Is Your WordPress 404 Page Killing Traffic & Drinking Your SEO Juice?
A 404 page is the error page that users see when the page they’re looking for is not at the URL they’ve landed on. Some 404 pages are creative, some are useless, and some don’t even exist at all.
Users might land on a 404 page for various reasons – the page has been moved or deleted, they’ve followed a badly constructed link, or they may have typed in the wrong URL.
“Not Found” pages are more than just a nuisance, however, they may be losing you both visitors and SEO juice as well.
Is Your 404 Page Hurting You?
Let’s be honest. How often have you simply backed out of a site when you landed on an error page? Unless you’re a rare and patient bird, the answer is probably “pretty often.” There may be things you can do on your own site, however, to help keep impatient visitors hanging around.
In addition to disappearing visitors, there’s also another problem with “Not Found” pages. If someone is linking to a page that has moved, or they have made a mistake in the construction of a link, then any SEO juice that would normally pass to you with that link is lost. But if you can redirect that URL, you can transfer that juice to another page.
And so even though error pages can cause problems, those problems can be minimized to some degree, and the six plugins we go over below are aimed at doing just that.
Where Is My 404 Page?
Before we get into the plugins, however, if you aren’t familiar with 404 pages, you can see what your 404 page currently looks like by typing in some address where you know a page doesn’t exists, for example: mysite.com/somethingcrazyyyyyyy.
The look and content of your 404 error page is controlled by your theme (template file 404.php). For example, here’s a look at the default error page found with the Twenty Twelve theme:
If your theme doesn’t have a 404 page, and you’d like to create one, you can learn how to do that here.
OK, let’s get onto the plugins.
1. 404 Redirected
The 404 Redirected plugin does a number of things, but it seems the most valuable among them are that it lets you provide suggestions on your 404 page for users to click on, and perhaps even more importantly, it gives you detailed info on what pages users were looking for.
In order to get the plugin working, you must insert a line a code into an already existing 404.php page (Appearance > Editor > 404.php). Where you insert this line of code is also where suggestions to other pages will appear (should you decide to use the suggestions function).
Here’s a look at a page with a few suggestion on it.
As mentioned, however, maybe even more importantly, the plugin also records the exact page that caused the 404 error. When you see a number of errors to the same page, you might decide to redirect that page to another page manually specified by you. The plugin lets you do that as well.
Here’s a look at a record of some pages that appeared in my test. If a number of people on my site were actually looking for these pages, I could manually redirect them to another page.
Note: This plugin does NOT automatically redirect all 404 errors to one page, such the home page. It uses the built in 404.php page unless a URL is manually specified to redirect to another page.
Because of the stats that you get, this plugin is especially good for anyone who is interested in paying close attention to the 404 errors on their site.
(* This plugin comes with a promotional link, but you can turn that off in the settings if you like.)
2. Auto Redirect 404 in 301 for Trashed Posts
While the Auto Redirect 404 in 301 for Trashed Posts is quite a mouthful, it does just what it says – it takes posts that you have trashed and redirects them to your homepage. (It redirects to the homepage by default, but you can change that.)
A 301 redirect is a “permanent” redirect. It tells search engines that this post is no longer here, and it’s not coming back, so point any reference you have to it to this other page (in this case, the homepage).
This is better for the SEO of your site. It’s better if a search engine thinks that something has moved rather than simply disappeared. It will also transfer most of any link juice that the trashed post may have had to the new page.
You’re also given the option of redirecting deleted URLs to pages other than the homepage. For example, you might redirect deleted categories to a page that lists all your current categories.
Once people begin arriving on posts that you have deleted, the plugin will list those pages for you (see the bottom two examples in the image above), and you can redirect them to a specific page if you like.
Note – this is for posts (or pages, categories, tags, and media) that have been deleted. It’s not for pages that never existed on your site. If someone types in or follows a link to a URL that never existed on your site, they will get the default 404 page that your theme employs.
This plugin is good for those looking to squeeze every ounce of SEO juice they can from their site.
3. 404 to Start
The 404 to Start plugin is a relatively simple plugin. It will allow you to redirect any 404 error to either the homepage of your site or any other page you choose.
Like the plugin above, it will allow you to make these redirects 301 redirects. It also gives you the option to be notified by mail anytime someone hits a 404 error.
While this is simple and straight-forward, it does completely bypass your built-in 404 page altogether for each 404 error. That may be fine for some. Others, however, may want users to land on a customized 404 page that may provide a search box or suggestions for other pages.
The difference between this plugin and the plugin above it (Auto Redirect 404 in 301 for Trashed Posts) is that the plugin above only redirects URL that actually existed. If someone types in a URL that never actually existed on your site, they would be sent to a 404 page (not redirected to the homepage).
This plugin, like the one above it, it good for SEO purposes. It’s also slightly simpler in that it doesn’t record the pages that users are looking for.
4. 404 Error Monitor
The 404 Error Monitor plugin does just what its name says – it monitors the 404 errors on your site, and that’s it.
There are no options for redirecting or anything else. It simply says what pages users attempted to access that weren’t available.
This plugin could be handy for those who are using a different 404 plugin that lacks such monitoring. Or it may be good for those who like to build their own redirects yet don’t know which pages need to be redirected.
Here’s a look at the output. You’ll notice it also shows the referrer. This is good for finding if someone has built a link to one of your pages incorrectly.
5. Custom 404 Error Page
The Custom 404 Error Page plugin lets you liven up your 404 page a little with some easy-to-apply designs. It will also suggests other posts by default, or you can enter your own set of links for users to click.
Here’s a look at one design.
And here’s a look at the settings for controlling the design.
*Note: This may not work well in responsive themes on small screens. You may want to test that.
6. NotFound.org 404 Page
Finally we come to a very different type of 404 plugin – the NotFound.org 404 Page.
NotFound.org describes their unique mission like this:
Install our application and a picture of a missing child automatically gets published on every ‘page not found’ of your website. Together, we can find them.
Here’s an example of a 404 page that the plugin shows.
By default (you can change this) there are two links – one to go back to the page you came from and one to go the homepage of the site.
NotFound.org is a European organization, and so this option is probably best suited for those with a large European Union audience.
Even though they’re already lost, a bad or non-existent 404 page tells both humans and search engines to, once again, essentially “get lost.” You never really know what taking care of this issue might bring you. That one visitor who may have gone away might end up being someone important to you. That one link you wouldn’t have gotten credit for may be the one to put you over the top.
It may seem like a small thing, but it’s worth attending to 404 error pages to make sure you’re getting the most out of them.