When visitors try to access a page that does not exist, your website’s hosting server takes them to a 404 page instead.

Most of the time visitors leave the site without being able to find what they were looking for.

This can lead to a poor first impression. And from an SEO perspective, it makes it incredibly difficult for search engines to crawl and index your website.

There are two things you can do here:

  1. Create a custom 404 error page that helps users find what they were looking for (or something close to it)
  2. Discover which URL’s are generating the most 404 errors and add redirects to the correct page (or the most relevant alternative)

In this post, I’ll show you how to do both and it all starts using a free plugin. Let’s get started:

Getting started

By ditching the generic 404 error page in favour of a custom error page, you can improve user experience and make your brand stand out.

You can do this with the Forty Four plugin created by my team at PHPBITS Creative Studio.

There is also a premium version which gives you advanced customization options such as popup menus, extra layout options, logo upload and, advanced tracking functionality. But the free version is enough to get started with.

Aside from the customization options, Forty Four will log all the URL’s generating 404 errors. It will then allow you to setup different types of redirects so you can fix the broken links on your site that are costing you sales. And of course, those that are making it difficult for Google to index your website.

Now, let’s take a look at how to create your custom 404 error page:

How to create a custom 404 page with WordPress

Step 1   Download your free Forty Four plugin. From your WordPress dashboard, click “Plugins > Add New”. In the “Add Plugins” page, type “Forty Four” into the Keyword Search field. Click “Install Now”. Then, activate.

Add New Plugin

Forty Four Plugin

Step 2 – Go to Appearance > 404 Page. Then, begin customizing the title, message, background image, and color.

404 Customize

Customize Message

This is where you can add links and resources that help visitors find what they were looking for. It may be worth adding a way visitors can contact you – possibly a link to your contact page so they don’t have to look for it.

The key here is to make things as easy for your readers as possible.

You may opt to tweak your page’s appearance by using these controls.

Edit Appearance

Step 3 – Don’t forget to click the “Publish” button before you view the page to see the changes you made.

Publish

All done!

Now, let’s look at how to fix those broken links:

Set up 301 redirects

Over time, URL’s will change and links pointing to pages on your site will then break.

This means that users and search engines can’t find their way to the correct page on your site. This can frustrate users, cost you sales and negatively impact your search engine rankings.

No problem. Each time someone tries to access a page that doesn’t exist on your site, the Forty Four plugin will track it.

And also help you redirect the non-existent URL to the next most relevant page on your site. Just go to Appearance > 404 Page to get started.

You can choose either of the following redirect types:

  • 301 – Moved Permanently
  • 302 – Found or Moved Temporarily
  • 307 – Moved Temporarily

All of these redirects will pass on the ‘SEO benefit’ to the new page but the most commonly used is the 301 redirect. This tells search engines that the page has changed URL permanently.

Now, the next time a visitor or a search engine crawler tries to get to the none-existent page, they’ll be redirected to the chosen page.

Follow these simple steps to add redirects for your broken links:

Step 1 – From the “Logs Tab”, look for the URL that you want to redirect. Click “Add/Edit Redirect” button.

Step 2 – Enter the new URL.

Step 3 – Click the “Go to Link” button to see if the change takes effect.

404 Options

Putting it all together

Broken links can negatively impact user experience and cost you money.

But, with a custom 404 error page you can optimize it to make it easier to find what they were looking for. And following the steps above, you can add redirects to fix broken links.

This not only helps visitors, it also helps search engines to crawl and index your website. And especially if you’ve got backlinks pointing to a page that no-longer exists, you can redirect that ‘link equity’ to another page.

Posted by Bernadette Macalalad

Bernadette is the Content Marketer for PHPBITS Creative Studio, the creator of Widget Options plugin for better WordPress widgets management. She’s a food enthusiast and a big fan of American bluegrass music.