10 November 2008

Customize 404 Error Page on WordPress Blog

404 Errors

By default, most Web servers return a simple "404 Not Found" error message when they are getting a request for a URL that they don’t have. This error message violates the three basic guidelines for error messages. All error messages must be:

  • written in plain language that is easy to understand for non-technical users and that does not imply that the mistake is the user’s fault
  • precise in specifying exactly what was done wrong (that is, not be generic or vague)
  • constructive in suggesting steps the user can take to correct the problem
In terms of the "URL not found" error message, it would be better to explain to the user why the URL could not be found. It would be even better to list the most common mistakes in accessing files on the given site: for example, users often request URLs ending in .htm for sites that consistently use .html for all pages (or they use .html when all pages end in .htm). For any given site, it is recommended to have consistent naming conventions and list these conventions on a custom error message page.

The Importance of 404
Why working on the 404 optimization makes sense? It does not matter, if readers were looking something on your site and got there by mistake, or the link is incorrect, or visitors misspelled the address. They might go forever, never turning their head back to you and your site; even thou the site might have an excellent content. So, the main reasons your visitors may stumble into a 404 "Not found" page on your website are:
  • A mistyped URL, or a copy-and-paste mistake
  • Broken or truncated links on web pages or in an email message
  • Moved or deleted content
It is a good idea to treat the 404 page as a doorway to your site, giving it the same degree of attention as a regular home page. The visitor who arrived to your 404 page by error, in many cases was actually looking for something on your site. Now you have to help them find it. That’s really the guiding light of 404 page design.

Tips for Improving Your 404

  1. Don’t call it a 404 page. Your visitors have no idea what this means. Personalize your 404 page to make it user-friendly and understandable to any level of technical expertise.
  2. Provide a way for the visitor to search for what they were looking for, installing the search box on the page.
  3. Show them what you have to offer - the best of the best. Try to surprise and attract the visitors. You have may be just one chance to keep him. Show your blog sitemap or provide the easy visible link to one to let visitor know that you have indeed good stuff under your belt.
  4. If none of the other options work for them (in other words, at the end of all of this, at the bottom of the page) get them a link to your contact form. If they get stuck, you want to know about it. Of course this is a last-resort option since no typically wants to contact the site owner when they have a problem. Just in case.
Using Wordpress to Improve Your 404
One of the beautiful parts about Wordpress is that you can very easily fix up your 404 page. It’s as easy as changing a template file.
  1. Go to your Wordpress Theme Editor under Presentation. Select the 404 page to edit.
  2. Edit the page using the offered guidelines. Two possibilities here: 
  • If you’re a designer you should make this page look like the rest of your theme. I
  • If you’re only a user, do your best to customize what you can. Change the headline, at the very least, to something like “Whoops, it’s not here!” or something of the like.
    Custom 404 Samples

    Find below a small collection of the funny and smart custom 404 pages screenshots, found on the Web.

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