The PodCraft Podcast: Series 3, Episode 18
In this episode we're exploring the concept of 404 error pages. A 404 error occurs when someone tries to visit a page on your site that doesn't exist. This might be because they've used the wrong address, or because they're trying to find an old page which has since moved or been deleted. The basic 404 error page simply stops the user in their tracks, not really helping anyone, so our aim with a custom 404 is to help the user as much as possible. Listen to the episode to discover the types of things you can include on a 404 error page, and how you can go about creating one. Enjoy!
Mentioned on This Show
This plugin adds a setting to the reading part of your website’s setting that allows you to customize your 404 pages by adding content, search button or other options that you can include on your 404 pages to make your visitors stay in your website.
- Download Custom 404 plugin and install it in your website
- Create a 404 page for your website
- Pop in a comment below with a link to your 404 page
Let Me Know What You Think
Tell me what you’ve included in your 404 page and why you did so? If you have some extra stuff beyond what I’ve mentioned today, I’d love to hear any extra tips you have on how to create a great 404 page.
Finally, if you’re finding the series useful, I’d really appreciate it if you’d give me a review on iTunes. It really helps to get the show out to more people and grow the PodCraft community. Just pop over to PodCraft on the iTunes website to do that.
Thanks for listening and I’ll see you on the next episode.
Transcription for the Show
Hey folks! I’m Colin Gray and this is PodCraft.
Hey folks and welcome to another episode of Series 3 of PodCraft, this is a series on creating a peerless podcasting website, so, that’s creating a great home for your podcast on the web. Yesterday, we were talking security, so we covered all of the things that can happen to your WordPress website because of the vulnerabilities that can be found from time to time. But we talked about all the ways that you can close those gaps, make sure you’re safe. So, pop back and listen to that if you haven’t already. If you have, obviously, thanks very much for being a continuous listener, popping back today after that. I mentioned that we’re going to be looking today at error pages. Now, error pages are obviously seen generally as inactive. So, somebody pops on to your website and try to find something but they get an error and by an error, I’m really talking about a 404 error. Now, 404 errors arise when somebody types in a web address or they go to a link where that page is actually disappeared. So, they go to a link which doesn’t exist on your website anymore and that’s when a 404 error pops up. You’ve no doubt seen them around the web from time to time. It happens, people change the structure of their websites, they delete pages, they change the names of pages but other things around the web, whether it’s on their own site or an external site might still be linking to that old page. So, it’s quite often that you’ll find 404s around your website somewhere. Now, as I said, that can be inactive because people can’t find what they’re looking for. But the last thing you want to do is to show a default 404 page which essentially says “Oh! Whoops! We can’t find what you’re looking for, never mind.” and that’s it. What you want to do is have a custom 404 page that then says “Oh, sorry we can’t find what you’re looking for but hey, go ahead and look at this.” so that’s what we’re looking at today. How to do that within WordPress, how to create that custom 404 page that means that people who can’t find what they’re looking for will find something, will browse around, they’ll use your content, they might find some cool stuff that you’ve written, you’ve recorded and they’ll become loyal listeners and loyal fans in the future.
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So, let us go through it properly. 404 pages, generally, by default on WordPress will show, well, the default will depend on your theme. So, what you can do just to see what happens is pop over to your website, type in yourdomain.com/ and then random series of characters, hit return and then you’ll see the 404 error pop up. Now, some themes, at best, it will show just a list of recent posts, so one of my themes actually does that by default, it show “Here’s the recent posts. We can’t find what you’re looking for but here’s recent things that have been written.”, that’s not terrible. So, the person will might at least click on some of them, relies on them seeing a headline that appeals to them, so, that’s not awful, not too bad. Other themes that I’ve used though are a lot worst then they might just say “Oh, we can’t find what you’re looking for. 404 error” and that’s it. So, it doesn’t show you anything further. Some in between can be that they show a search box for example. I’ve got one theme that actually pops over the search box by default and at least somebody can then type in the name of the resource they were looking for and they might still be able to find it.
What we want to do though is create a custom 404 page that actually shows, well, it lets them search what they’re looking for, it shows some great post and it directs them to other materials. So, let’s have a look at how that works. The most basic way to do it is actually to just create a page within your WordPress theme that’s called 404.php and that’s in numbers, so the numbers 404.php. Now, that’s quite good for a security obviously, it’s quite good for keeping your website nice and clean because you’re not installing another plugin to do this, you’re actually just creating a page manually within your theme. The problem is, obviously, that you need to know how to code a little to make this work. So, you need to be able to get in to your website server, you need to be able to create that page and then you need to know what code to put on there to make it actually do something. So, it’s not practical for a lot of people but just to let you know, if you can do that, then that’s a good approach to take because you can, like I say, keeps it clean, you’re not adding it next to the plugins, very simple and very easy if you know how to do it. But if you can’t, then obviously you want to use a plugin, you want something that’s going to help you do this automatically. Now, the one the I use is called Custom 404 plugin. So, you can search for that in the WordPress plugins directory, just go into your plugins section within your WordPress dashboard, type in Custom 404 plugin, that’s the one I have on a few different websites that I run just now. It’s really handy, it’s very simple, all it does is it adds a setting to the reading part of your settings. So, if you’re going to your WordPress and then you go to settings and then reading, in there it now has an option that says, “What page do you want to use for your 404 error page”, all you do is you create a new page within WordPress which is simply your 404 page and then you choose that in that setting. So, on that page you can put anything, you just create it, very much the same as any other page on your website. So, you can make it along the same formatting style, you can have the same sidebars, you can have all your normal navigation and all your normal widgets. But, what I would recommend is have maybe a few of the following things on it, so this is maybe what you want to put on a 404 page.
Firstly, I think you should have a start here, so, a lot of websites these days are doing a start here type of area. So, they have a link that says, “New to this website, start here”, click that start here button and it’ll essentially introduce that user to the website, that’ll take you to the most popular posts, so the stuff that you know on your website is really valuable, you know what is on your site that really grabs people, that really turns people into a long term readers, you know what you’ve written that is really good stuff, that really converts somebody from a one time visitor into a long term reader. So, you want that kind of thing on your 404 page because actually, one of the most common reasons that somebody gets a 404 is because they’ll come from an external website to your site from a link and basically you’ll have changed things around, you’ve edited your site, you’ve upgraded it, whatever, and that link is no longer valid. So, that’s probably the most common reason that somebody gets a 404, somebody that doesn’t really know your website is coming there from elsewhere. So, this is you catering to those new readers. So, best posts, most popular stuff, most engaging things. Related to that, you could have, and I would recommend having a mailing list opt-in, so have widget on this page which lets people opt-in into your mailing list. Make sure you’re offering something really valuable to encourage them to do that now because if they are new reader, they’re not going to give away their details just to willy nilly, they want something in return so make sure you’ve got your lead magnet, so whatever it is that you give away to get people to sign up whether it’s a massive report, an ebook, or just like a top ten resources, something that really encourages people to sign up, have that on your 404 page as well. So, that’s two things catering to your new, people that have just found your website brand new. They’re going to find your valuable content and then they’re going to take your report, your lead magnet, and they’re going to opt-in to your mailing list as well.
To cater to the other type of people, so people that do know your website, they have been there before, they’ve tried to find something, maybe they tried, they thought they remember the web address, they tried to type it in but they got it a little bit wrong, maybe you have some outdate link on a post on your website, they’ve tried to click through from there to another page but they know you a little bit. A good thing to include for that type of person is a search box, so do include a search box on your 404 page and say, “If you do know what you’re looking for, type in the title of the post here and it’ll pop up”. So, you let those people find what they’re looking for through search.
The final thing that I would recommend putting on is categories. So, actually just have a bit at the bottom that says, “If you don’t know exactly what it’s called, you don’t know exactly what the resource you’re looking for is named on the website then here are the categories maybe you can find what you’re looking for there. Here’s what I normally write about.”, and you’ll have a list of your categories and let people click thru it and try to navigate thru your website, find the stuff they’re looking for that way. So, you’re looking to cater to both of those types of readers, you’re looking to cater to your existing readers that know you already and you’re looking to cater to those people that are new to your website and really grab them in, turn them into long term readers. That’s what your 404 page is for.
So, task for today, download the Custom 404 plugin, install it on your website and create yourself a new 404 page. I’d love to look at it so pop over to podcraft.net/318 and that will take you to the show notes for today’s episode, it’ll give you all the resources as usual but it will also let you put in a comment and I’d love it if you pop in a comment with a link to your 404 page. So, just give me a link to your website and then I can type in that and then a random string of characters after it and I’ll find your 404 page. And I’d love to give you some comments on it, I’d love to see what you’ve included or even just put in comment what type of stuffs you’ve included on that 404 page and why you did so. If you have some extra stuff beyond what I’ve mentioned today, I’d love to hear it, any extra tips you have on how to create a great one.
Okay. So, that’s it for today. That ties up the 404 error page. Thanks again for listening to the series. As always, I hope you’re getting a lot from it and you’re nearly finish on your journey to creating a peerless podcasting website. We’ve only got two more episodes to go before we finish the 20 part series, so I hope you join me for the penultimate one tomorrow, the next episode. I’ll talk to you then.