You always need a 404 page
Even if we don’t like the idea, it is very likely that sooner or later some users are going to find a broken link on our website.
You might think: not possible! You have checked all the hyperlinks inside the content, maybe with the help of some useful plugin (Broken Link Checker is a good solution)…so how it can happen?
There are several reasons why, and many are out of our control: for example, a typo in a link coming from an external website; or a misconfigured permanent redirect; or some hard-coded URL in your code which is no longer valid.
Whatever the reason, you need a 404 page.
WordPress themes come with a standard 404 page
The standard WordPress themes like Twenty Sixteen or Twenty Nineteen all come with a standard 404 page; and it is generally true for most of the themes you can download and install. Most of the times, however, their look-and-feel is pretty basic: just a quick “Sorry we could not find the page” message and a search form.
Do I really need a custom one?
Having a custom 404 page is beneficial mainly for two reasons: as already hinted, it gives a more visual and appealing page to the end user.
The second reason is about the content of the page itself: instead of having just the regular message and search form, it allows to present more information to the user – and more navigation options.
This is particularly good for SEO purposes, in order to avoid the pogo sticking effect. Google suggests to put some links to the most popular resources, or a link to the home page; another good idea would be put a link to the sitemap.
Whatever solution you like the most, just try to give the user a nice look and a little bit of a guidance about where to click next, in order to keep him on your website.
How to in WordPress
If you are not familiar with coding and you want a quick solution for your 404 page, the easiest way is to install a plugin for the purpose. There are a number of solutions you can install for free, which give you a good possibilities of customisation – check 404page for example.
If you want to get more technical, here is the way to do it:
- copy and paste into your theme’s main folder the 404.php file from a parent theme (if any) or any default WordPress theme, like Twenty Sixteen;
- edit the file with the content of your choice – as said, some images and quicklinks are the best way to prevent the user from bouncing;
- test the correct functioning of the page navigating to a non-existent URL.
Get a custom 404!
Having a custom 404 page in WordPress is pretty easy, and it definitely pays back in terms of SEO ranking and end user experience: so don’t wait to get one!