What are hard 404 errors


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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 errors and Soft 404 errors 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 errors, 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 a Soft 404 error is, why it happens, whether Soft 404 bad for SEO and how to fix them. Read along to get your answers!

Understanding Soft 404 Error and How to Fix Them: A Complete Guide [UPDATED 2024]

Finding and fixing Soft 404 errors is one of the crucial processes of technical SEO. Soft 404 errors are challenging to troubleshoot and fix because, in many cases, it is unclear what the problem is, making the issue very confusing. This is why we have prepared a complete guide to explain everything you need to know about soft 404 errors to find and address them correctly.

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.

What Is the 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 ‘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.

S. No Hard 404 Error Soft 404 Error
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.

What are The Causes of Soft 404 Error?

There is not just one cause when it comes to looking for soft 404 errors. Naturally, this may require some research before trying to fix the problems. Below are a few possible causes of one or more soft 404 errors on your website:

  • This is something nobody else will tell you – Google is not perfect! Sometimes, even if there is nothing wrong with the page, they just mark it as possibly having a soft 404 error.
  • The page might be facing a temporary crawling problem. For instance, your page may momentarily display without content if your scripts or CSS cannot be loaded.
  • It is possible that you redirected your website visitors to an irrelevant page – like your website homepage.
  • It seems you have either very little or no content on your pages. If your webpage has less content, Google assumes that it should be marked as a 404-error code. For instance, in WordPress, any empty tags that you haven’t used yet will appear as empty pages if you put up a series of tags. It will result in a soft 404 error.

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 damage 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 Error on Your Site?

Essentially, there are many ways to identify 404 soft errors on your site, but the easiest way is through Google Webmaster Tool, now called the “Google Search Console” coverage report. In particular, URL Inspection Tool and Page Indexing. Let’s discover all other ways:

1. Google Search Console (GSC)

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.

2. Google Analytics

Google Analytics does not provide a report about the missing pages by default. However, there are several ways to identify them. One way to handle this is by making a custom report and grouping pages with the error 404 – Page Not Found mentioned in the page title. Creating unique content categories and adding all 404 pages to them is another method for using Google Analytics to identify orphaned pages.

3. Operator Search Command

Using the site search command, one cannot identify 404 error issues because Google doesn’t index regular 404 or soft 404 web pages. Using the search operator, you can locate webpages from Google’s website with a particular keyword phrase inside their text.

Finding the list of regular and soft 404 errors can be simplified by using Google’s Search Console (GSC). The website traffic error logs are helpful for 404 error response identification.

4. Other Research Tools

You can use additional tools to identify soft 404 errors: SEMrush, Ahrefs, Moz Open Site Explorer, Majestic, LinkResearchTools, and the CognitiveSEO tool. Most of these tools will export a list of backlinks pointing to your domain. Then, you can analyze each connected page and search for soft 404 errors.

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:

1. Determine If the Page Actually Is a Soft 404 Error or Not

Lookout for fake alarms. Actually, in most cases, a page that Google Console mistakenly identified as a soft 404 error could generally be reviewed and approved.

  • Begin by selecting the appropriate report, namely the Coverage Report, and pursuing the clicks on the “Submitted URL seems to be a soft 404” button. This returns a complete list of soft 404 pages.
  • Paste these URLs in new browser tabs or windows to compare them easily.
  • To display the page on the search engine results page, select “Validate Fix” if it’s a legitimate part of your website. As a result, this will cause Google to crawl the webpage and change the status code.
  • You need to examine the page, go to the live URL, and test it when you are done.

Another way is to choose the URL and right-click to select the option “Inspect URL.” This will provide you with more details about the concerned page and provide a “Request Indexing” option.

While doing so, it is advisable first to enter the live URL to enable Google to update its report. Doing this will provide you with the page’s status. Often, the page will have no problems, and no alteration will be needed.

2. Optimize The Page and Submit an Indexing Request

If your page is present but Google has been giving a soft 404 for that page, then it might be solely because of the content of the page. In this case, the content of the page should be improved, and later on, it should be resubmitted to Google. This is often the case when the content is thin. The simplest fix is to include more content on the page. After the update, the specific page will become more ‘crawlable’ to Google and should prevent the soft 404 error.

3. Try to De-index the Page from Search Engines While Keeping It on Your Website

Another way to fix a soft 404 error is to leave the page on your site but de-index it from the search engine index. By placing the no-index tag in the header, the search engine will be told not to index any specific webpage present on the site.

This will help you clear the soft 404 error since Google does not list the page in the Error report. Nevertheless, you will be able to see this page in the excluded report under Soft 404.

4. Setup Your Server to Return the Correct Not Found Error Code (404/410)

If the page is not accessible or the page is invalid, you have to try to set up the website to return the correct status code (either 404 or 410). Once you have geared your website in the correct code, submit the page again to be indexed by Google. It should remove the soft 404 error.

By removing a page, you can decrease the percentage of soft 404 because, after the page has been deleted, if someone tries to access it, the HTTP server is going to return the 404 codes, indicating that the requested page does not exist.

5. Use the 301 Redirection to Redirect to a New Page

Another way to deal with a soft 404 error is to assign a valid page to the affected one and let visitors go there. You can achieve this by including a 301 redirect in the .htaccess file, which instructs the search engines that the specific webpage has been relocated. This is how it looks:

Redirect 301 /soft-404-page https://xyzExample. com/new-page-URL

Another way to add 301 redirections is with the help of the Yoast SEO plugin. When putting a 301 redirection, ensuring that the two pages carry identical content is essential.

Final Words

Soft 404 errors are pretty strange, and the cause of it is not always clear. However, with a bit of 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. If you want to know more about SEO tools like Google Search Console, SEMrush, Ahrefs, etc, Contact our SEO Consultants today!!