The 404 page can be a huge headache for anyone who manages a website.
And sometimes figuring out how to handle such errors when using a CMS such as WordPress can be even more challenging. WordPress has default settings for handling 404 errors, but they leave a lot to be desired.
What Causes Error 404 Pages in WordPress?
404 pages in WordPress are most often caused because of a change in the permalink structure of the site. If a site owner changes the permalink structure of their WP blog, they’re likely going to end up with incoming links pointing to pages that are no longer located at a particular address. This means those incoming visitors will be given a 404 page instead of the content they were looking for.
Other causes of 404 pages may be in the code of your index.php or search.php files. If there’s an error in the code in either file, it may return results with invalid addresses (or it may not return results at all). If you’ve made customizations to your index.php or search.php files, it’s a good idea to check and make sure they’re not serving up invalid addresses and that all of your pages are still working. Always save a backup of the previous version of each file before making changes in case you need to roll back to an earlier version.
Potential Damages of Error 404 Pages
The most obvious damage caused by getting a 404 page has to do with the bounce rate on your site. If a visitor follows a link to your site and they get a 404 page rather than the content they were looking for, it’s unlikely they’ll search your site to find it. They may assume that it no longer exists on your site at all, and simply look elsewhere.
How to Prevent Error 404 Pages
The best way to prevent 404 pages is to be proactive. First of all, set up your permalinks properly from the start. If you take the time when you first launch a blog to set up well-structured permalinks, you’ll be unlikely to need to change them in the future.
Be proactive about incoming links that aren’t correct. Send a quick note to the person who runs the site with the link and ask them to change it to the correct link. Most site owners will be more than happy to do so.
Don’t take down old content. If you have to take something down, rather than deleting it entirely, create a custom page at that address that provides some information on what used to be there, or links to other posts and pages that might be of interest to the visitor.
There are a variety of plugins out there that can help you prevent and manage 404 pages, too.