. Your membership plugin may even include this functionality already. Just be sure to replace the default message with your own.
In the end, your custom 404 page should be simple in design and functionality. It’s less of a hang-out place and more of a transfer station to get them to their ultimate destination, which is consuming your awesome content and purchasing your products and services.
Add a newsletter signup form to your 404 page and start turning your visitors into subscribers. Then they can get your wealth of information their inbox, and you can give them add links to your content that is most relevant to them.
Lastly, offer a freebie! “Oh no, looks like that page got away from us. How about this free infographic download instead?”
When it comes down to it, your website is a direct reflection of your business. So while creating custom 404 error pages might sound like an unnecessary extra step in your website strategy, they can actually be greatly beneficial in helping visitors navigate through your website and find what they need —all the while maintaining a positive image for your brand.