While you’re doing your best to make sure your content is relevant, interesting, original, and that each and every link indeed leads to a specific page on your website, there is and always will be a slight chance that a certain link will end up being broken (just like the hearts of your visitors) and will turn into a notorious 404 error page.
However, all doesn’t have to be lost as this might just be the chance to put this tricky situation to good use by presenting your visitors with a message that is more organic, appealing and useful than a dull, simple and off-putting “Page Not Found”.
Since certain errors are not exactly inevitable, be sure to regularly check and double check all your internal links. If you are deleting an out-of-date post which happens to still be popular, try simply updating it or deleting the body of the post, while replacing it with a link to the new page. Other 404s, however, are bound to happen, which is why you will want to handle these web errors smart so you don’t end up losing some of your visitors.
When a user clicks on a broken link, the web server automatically sends him or her a generic and plain text 404 Not Found message, which can leave the visitor feeling a bit lost, deprived and even unprivileged. Now, most people will immediately hit the back key in their browser, which means you have probably lost a visitor who will most likely continue to seek the needed information elsewhere. In order not to lose your visitors, you will want to provide them with your own custom made message or, at a very least, a link to your home page.
The whole idea is to turn these slightly informative 404 dead ends into organic, useful and engaging stations which will help lost visitors find their way and get them back on their tracks. This involves creating a custom Error Page or editing the one that came with your WordPress Theme.
Humor to the rescue
Once a 404 error message occurs, you will want to help your user feel reassured and convince them they have only encountered a minor glitch and that you’ve made an effort to help them find the information they need. Be clever, funny, reassuring, even dorky, and let your imagination run wild. One of our suggestions is the following:
“Oops, something went wrong and you’ve entered The Matrix.
We have sent a squad of agent Smiths to deal with this glitch.
In the meantime you can visit this (hyperlink here leading to a similar article) instead,
Or visit our homepage for a clean slate.
We’ll make sure you don’t experience this déjà vu again.
Thank you for your patience.”
You can also add a nice picture to round up the whole experience and all this is possible using some of the most popular WordPress plugins.
Top WordPress 404 plugins
In order to make your own customized 404 page, we recommend 2 interesting and rather useful WordPress plug-ins.
404page – With 404page you can set any page as a custom 404 error page without any coding and it works with every theme. You can create your custom 404 Page with a featured image by using a Custom Page Template or Custom Fields. Once you’ve created your custom and witty 404 page, go to ‘Settings’ -> ‘404 Error Page’ from your WordPress Dashbord and select the created Page as your 404 error page.
Genesis 404 Page – This plug-in makes customizing the contents of the Page Not Found page a walk in the park. The Genesis Framework already summarizes the default content of the page into a function, and this plug-in can unhook that and replace it with your own custom title and content. You can also use [genesis-404-search] shortcode to add a search form to the page.
And there you have it. As we mentioned in the title, 404 does not have to be as scary as 666, and you can even turn it into an advantage if you manage to make your visitor chuckle with your smart, amusing and entertaining 404 message. Have fun.