Custom 404 Error Pages in WordPress: How and Why to Make Them
For the uninitiated, a 404 Error Page is a website redirect error where the page attempted is either:
- permanently moved, or
- no longer in existence
Obviously, users never intend to reach Error pages, and once they get to one, they generally aren’t happy. Needless to say, there are many reasons why you’d want to create a Custom 404 Error Page – Here’s a list of the top 7.
Custom 404 Error Pages can:
1. Buffer a disappointing User Experience
We can paint an Error Page however we want, but what does it represent at the end of the day?
Left uncustomized, it just means a disappointed customer. This is the #1 reason you must design (or have one designed) a custom 404 Error Page.
There is a good reason why the customer is always right. If the customer leaves unhappy, you’ll be unhappy. Maybe not now, but when you feel the impact of that unhappy customer. Whether it’s a poor Google or Yelp review, a direct loss to revenue, negative word-of-mouth, or something else – it could hurt.
This is why 404 pages present an opportunity to take the mistake of a misplaced page and make the best of it.
For example, who could stay mad at Lego with a creative and adorable 404 Page like this?
2. Save your Site Reputation
One thing is certain – a poor user experience will have a ripple effect in your site.
Unhappy users make Google unhappy, and when Google’s unhappy, they try to get you off their books.
Get enough bounces from your page by dissatisfied users and Google is bound to notice.
Not to mention, you aren’t exactly making friends if users can’t get what they’re looking for on your site. The more important your business is to users’ everyday lives, the more you should be concerned about this.
The Falvey Memorial Library shows illustrations of a children’s book on its error page, whimsically warning “CAREFUL!”
3. Decrease Exit Rate
Exit Rate refers to the number of pages people visit before leaving your site.
Let’s say they hit page 1, read a little, hit page 2, don’t like it and click away to page 3 – and boom. Error page.
They may stay, but after hitting an error page, unless they’re pretty into you, they’ll probably go.
Exchanging the standard 404 page for a Custom one gives your user easy exit points, whether it’s
- lists of links to some of your post popular posts
- methods for the user to report the broken link to you
- a “start over” link to your site’s homepage
- something more creative… like a game
Web hosting company Kualo created a mini game for people who reach a 404 Error Page. Think that might help decrease Exit Rate?
Of course! We’d love to know what the record is for longest play-time. It’s doubtful that anyone’s ever spent more time on another error page in their life.
Yes, we did link to Kualo’s 404 Page, and yes it’s our way of telling you we love you. You’re welcome.
Dualo also scores a Double-whammy for the message that appears when you lose the game
“Score over 1000 to win a discount on our hosting! Play Again?”
4. Help users forget that their expectations haven’t been met
Users are never looking for a custom 404 Error Page – unless maybe the user is Creativebloq.
Since it’s not what they’re expecting, user expectations aren’t being met. This might even be harmful to your site and/or business reputation.
Consequently, when contemplating creating a custom 404 Error Page or not, consider it a chance to make things right in the consumer’s mind.
The better you are at making users forget negative outcomes, the more solid you, and your site, will be.
Consider a joke – laughter really is the best medicine.
We aren’t sure what graphic designer Dan Woodger had in mind when he created this roller skating cheeseburger. We bet his users aren’t sure either, but they’re probably not thinking about the fact that it’s a 404 page – they’re now want to see even more of his work.
5. Add positively to your Brand Personality
To the well balanced mind, a challenge presents merely another opportunity.
In the case of Custom 404 Error Pages, they give you the opportunity to make the best of a bad situation, and speak to your brand’s personality.
D0n’t just stay true to your site’s tone in your colors and layout – also make an effort to put some of your brand’s voice there, too.
Pixar did a great job of this, explaining the error, consoling the user in a funnily exaggerated way. Most importantly, they made 2 references (one text, one image) to one of their recent beloved films.
6. Retain users / site traffic
Even if your users aren’t reaching your 404 page straight from Google, landing on a 404 page could cost you users.
It’s not just cold traffic that’s a concern – imagine burning a referral link from another site in your industry by moving the page.
What if instead of getting frustrated, the user found something that made them even more interested in checking out your site?
Check out this 404 Error Page by Cloud Sigma, a cloud server and cloud hosting company.
Cloud Sigma decided to add some humor to their 404 page, as their site is already about a potentially underwhelming topic.
Not only does the page show personality like #5, it also endears the user to the site, inviting the user into the work-family in a joking way. The presence of the cat and the verbiage suggests that he might be the “junior developer” they’re referring to.
Laughter is the best medicine.
7. Keep Google’s Crawling Spiders happy
When Google and other search engines crawl your website, their crawlers rely on links within a page to continue crawling. When they reach a 404 page with no links (which is most non-custom 404 Error Pages), they’re stopped in their tracks, meaning entire sections of your website may go unindexed.
Emirates’ 404 Page won’t be giving Google any dead-ends.
Rather, they provide some rather helpful links for users, allowing them to search flights, manage bookings, or log into the users account.
While it’s arguably less creative and more “conventionally professional” than some of the other pages we’ve looked at today, it certainly still gets the job done. It’s also inarguably far from being a run-of-the-mill 404 Error page.
The end… For now
This has been a Guide to the 7 reasons why you simply must create a Custom 404 Error Page.
Stay tuned! Next we’ll be coming out with a Comprehensive Guide on HOW to Create a Custom 404 Page in WordPress!
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How to Create a Custom 404 Error Page in WordPress
The techniques used to create a 404 page in WordPress are rather platform-specific, and we’ve created a step by step guide with pictures to show you how to accomplish the task.
Why Would I Create a Custom 404 Error Page?
They can be hard to avoid – it’s hard to ensure that none of your users ever reaches a 404 Error Page.
Reasons non Custom 404 Error Pages are harmful:
- Bad for SEO
- Give a disappointing User Experience
- Harm Site Reputation
- Raise Exit Rate
Things to include in your Custom 404 Error Page
- Search box
- Important Links
- Something Extra – creativity, joke, something that helps someone forget their expectations haven’t been met.