The dreaded 404 page. For many of your visitors, that may be where their experience on your site ends.
404 errors increase your bounce rate, because generally it causes someone to quickly leave your site. If they’re looking for specific content (perhaps they found your article via Pinterest) and they arrive and it isn’t there, what is their incentive to stay?
Taking a few minutes to optimize your 404 page is one of the best things you can do keep the interest of readers who, for whatever reason, get this error.
Making Your 404 Page Editable
My site is built on the Genesis Framework. To edit what appears on my 404 page, I use the Genesis 404 Page plugin, a dedicated plugin for Genesis users. This ads a 404 Page option from the dropdown when I hover over Genesis in my WordPress navigation on the left side of my dashboard.
When select 404 Page, what appears looks just like a normal WordPress page and is edited the same way.
For non-Genesis users, the 404page plugin appears that it would offer a similar solution, though I have not used it myself (I have always been a Genesis user). With this plugin, you would create a new page in WordPress and publish it (but do not add it to your navigation bar) and then the plugin allows you to select that page to appear on 404 error. There is a visual of how it works on this video.
So now that you have the ability to edit your 404 page, what should you put on it?
Using Content Views to Optimize Your 404 Page
The Content Views plugin allows you to display your content in a highly visual format (Pinterest style, you might say). It will pull the featured image from each post and allow you to include either the title or the title and post excerpt with a “read more” option.
Now why would displaying this in visual format on your 404 page be beneficial? 40% of people respond better to visual information than just plain text (source). Additionally, the human brain processes visuals 60,000X faster than text (source).
Getting the attention of a potential new reader quickly is the key to getting them to stay on your page and consume your content.
How to Use Content Views
1. Install the Content Views plugin.
2. Once installed, the Content View Settings will appear in your navigation bar on the left side of your WordPress dashboard.
3. Click Add New and Set the Filter Settings.
Your View Title is just for you so you are able to reference which group of posts the shortcode apples to (we’ll talk more about shortcodes later). Just know that the view title is just for you so name it something that makes sense to you.
For Content type, I always leave it to “post” because you want it to pull your posts, not your pages.
For the Common Filters, set the limit to the number of posts you want to appear. For my 404 page, I have this set to six. I don’t want to overwhelm a visitor but want to show enough content that they might find what they were looking for or be intrigued by something else.
The example above was set to three.
Advanced Filters allows you to select which posts you want to appear.
I generally use “taxonomy” and select by category or by tag.
For the 404 page, one strategy is to display the posts that are most likely to be shared (the ones that are popular on social media). Go through and add a new tag to each of those posts, perhaps calling tagging them “popular”.
Then when creating the content view, select the “taxonomy” option and click tags and select “popular”. Those posts will then be the only ones to appear.
Alternatively, you could choose to have your most recent posts appear here. To do this, select “order & order by” and select “created date” and DESC.
4. Click Display Settings.
This is where you customize how you want the posts you’ve selected to appear.
I prefer “Grid” format here. This makes the post featured images appear Pinterest style.
View Type Settings
How many items per row do you want? I usually like three to appear across.
Do you want the title to appear next to the featured image or below it? Selecting 1 column makes the title appear below the featured image and therefore makes all of the photos align nicely.
For your 404 page, I would suggest not including “show content” and therefore only selecting “show thumbnail” and “show title”. If you have Pinterest optimized images for your featured images, you may not need to “show title”, though I still do.
Next, you select your thumbnail settings. This is entirely up to you and may be dependent on your theme. For instance, the “featured home” options on my screenshot above are a part of my Genesis child theme from Restored 316 Designs. Not all themes may have those options and you might just have thumbnail, medium, and large.
One of the best parts about Content Views is that it allows you to preview what it will look like on your page as you select your settings. Anytime you want to see the results of the changes you’ve made, click “update preview” and check it out.
5. When your preview appears how you’d like it to and you’re ready to add it to a page, click save.
That shortcode in green? That’s the shortcode that will make all of your posts appear exactly as you’ve requested. Copy it.
Put the Shortcode on Your 404 Page
Now let’s go back to your Genesis 404 Page link (as described above). If you are using the 404Page plugin (for non-Genesis WordPress users), create a new page just as you normally would.
This is where you can be as creative as you’d like. I like to keep things light so for my 404 Page, the page title appears as “Ruh Roh!” You want users to know that they didn’t get to where they wanted to be immediately give them options before they click away.
Here is how my 404 Page appears:
To check out how my 404 page looks live, click here.
To check out how yours looks, type your website and after the .com add /12345 or basically anything that doesn’t exist. If the page doesn’t exist, you’ll get a 404 error and you’ll be able to see what your 404 page looks like.
Having those instant visuals on your 404 page doesn’t just make it pretty, it makes your reader more likely to stay on your site. It can help reduce your bounce rate and bring readers to the awesome content you know they want to see.
Add the Option to Search
If the reader didn’t find what they were looking for with your Content Views (or didn’t find something else that interests them) than giving them the option to search is a great idea.
For those of you with Genesis using the Genesis 404 Page, adding a search bar is easy. The shortcode is built-in to the plugin so add this code anywhere that you want the search bar to appear.
For those of you who do not use the Genesis framework, I did a little searching and struggled to find a simple solution that did not involve editing the .php code directly. If you have a search bar in your sidebar using a widget, perhaps suggest that they search there. Non-genesis users, do you have any suggestions?
Phew, that was a novel of a post, wasn’t it? Do you have any questions? How are you making the most of your 404 page?