The dreaded 404 page can be a headache for anyone managing a website. And sometimes figuring out how to handle such errors when using a CMS like WordPress can be even more difficult. WordPress has default settings for handling 404 errors, but they leave a lot to be desired. So how does one go about improving that standard handling? And more importantly, how do you prevent 404 errors in the first place?
Here is a quick guide to 404 errors in WordPress. It includes information about why they happen, why they are such a big deal, how to prevent them, and more. We’ve included several plugins that make handling WP 404 errors almost painless and a selection of additional resources at the end. Handling your 404 error will be easier after reading it.
- Page 404 Creative Errors – Part I
- Page 404 Creative Errors – Part II
- 404 Not Found & 9 Most Common HTTP Errors Explained
What Causes 404 Page Errors in WordPress?
404 pages in WordPress are usually caused by a change in the permalink structure of the site. If site owners change the permalink structure of their WP blog, they will likely end up with inbound links pointing to pages that are no longer located at a particular address. This means that incoming visitors will be presented with a 404 page instead of the content they were looking for.
Other causes of 404 pages could be in the code of your index.php or search.php file. If there is an error in the code in either file, it may return a result with an invalid address (or it may return no result at all). If you have made customizations to your index.php or search.php files, you should check and make sure that they are not serving invalid addresses and that all your pages are still functional. Always save a backup of the previous version of each file before making changes in case you need to roll back to an earlier version.
One of the other common reasons you get a 404 page has to do with mod_rewrite not being installed on your server. To use Pretty Permalinks, you must have mod_rewrite active on your server. If you are trying to use Pretty Permalinks and are getting errors, this is the first thing to check.
Potential Damage of 404 Page Errors
The most obvious damage caused by getting a 404 page has to do with the bounce rate on your site. If a visitor follows a link to your site and they get a 404 page instead of what they’re looking for, it’s unlikely they’ll search your site to find it. They may assume it no longer exists on your site, and simply look elsewhere.
If your site is full of 404 errors, you may also suffer in search engine rankings. If search engines are constantly presented with nonexistent pages, they will penalize your site for having invalid links. One or two 404 pages may not have much of an impact, but if half of the pages the search engines think are nonexistent, you’ll have a bigger hit.
How to prevent 404 page errors
The best way to prevent 404 pages is to be proactive. First of all, set up your permalinks properly from the start. If you take the time when you first launch a blog to set up well-structured permalinks, you won’t need to change them in the future.
Be proactive about incorrect incoming links. Send a quick note to the site operator with the link and ask them to change it to the correct link. Most website owners will be very happy to do so.
Don’t discard old content. If you have to take something down, instead of removing it completely, create a custom page at that address that provides some information about what was once there, or links to other posts and pages that may be of interest. keep visitors interested.
There are also plenty of plugins that can help you prevent and manage 404 pages.
10 plugins to handle 404 page errors
The plugins below can help you get to your 404 page in the long run. These plugins are all free and range from plugins that automatically redirect your visitors to plugins that simply log 404 errors.
404 . Notifier
This plugin from Alex King will help notify you of any 404 errors occurring on your site. This is a very useful plugin to use if you are changing your permalink structure or moving things around and are worried that you might have missed something and don’t want to risk a broken URL.
Smart 404 plugin helps to remove 404 pages automatically. If a visitor to a page returns a 404 error, this plugin will search the requested URL to see if there are other posts that are potentially relevant. If there is more than one potential match, it can return a list of possible links. It goes a long way to helping overcome the high bounce rate caused by 404 errors.
This extension makes it easy to embed a Google search box on your custom 404 page.
A plugin that creates more useful 404 pages, including some of the things mentioned in the article A List Apart “404 more useful“.
Free 404 plugin
This plugin creates a custom 404 page that includes posts related to any keywords that appear in the requested URL.
JH 404 . Logger
This plugin adds a dashboard widget that shows recent 404 errors. It’s a great, non-intentional way to see if your site returns errors.
Fix WP 404 . image
This plugin allows you to replace the 404 error return image with the default image of your choice. You also have the option to add a class to the img tag or completely hide the image if it is missing.
Dunstan-style error page
This plugin can be used to create a custom error page similar to the one used on Dunstan Orchard’s 1976design.com/blog. The custom page it creates is incredibly useful to users, showing the last five blog posts, a search box, and an option to report errors, among other options.
Permalinks Move Permanently
This plugin is useful if you change the permalink structure of your blog and don’t want to lose the links to your old pages. In addition to redirecting visitors to the new link, it also generates a “301 permanent move” error so that visitors are automatically redirected in the future (along with search engines).
This plugin tracks 404 errors and allows you to map them to 301 redirects. It also allows you to set a custom redirect that allows you to pass the URL to another page, file or website. And it creates a complete log of all redirects. It can be used to redirect both non-existent and existing pages, and it can be set to redirect based on login status or other parameters.
There are plenty of other resources that can help you deal with 404 errors on your WP blog or other website. Here are some of the best ones:
- Check for Dead Links – Part of an article in the WordPress Codex that includes several links to find dead links on your site.
- Creating 404 Error Pages – Official documentation from the WordPress Codex.
- Customize your 404 page from the WordPress Admin – Guide to creating a 404 page template that can be edited right in the admin area of WP.
- Custom 404 Pages for WordPress Themes – A post that offers some great ideas for what you might want to include in a custom 404 page.
- Best WordPress 404 Error Page Design – A gallery with twenty great examples of 404 error pages. (The images above are all sourced via this post.)
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