If you browse the internet a lot, you will likely have come across a 404 error at some point especially the website admins who encounter Hard 404 error and Soft 404 error during site maintenance. You must have heard about Error 404s on a webpage, but those are just regular “Page Not Found” errors. So, what exactly are Soft 404 error, and are soft 404 bad for SEO?
Soft 404 errors are commonly displayed on web pages by Google, specifically for larger websites. They are strange errors since they are a hybrid of 404 errors and regular pages, and it’s not always obvious what’s causing the error on a particular page. Soft 404 errors differ from general 404 errors that can potentially damage your webpage.
So, in this blog, we will help you clarify some confusion surrounding what is Soft 404 error, why does it happen, whether soft 404 bad for SEO, and how to fix them. Read along to get your answers!
What Is Soft 404 Error?
A soft 404 error is a page on your website that appears to return a “404 Not Found” error code but does not indicate that the page is genuinely missing to the user. Instead, the page may display a message that it is temporarily unavailable due to maintenance or display unrelated or irrelevant content. Soft 404 error can occur for several reasons, such as when a page is empty, converted, or moved to a new URL without proper redirects.
Difference Between Hard 404 Error and Soft 404 Error
People often get confused between Hard 404 errors and Soft 404 errors. If you are one of them, we have made things easier for you.
- Hard 404 Error: Hard 404 errors are basically ‘404 not found errors’ where the page is not found, and the HTTP status code that is returned is either 404 or 410 (corresponds to “not found”)
- Soft 404 Error: A soft 404 error occurs when a page cannot be found, but rather than returning to HTTP status code 404, the page returns a 200-success code, which is misleading.
In simpler terms, the page response code should have been 404 in both cases. However, that’s not the case with soft 404 errors. Let’s understand their technical differences.
|Hard 404 Error
|Soft 404 Error
|A typical HTTP response code that notifies search engines that a specific page is broken or unavailable and won’t be restored.
|Returns a 200 OK status as a response. These pages have trouble loading though, they aren’t dead. These kinds of pages are likely to be restored.
|Incorrect or broken links and links that take users to pages that are no longer available might result in a hard 404 error, often known as a “not found page.”
|Google will flag a webpage as a soft 404 error page if a person visits it and discovers that certain information is missing. Blank, expired, or duplicate pages are the cause of it.
|The developers must find and fix link errors. Unfortunately, link mistakes are hard to spot on large, complicated websites with hundreds of pages. Nevertheless, crawling tools like Xenu, Deepcrawl, and Botify can help to find broken links
|They are hard for crawling tools to find because they differ from 404 error pages in several ways. Soft error pages typically contain thin or plagiarised content. Crawling tools like Xemu, Deepcrawl, and Botify can inspect response codes, title tags, and related URLs. Developers can examine these pages to find soft 404 errors.
Are Soft 404 Errors Bad For SEO?
To be honest, YES! There are both direct and indirect ways in which Soft 404 can be bad for SEO and harm your website ranking. Soft 404 errors can significantly harm your website’s SEO efforts because they confuse search engines and users.
They send search engine crawls conflicting signals about the validity of a web page, resulting in search engines either indexing the page incorrectly or not indexing it at all. Ultimately, this leads to lower search rankings and less organic traffic, resulting in lost revenue.
How to Identify Soft 404 Errors?
You can identify soft 404 errors on your website using the “Google Search Console” coverage report or other third-party tools. If you visit GSC, you will notice a mistake marked “Submitted URL seems soft 404”. Click on it to see all the pages containing errors.
Google Search Console flags soft 404 errors and provides recommendations for fixing them. Another way to find soft 404 errors is to analyze your website’s crawl data using a web crawler tool that identifies pages with little or no content.
How to Fix Soft 404 Error?
Suppose you’re dealing with a Soft 404 error on essential web pages like category, lead generation, or product pages. In that case, it is vital to react quickly for a Soft 404 error fix, get these pages indexed, and restore them to Google search. How you fix the soft 404 error depends on the page and the cause of it.
However, speaking generally, the least you could do is ensure the URL returns the correct status code to match the right content. Here are a few ways to Soft 404 error fix:
Review Error Pages
Review soft 404 error pages on your website and identify the ones without meaningful content. Determine whether a page is genuinely missing or if it exists but needs updating, deleting, or redirection.
Update or Delete Pages
Update pages with inadequate content to provide valuable and relevant information to visitors. Remove pages with no content or duplicate content.
When a page is moved to a new URL, use a 301 redirect to redirect users and search engines to the new page. This prevents soft 404 errors from appearing and preserves your website’s search engine rankings.
Customize the 404 Error Page
Customize your website’s 404 error page to provide helpful information and guidance to users, such as a search bar and sitemap to help visitors find the information they want.
Reindex the Page
After fixing a soft 404 error page, resubmit the page to search engines and request a reindex of the page to ensure search engines index it correctly.
Soft 404 errors are pretty strange, and the cause of it is not always clear. However, with a little digging around – especially in Google Search Console – you can identify the root cause of the issue and implement a solution quickly. Keep an eye on GSC regularly for any new errors. Following the fixes mentioned in our blog can significantly impact your website’s ranking.
With our solid SEO strategies, you can improve your website’s SEO performance and provide valuable information to your users. Contact us today!!