If you run a WordPress website, you are likely to encounter 404 errors at some point. There are various things that cause 404 errors but the most common are due to deleting pages, broken links, and changing permalink structure.
A lot of our customers are often asking how they should handle these 404 errors. Some WordPress users often use plugins to send 404 pages to the homepage with a 301 redirect. While this sounds like a great idea, this can actually harm your SEO and is not recommended. These types of redirects on 404 pages are considered “Soft 404 errors”. You can read directly from Google as to why these are harmful to SEO: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/181708?hl=en
Other WordPress users simply allow their theme to handle the 404 errors for them by delivering their theme’s 404 template to visitors encountering a 404 error. This is definitely better than a 301 redirect but can still be problematic if your theme’s 404 template is too basic and not helpful to your visitor. The most appropriate way to handle 404 errors on your WordPress site, is by creating a custom 404 error page.
There are a couple of ways to create custom 404 error pages. You could do so manually by creating your own 404 template but this can be a daunting task for those who are not developers. If you feel comfortable enough to dig into code, you can take a look at the WordPress Codex on how to create your own 404 template: https://codex.wordpress.org/Creating_an_Error_404_Page
The easiest and most efficient way to create your own custom 404 page is with a plugin called “404Page”: https://wordpress.org/plugins/404page/
No coding knowledge needed as you can create this custom page as you would any other page in WordPress. Further, this plugin does not create the redirects (aka soft 404 errors) so it will not affect your SEO. It also doesn’t trigger any additional server requests. When creating your custom 404 page, be sure to be helpful to your visitor who was hoping to find a different page as they may be confused. Here are some general tips for your custom 404 page:
- Be sure that your 404 page looks exactly like the rest of the site so that the customer knows they haven’t left your site.
- The best 404 pages also include links to other posts on your site to help your bounce rate, keeping visitors on your site for longer.
- Keep it basic with minimal fan fare and images. Keep it focused to where you wish the customer to go.
As always, if you have any questions, our Support Team is here 24/7, 365 days a year!