An error 404 is when a visitor tries to access a page that does not exist. Sometimes people tend to overlook this feature, and never think about designing for it. Taking the time to make a user-friendly 404 page could mean the difference in a user staying on your website, or leaving.

Chances are you have created your website and checked multiple times to be sure that every link leads to somewhere. Eventually over time you may forget about a link that leads to a post you removed, or possibly changed the name to. Even if a visitor is searching for a page directly and they don’t get it right, then they will be taken to the error 404 page.

These can be made very user-friendly utilizing the WordPress template tags, and little bit of know-how.

Understanding The Error 404

The error 404 is a message that the visitor will receive when a page or post is not located. This is by default included within WordPress, but not with all themes. If you have created a custom theme, then you can increase the chances of a user sticking around even though they didn’t find what they were looking for with a properly designed 404 page.

The Basic Error 404 Template

The basic error 404 template is included with some WordPress themes but not all. WordPress is set to automatically look for the file 404.php when an error 404 is reached. If this file is not present, then it will give a basic error message which is not user-friendly.

If you do not already have this file you can create it. Make a new blank file and name it 404.php

Here is the basic code we will start with:

The 404.php File

<?php get_header(); ?>


<h2>Error 404 - Page Not Found.</h2>


<?php get_sidebar(); ?>

<?php get_footer(); ?>

The above code within the 404.php file would give a simple output wrapped in H2 tags that would read “Error 404 – Page Not Found.” – It would also get the WordPress Header, Sidebar, and Footer. These are all optional and should be modified to fit your WordPress theme.

We want to take this a few steps further to achieve our goal. Make a note that I am using the get_header() along with get_sidebar and footer to call our theme template files. Your’s may vary slightly and you will have to adjust your 404.php file accordingly.

Starting To Work On It

First, We will add the search form to our basic 404 page to make it a bit more helpful. This way even if a visitor lands on your 404, they then have the option of searching your site. This is the first method to help users stick around instead of leaving.

404.php File – Added Search Form

<?php get_header(); ?>

<h2>Error 404 - Page Not Found.</h2>

Search:

<?php include(TEMPLATEPATH . "/searchform.php"); ?>

<?php get_sidebar(); ?>

<?php get_footer(); ?>

Making It More Dynamic

To create a more dynamic error 404 page you can use redirects so that the user only sees the error briefly, then gets redirected to your home page. This page can be made to be somewhat SEO friendly as well.

For this next example we can start by editing the header.php file of your template. Within the meta tags at the top of your header.php file you can add the following:

The header.php File

<?php if (is_404()) { $redirectHome = get_option('home'); ?>
<?php echo $redirectHome; ?>

After this is added we will then edit our 404.php file to look like this:

404.php File

<?php get_header(); ?>

<h1>Error 404 - File Not Found.</h1>

<h3>Please <a href="<?php bloginfo('home'); ?>" Click here</a> to return to our home page, or you can wait to be redirected in 15 seconds.</h3>

<?php get_footer(); ?>

The above example will allow the user to land on the 404 error page but then automatically take them back to the home page. This will also help users stick around instead of them being left confused and leaving your website.

This example may not always be the best solution for everyone but can be helpful to someone looking for something specific on your site.

Making sure it works

You can test your 404 error page by typing your URL and following it with a page that you know does not exist.

Example: http://www.yourwebsitedomain.com/test404page.php

That should bring you to your 404 page for viewing and testing.

If it doesn’t work

If by chance your server is not automatically bringing you to your 404.php file we can modify our .htaccess file to make it work. Locate your .htaccess file within your WordPress install and add the following line to it:

ErrorDocument 404 /index.php?error=404

If your WordPress install is not in the root directory you will need to make sure the above code reflects that. If you have installed WordPress into a subfolder then modify your .htaccess like this:

ErrorDocument 404 /YOURSUBFOLDERNAME/index.php?error=404

This will force the use of your 404.php file.

A full example

The code below is a full demonstration that will show you some ways you can use the 404.php file to help users that have found something that doesn’t exist. Take a look at it and notice the options we are giving them to keep them around, and to help them find content.

<?php get_header(); ?>

<h1>404 Error</h1>

We cannot seem to find what you were looking for.

Maybe we can still help you.

<ul>

<li>You can search our site using the form provided below.</li>

<li>You can visit <a href="<?php bloginfo?>"</a></li>

<a href="<?php ('url'); ?>" the homepage.</a>

<li>Or you can view some of our recent posts.</li>

</ul>

Search:

TEMPLATEPATH . "/searchform.php"); ?>

<h3>Recent Posts</h3>

<ul>
	<?php query_posts('posts_per_page=5'); if (have_posts()) : while (have_posts()) : the_post(); ?>

<li><a href="<?php the_permalink() ?>" title="Permalink for : <?php the_title(); ?>"><?php the_title(); ?></a>
	endwhile; endif; ?>
	</ul>

<?php get_footer(); ?>

Anything above can be changed and styled to fit your needs. In the above example we are displaying that there was an error, and then following it with a list of options for the user. We are also still giving them the option to search our site, and have now added the ability for them to view our recent posts.

The combination of all of these gives the user that reached the page options. These options can be used to ensure a user doesn’t leave right away if they didn’t find exactly what they wanted.

Make it More User Friendly

To make it more user friendly and unique you could consider using the above examples with a different background image of your choice. You can also use html within the 404.php file to make a page all in itself for your error page. Here are some examples of unique error 404 pages for inspiration:

1. Mundofox.com

2. CSSRemix.com

3. CSSRemix.com

4. ChrisJennings.com

5. ook.co.uk

6. Youcastr.com

7. Mixx.com

8. JustCreativeDesign.com

9. Agens.no

10. Mushroomdigital.co.uk

Using it Wisely

It is always good practice for both WordPress and static HTML sites to make use of the 404 page. Either using ads on it to monetize, or using it to better help your visitors navigate your website.

There are many ways to create your own custom 404 error page, and just as many ways to allow it to help website visitors. Use the examples above freely, and experiment with what works best for you.

Editorial Team

Written by Editorial Team

32 Comments

  1. Hi just what i have been looking for but when i put the code in themeheader.php the 404 page doesnt load. I need to be sure that i am putting in the right place. I am putting it after the first ?
    Sorry if this is a basic question a bit of a newbie.
    Thanks

    Danny

    Reply

  2. Nice tips! Thank you!

    P.s. Some of the 404 images/website pages aren’t working!

    Reply

  3. your code is missing a <?php at the beginning of line 26.. FYI

    Reply

  4. Ohh i like. Some pages are really cool. My favorites are number 9 agens.no and number 4 chrisjennings.com.
    I’ll try to create a nice custom 404 too, thanks for your help !!

    Reply

  5. Good post but i liked most interesting is all the screenshot of different website becoz ppl will get an idea..thank you

    Reply

  6. This page really helped me alot. I have created a custom 404 page and I don’t think I could have done it without the direction above.
    Thanks so much

    Reply

  7. I like Mundofox.com’s 404 page. I don’t bother too much for 404 page design. I would rather focus more on the main page design than be creative for 404 page. After all it is error and people end up on this page when they can’t find it.

    Reply

  8. This is a great tutorial. I like hwo you included other resources at the end. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

  9. It is also a good practice to log the referring URLs. This will help you to understand where the broken link was and go back to fix it.

    Nice 404 collection gallery, thanks Kevin

    Reply

  10. Nice. I will try this.

    Reply

  11. thans for sharing this great articles!

    Reply

  12. Lasik Doctors May 30, 2010 at 04:27

    It’s really very annoying for me to found out that I will only land to an error 404 site. Pretty much disappointing when I really need to have a particular info from that site alone. Though the design can’t actually result to a solution, it’s still good to see interesting images in this site.

    Reply

  13. its really informative….

    Reply

  14. Natalie Port May 10, 2010 at 15:21

    Thank you for another great article. Where else could anyone net that kind of advice in such a best acknowledge proceeding of writing? I be undergoing a display next week, and I am on the look for such information.

    Reply

  15. Great article Kevin…I especially like the navigation part. One thing I’ve been doing with my 404 pages is adding a relevant offer and have been seeing sales from the error pages.

    I have not however created 404 error pages for my blogs so this article will assist me with that.

    Reply

  16. Great examples for the 404 page. I follow similar strategies on most sites…which reminds me…I don’t have one a my personal site. DOOOHH!

    Reply

  17. Have a look at our 404 message
    and push the button :)

    Reply

  18. I need to add a 404 page. Thanks for the tutorial, been looking to make my own custom one for a while.

    Reply

  19. Great article! It was just what I was looking for!

    Reply

  20. Very informative. Just what I needed to customize my 404 page.

    Reply

  21. I just want to add another funny 404 message:

    Reply

  22. Patz Illustrated April 17, 2010 at 11:57

    Nice!!! Just finished my site today and considered doing a 404 page but don’t know how…this is exactly what I needed.

    Reply

  23. Cool… but when can we see 1wd get a wacky 404 page ;)

    Reply

  24. create it and create it with fun so people really want to see your 404 error page :-)

    Reply

  25. Like those auto redirection tip :) Nice post .

    Reply

  26. Abdelhadi Touil April 16, 2010 at 15:51

    WordPress is the best for me :)
    Great tips for creating a custom 404 page using wordpress.
    Thanks very much for these ideas.

    Reply

  27. Nice! When i get a chance I`ll redo my own 404 page. Thanks!!

    Reply

  28. Nice tutorial, except that I was JUST about to write one almost identical. Like today, haha. Great minds, yes? Anyway a useful 404 page is extremely important and something that is overlooked. A 404 doesn’t have to mean a bounce, it can be another opportunity to provide a good user experience.

    Reply

  29. Nice. I got to try this.

    Reply

  30. Very nice informations! I’ve been looking for this. This article will provide more design aspects for every blog instead of error 404 message. Thanks Kevin!

    Reply

  31. Great tutorial, i really need to change my 404 page, i haven’t even touched it yet.

    Reply

  32. Every website should have a 404 page, thanks for the great points.

    Reply

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