What are soft 404 errors


Soft 404 errors occur when a webpage returns a ‘not found’ status code, but the content exists. In this brief introduction, we’ll explore what soft 404 errors are, how they differ from regular 404 errors, and whether they can impact your website’s rankings in search engine results. Understanding these errors is crucial for maintaining a healthy website and ensuring optimal visibility online.

What are Soft 404 Errors  In SEO?  

Soft 404 errors occur when a web server returns a page that resembles a valid webpage but lacks the actual content users are looking for, leading to confusion and potential issues with search engine indexing. Instead of the standard 404 “Not Found” error, the server responds with a different status code, often a 200 “OK” status code, and the page content typically contains messaging such as “Page Not Found” or “No Results Found,” which can mislead users into thinking that the page exists when it does not. These errors can negatively impact user experience and confuse search engine crawlers, potentially affecting a website’s rankings.

How Do Soft 404 Errors Affect Rankings?  

Soft 404 errors can adversely affect a website’s rankings by misleading search engines and impacting user experience. When search engine crawlers encounter soft 404 errors, they may incorrectly interpret the relevance and existence of pages, leading to improper indexing or even de-indexing of important content. Additionally, users may become frustrated or confused when they encounter soft 404 pages, which can result in higher bounce rates and reduced engagement metrics. As a result, websites with numerous 404 soft errors may experience decreased visibility and lower rankings in search engine results pages. Let’s have a look at how soft 404 errors affect rankings:

  • Indexing Issues 

Soft 404 errors can lead to indexing issues as search engines may incorrectly interpret these pages as valid content . This could result in improper indexing or de-indexing of important pages. This can diminish a website’s visibility in search results and hinder users from finding relevant information.

  • User Experience 

Encountering soft 404 pages can frustrate users and diminish their experience on a website. High bounce rates and decreased engagement metrics resulting from user confusion can signal to search engines that the site may not be providing valuable content, potentially lowering its rankings in search results.

  • Crawl Efficiency 

Search engine crawlers may expend resources crawling and re-crawling soft 404 pages, reducing the efficiency of the crawling process. This inefficiency can impact the timely indexing of other critical content on the website. Resulting in hindering its visibility in search results.

  • Keyword Relevance

Soft 404 errors can dilute the keyword relevance of a website by associating irrelevant or empty pages with targeted keywords research checklist. This misrepresentation can confuse search engines about the website’s content, affecting its rankings for relevant search queries.

  • Link Equity  

Links pointing to soft 404 pages may not effectively pass link equity, diminishing the overall authority and trustworthiness of the website in the eyes of search engines. This can weaken the website’s ability to rank well in search results and compete with other websites in the same niche.

  • Algorithmic Penalties 

Websites with a high number of soft 404 errors may trigger algorithmic penalties from search engines, leading to further drops in rankings and visibility. These penalties can be difficult to recover from and may require extensive efforts to rectify.

  • Competitive Disadvantage

Websites with fewer soft 404 errors are likely to provide a better user experience and more accurately represent their content to search engines. This gives them a competitive advantage in rankings, as they are more likely to rank higher in search results. Also, attract more organic traffic compared to websites with numerous soft 404 errors.

Does Soft 404 Affect SEO?  

Soft 404 errors can have a significant impact on the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) performance of a website. While they might not be as obvious as traditional 404 errors, soft 404s can still disrupt a site’s crawlability and indexing by search engines, ultimately affecting its visibility and ranking in search results.

  • Crawlability Impact 

Soft 404 errors disrupt search engine crawlers’ ability to accurately index website content, as these errors confuse crawlers about the existence and relevance of pages. Consequently, search engines may incorrectly assess the content’s significance or even exclude pages from search results, hindering the website’s overall visibility and traffic potential.

  • UserExperience Impact

Soft 404 errors lead to a poor user experience by frustrating visitors who expect relevant content but encounter error pages instead. This dissatisfaction can prompt users to quickly leave the site, resulting in higher bounce rates. Such negative user signals indirectly indicate to search engines that the page lacks value to users, potentially impacting its ranking and SEO performance.

  • Loss of Page Authority and Ranking

Frequent soft 404 errors can erode search engines’ trust in a website’s reliability and maintenance, leading to a loss of page authority and lower rankings in search results. Search engines may deprioritize pages with soft 404 errors, reducing their visibility and diminishing the site’s overall SEO performance.

  • Indexing Issues

Soft 404 errors impede the proper indexing of new or updated content by search engines, limiting its visibility in search results. This indexing barrier prevents valuable content from reaching its intended audience, adversely affecting the website’s SEO performance and traffic potential.

  • Negative Signals to Search Engines

The presence of soft 404 errors sends negative signals to search engines about the website’s quality and reliability. Search engines may interpret these errors as signs of poor maintenance or user experience. As a result, potentially penalizing the site by lowering its ranking in search results.

  • Difficulty in Identifying and Resolving Issues

Soft 404 errors can be challenging to identify and resolve at times. As they may not be explicitly labeled as errors by website monitoring tools. Addressing these errors requires careful examination of server responses and content to ensure proper handling of non-existent pages.

Final Words

Soft 404 errors occur when a page returns a 200 OK status code despite lacking content. While they may not directly impact rankings, they can still harm user experience and indexing. Therefore, addressing 404 soft errors is crucial for maintaining website quality and potentially improving SEO performance. For more detail contact Ultimate seo help today!

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.  

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. 


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:

  1. 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. 

  1. 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. 

  1. Redirect URLs

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. 

  1. 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. 

  1. 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. 

 Final Words 

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!!