Soft 404 errors can be a headache for website owners. These errors occur when the server returns a 200 OK status for a requested page, but Google believes it should return a 404 error. In other words, the page appears valid but needs more content or contains erroneous information. This can harm your website’s SEO and ranking. Here, we will explore the nature of soft 404 errors, their effects on your website, and, most importantly, how to fix them in an SEO-friendly manner.
Understanding Soft 404 Error
A soft 404 error occurs when Google’s crawl bots encounter a page on your website that is live and working but lacks sufficient or relevant content. Instead of receiving the appropriate error code, search engines are misled into believing the page is valid. As a result, the bots index the incorrect pages and show up in the SERPs. Google creates unique alerts called “soft 404 errors” to inform website owners of these problems instead of using the more generic “server status code 404.”
Various factors, including server issues, old links, and URL misspellings, can cause soft 404 errors. Let’s look at how these errors occur and their impact on your website’s SEO.
A webpage needs to be included
When a server encounters a missing page, it typically reroutes visitors to the homepage or a specified URL. This can cause soft 404 errors, which confuse search engines and website visitors.
Lack of content
If a page returns a 200 OK status code despite having no or very little content (also known as thin content), it can trigger a soft 404 error. This occurs when search engines expect to find relevant information on the page but are met with emptiness.
Temporary crawling issues
Temporary crawling issues can also lead to soft 404 errors. For example, the carrier may have no content if Google tries to crawl a page and encounters problems loading specific resources like CSS or JS. Consequently, Google mistakenly identifies it as a soft 404 error.
The Impact of Soft 404 Error on SEO
Unresolved soft 404 errors can have a detrimental effect on your website’s SEO and ranking. Here are a few reasons why you should address these errors promptly:
Crawl budget optimization
Google gives each website a certain amount of money called a “crawl budget” to decide how often and how much of the site’s material to crawl. When your website has numerous soft 404 errors, the crawl budget is well spent on irrelevant pages instead of being utilized for essential pages. This can result in your crucial pages being crawled less frequently, potentially reducing their visibility and negatively affecting your site’s ranking.
User experience and engagement
When users encounter links that lead to 404 errors, they may assume that the page doesn’t exist and leave your website. This can negatively impact user engagement metrics, such as bounce rate and time on site, leading to a decline in your website’s overall performance and search engine rankings.
Search engine trust and authority
Soft 404 errors can also erode your website’s trust and authority in search engine’s eyes. These errors indicate poor website maintenance and disregard for user experience, which can result in search engines ranking your website lower compared to competitors with better error handling.
Now that we understand the nature and impact of soft 404 errors let’s explore how to fix them effectively while adhering to SEO best practices.
Fixing Soft 404 Error: A Step-by-Step Approach
Fixing soft 404 errors involves a systematic approach that depends on the specific circumstances surrounding each mistake. Here are some recommended strategies for resolving soft 404 errors:
Identify soft 404 error
Google Search Console provides invaluable tools for locating and monitoring these errors. By signing up for Google Search Console and accessing the Coverage Report and URL Inspection tool, you can gain insights into the soft 404 errors affecting your website.
Set up a custom 404 page or 410 error
If a page no longer exists, it is essential to inform website visitors and search engine crawl bots. You can achieve this by setting up a custom 404 or 410 error page. A custom 404 page displays a “Page Not Found” message to users, while a 410 error page indicates that the content has been permanently removed. Using appropriate error codes ensures that visitors and search engines are aware of the situation.
Additionally, consider personalizing your 404 error page with engaging design elements to provide a positive user experience and reinforce your brand.
Revise pages with thin content.
If a page exists but still triggers a soft 404 error due to thin content, enhancing the page’s content is crucial. Add valuable and relevant information to show search engines that the page is substantive and vital. As a result, the page’s relevancy is established, and the page’s chances of performing well in search results increase.
Implement 301 redirects for relocated pages.
When a page’s URL has been changed, or the page has been moved to a new location, it is essential to set up a 301 redirect. This redirect ensures that users who access the old URL are automatically redirected to the new page. Doing so prevents users from encountering a 404 error and maintains traffic flow to the updated page.
Implementing 301 redirects promptly is crucial to minimize any negative impact on user experience and search engine rankings.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What are soft 404 error?
Soft 404 errors occur when a web page displays a “Not Found” message, but the server returns a 200 OK status code instead of the appropriate 404 error code.
2. How do soft 404 error affect SEO?
Soft 404 errors can negatively impact SEO because search engines may still index these pages as valid content. This can result in duplicate content issues and lower search rankings.
3. How can I identify soft 404 error on my website?
You can locate soft 404 errors by checking your website’s server response codes, examining your website’s crawl errors in Google Search Console, or using online tools such as Screaming Frog.
4. What are some common causes of soft 404 error?
Common causes of soft 404 errors include misconfigured server settings, incorrectly implemented redirects, and dynamically generated error pages that lack the appropriate HTTP status codes.
5. How can I fix soft 404 error?
To fix soft 404 errors, you can update your server settings to return the correct HTTP status codes for error pages, ensure that redirects are implemented correctly, and create custom error pages that indicate the page is not found. Regularly monitoring and fixing crawl errors through tools like Google Search Console can help resolve soft 404 issues.
Say Goodbye to Soft 404 Error
Soft 404 errors can be detrimental to your website’s SEO and ranking if unresolved. By understanding the nature of these errors and implementing effective fixes, you can improve your website’s crawlability, user experience, and search engine visibility. Remember to regularly monitor and address soft 404 errors to ensure that your website remains in good standing with search engines and provides a seamless browsing experience for your visitors.
Fixing soft 404 errors requires a proactive and systematic approach. By setting up custom error pages, revising pages with thin content, and implementing appropriate redirects, you can address these errors and improve your website’s overall performance.
Remember, SEO-friendly fixes for soft 404 errors are essential for maintaining a healthy website that ranks well in search engine results. Maintain vigilance and check for soft 404 errors frequently, as they can have far-reaching effects on your website’s exposure and success online.