If you’re a digital marketer, you’ve likely come across a few error codes related to your pages on your site. Tools such as Google Search Console might have sent you a notification about a soft 404 error with one or more of your pages. Having soft 404s on your site is damaging to your visibility and could lead to a 50% loss in organic traffic as your rankings sink. Read on to find out how you can fix soft 404 errors.
What is a Soft 404 Error?
A soft 404 error is when the website server sends a 200 OK status for a page, but Google thinks the page should return a 404 code. This is because Google has detected that the page looks like an error or has very little content on it.
Difference Between a 404 and a Soft 404 Error
A regular 404 error happens when a page is not available on the site and the server sends the correct status code – 404 Not Found – to inform the user this page doesn’t exist.
Pages with soft 404 errors don’t or shouldn’t exist but do exist as the CMS says it does. This problem makes it confusing for search engines, because a soft 404 error is not a usual server status code, but a label that search engines, like Google, add to make sense of what these pages are and ignore them if they think they shouldn’t exist.
Google and Soft 404s
Google is helpful in displaying which pages show up soft 404 errors in Search Console. If you do have any in there, you should fix these as soon as possible.
If regular 404 pages come back with a 200 OK status, these pages then exist and are crawled and indexed by search engines. This isn’t what you want because when a search result is given a soft 404 error label, as it will not appear in Google’s index.
These types of pages can occur in CMS’s such as WordPress, which can auto-generate empty and useless pages which are of no help to you, the user or search engines.
Do Soft 404 Errors harm SEO?
Soft 404s are dead links and search engines hate crawling them. They point to bad website maintenance and a lack of respect for the user. The presence of soft 404s is confusing for search engines because what is expected of the page differs from the actual result of the page, therefore it’s not relevant to the user
You should never leave pages on your site to be crawled that are empty, faulty and have thin content. Having a website with pages full of errors will impact your crawl efficiency: the way Google crawls your site. You don’t want Google’s bots spending time crawling pages that aren’t meant to be on your site. Your crawl budget is better spent elsewhere.
How to find Soft 404 Errors
The easiest way to find the soft 404 errors on your site is by looking at your site on Google Search Console. In there you can view a coverage report which gives you an overview of all pages that have errors.
The above screenshot shows Ricemedia doesn’t have any errors with any of its pages. If there were any, it would show up here for us to fix.
How to Fix Soft 404 Errors
Fixing soft 404 errors depends on the page you need to fix and what you want the page to once fixed.
If you do have soft 404 errors, you should make sure the pages send out the correct status code. There are a few options available to you:
- If this is a page that no longer exists, give it a 404 (not found) or 410 code (content deleted) and ensure your 404 page is good for users. Do remember that having lots of 404s on a site is bad practice as well.
- If Google has given an available page a soft 404, it means the search engine’s algorithms consider the page as having thin content and should be fixed. Give the page good, relevant content to ensure users and search engines know that this page has value.
- If this is a page that has a new URL, use a 301 Redirect to send users to the real page.
- If you want to keep the page, but not have it in Google’s index, put a noindex tag onto it.
Another probable cause for a soft 404 is that it could just be a linking error. If this is the case, then you simply need to fix the links. Website crawling tools such as Screaming Frog or DeepCrawl can search through millions of pages very quickly and identify those broken links for you to fix.
Importance of Site Maintenance
Regularly maintaining your site will avoid errors such as soft 404s from happening in the first place. If this is something you struggle to keep on top of because you don’t have the expertise to do so, you need technical SEO experts, Ricemedia.
As part of our SEO package, we will regularly monitor your website to ensure any errors are addressed to ensure your pages return the correct response code and you remain visible to users of search engines. Want to find out more? Get in touch with our team today.