How to make your 404 page in WordPress more fun!

Estimated read time: 2 minutes

404 – or error – pages are where visitors to your website end up when they mistyped the end of the URL, they have an outdated link or the content has moved and isn’t being redirected correctly. Many of them say something like this:

Sorry. Nothing here. Click here to go to the home page or search our site here.

And some pages are a bit more creative. See some examples here. Mine was close to the copy above and I didn’t spend much time thinking about updating it. Plus, I had not clue how. They don’t let me near the code around here. But it’s relatively easy to do, even for non-developer types like myself.

My 404 page now looks like this:

404 page

I spruced up the text some and brought it in line with my storytelling topic on the blog. Then I added a new video that discusses my topic of authentic storytelling content marketing.

Before I get started sharing the how, let me just be clear, that this is not a perfect way. If your WordPress theme gets updated by the developer, your changes get overwritten. I don’t see that as a huge problem, as it just gives me a new opportunity to update the page with fresher content. To make sure theme updates don’t overwrite changes like these, you have to create a child theme, which (like anything with children – #dadlife) sounds like a lot of work to me. If you wanted to do that, here’s one tutorial that explains that process.

Non-developer steps to updating your 404 page

  1. From your WordPress dashboard, go over to Appearance >>> Editor
  2. Find the 404 template on the right.
  3. In the Editor find the space that needs to be edited. I would recommend comparing the live 404 page in another tab to see what part needs to get changed.
  4. Once you are done, click the Update File button at the bottom.

This PowerPoint also walks your through the steps visually:

How to update your 404 page in WordPress from Christoph Trappe on Slideshare
Fair warning, I would recommend copying and pasting whatever is in that Editor before you change it. Save it in a Notepad document so you can easily restore the 404 page to what it was if you make a mistake.
How do you check what your 404 page looks like? It doesn’t have an URL after all! Ha. I usually just go to [MYURL]/404 because I know that’s not in use for sure. I once typed in /christoph to see the 404 page but WordPress is too smart and corrects it and sends me to /christoph-trappe, which is an actual page on my blog.
Here’s to everyone creating better and most relevant (to their audiences) 404 pages.

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