Turn A 404 Error To Your Advantage

The dreaded 404 error is the scourge of most websites, in this blog posts I want to tell you how to re-purpose the 404 error and use it to your advantage.

What Is A 404 Error

404 is the error returned by web servers to browsers if a file cannot be found.  This is a standard error and is usually a dead-end on a website.

Why Are 404s Returned?

You site will return a 404 for one of the following reasons:

  • Typo in the URL e.g. ibraininc.com/aboutt instead of ibraininc.com/about
  • The pages really does not exist e.g. ibraininc.com/how-to-build-joomla-sites
  • You created the page, it got into the search engines indexes, then you took it down
  • You renamed the page

Create a Custom 404 page

Most WordPress themes have a page called 404.php, this is designed to handle any file not found errors and display a dull yet nicely themed message saying you went to the wrong page.  What I want to suggest is that you take this page, and transform it into a springboard to other live pages on your site.

Editing 404.php required some coding skill, if you feel up to it, put on your code monkey hat, order a dozen pizzas, loose your social skills and follow me.

Add A Search Box

Why not add a search box to your 404 page this gives people the chance to search your posts for the title they want.  Here is the code to add a basic search box to your 404.php file.

 <form id="searchform" method="get" action="/index.php">
         <input type="text" name="s" id="s" size="15" /><br />
         <input type="submit" value="Search" />


Another good way to springboard people to the content they want, or to bring your attention to the problem is to add a contact form.  I use the plugin contact form 7, which does not support forms in themes, so I provide an email address to contact me on.

Give Up Your Pillar Content

Why not give them something excellent ot read anyway, give them a list of your pillar content or your most popular posts.  In my case I am using the popularity contest post plugins to display my most popular posts judged by the number of times a post has been read.  To do this I add the following php command to my 404.php file:


See It In Action

I have implemented these on my own 404.php file you can see this in action by visiting ibraininc.com/zzzzzz

Don’t Make The 404 A Deadend

A 404 is usually a dead-end, the wrong page to be on.  Why not repurpose this into a useful experience for your site visitor.  Push them to your key content or give them a call to action so they can find what they want, small actions like this turn casual visitors into subscribers.

If you need help implementing a useful 404 page, please contact me via my service page.

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