(* By impress, I mean engage, wow and help your visitors)
When something goes wrong on your site, your visitors will land on a 404 page, or to their way of thinking, the Twilight Zone.
Most standard WordPress blogs come handily equipped with a 404 Page. The problem is it is absolutely worthless for helping your visitor get back on track.
There could be a variety of reasons they landed there:
- They typed the URL incorrectly (don’t tell them this, no one wants to know they made a mistake)
- Google sent them to a link you used to have, but deleted during spring cleaning
- One of your posts linked to another post that was related, but that you later renamed to improve your SEO
The reason doesn’t matter. A user-friendly website or blog will give the visitor a helping hand. Point them in the right direction. Reassure them it wasn’t their fault. And most of all, engage them.
Your 404 page is an opportunity to showcase your best work, or list your archives. It also let’s them know you care about them… that you want to help them find the content they are looking for.
Here are a few suggestions for your customized 404 page.
- Don’t blame the visitor. Seriously, no one wants to hear they made a mistake, even if they did.
- Provide a search box, sitemap or another way for them to find what they are looking for.
- The 404 Page should have the same look and feel as your blog or site. Features they are accustomed to seeing should still be there.
- If you have a very popular page or post that gets a lot of traffic, perhaps that is what they were trying for — so highlight it or provide a direct link.
- Have a product? A mini sales page here (after you provide options for them to get back on track) let’s you make use of normally *dead* web real estate.
You don’t have to know HTML to make custom changes to your 404 either. You can *borrow* the Add New Post feature to type up your message. Click on the HTML tab and copy the *code* there. Then open the 404.php file in the theme editor of your dashboard and paste over the *error message*. The template provided by WordPress (by default) is pretty minimalist. Just look for the two lines shown below. These are the two lines you replace with your fancy customized message.
Want to see what my 404 page looks like?
I found a few other sites that used their 404 page as a way to express themselves. A couple of samples are below but feel to explore the world of 404 pages. Just type any URL (after the main domain name) that doesn’t exist. My favorite is to add *bite-me* after the domain name since I am pretty sure most sites will NOT have a page with this name. Color me warped.
Hootsuite.com has a missing fowl theme with a brief explanation of why the page was not found and a link back to the homepage.
A 404 error page with a not-so-eloquent Homer.
Unfinity Design gives a short explanation that the page can’t be found and a number of links back to various parts of their site.
DigiGuru has a very interesting 404 page, which transitions through a number of pictures, whilst giving links back to the main site, his email and phone number, AND information about a walk through the South Pole.
Apartment Home Living offers a quite unusual 404 error page.