As your physical business needs maintenance from time to time so does your virtual presence. You need to remove stale web pages and content from time to time. If not, the page may be listed in search results, and search engines will continue trying to crawl that non-existent URL instead of spending time crawling your real pages.
Even if your website is returning the visitor with an error page, it still needs to return the right error code to let search crawlers know to ignore the page. Or, you have deleted an old page and you redirected it to a new page that isn’t relevant to what the original content was on the old page.
Before discussing any further let’s first know what is 404 and soft 404 error?
404 response code simply means “page not found”, in case a visitor tries to open a page that no longer exists on your website the server will respond to it by returning an HTTP 404 response code or you can form a custom “page not found” page that indicates both the visitor and the search engine crawler that the page you are looking for no longer exists. Thus, search engine crawlers don’t bother to crawl this page.
Now let’s discuss soft 404 if you think that soft 404 is soft and won’t harm much then don’t let the name fool you. This soft 404 is much harder on your website than hard 404. A “soft” 404 error happens when the wrong code (often the 200-response code) is returned by your server when someone tries to access a page that no longer exists on your site.
Reasons to show soft 404 –
- Some servers that are poorly configured and their missing page loads a 200 code when it should display a 404-response code.
- Pages having small content or almost similar pages on a website also triggers the Soft 404 result page.
- An error in the link, directing users to a page that doesn’t exist.
- A link going to a page that used to exist and suddenly disappeared.
Can soft 404 errors harm SEO?
Yes, soft 404 is harmful to your SEO as search engines won’t like to go through dead links. In the case of soft 404 errors, these can be extra confusing for search engines because the expected result is different from the actual result. By telling the search engines that the page is real, it will get crawled and might end up in the search results. In that case, the search engine will not give you prominence in the search engine result page.
How to find soft 404 errors?
You can find soft 404 errors in your search console coverage report.
How can a soft 404 page be fixed?
It totally depends on the cause of 404 and what exactly you want your page to do. Having more 404 pages is also not advisable as it creates a bad impression both on search engines as well as visitors. But in case you have 404 pages on your website the least you should do is make sure the page with errors always sends the correct status code.
- If a page is deleted permanently and doesn’t exist give it a 404 (not found) or 410 (content deleted) and make sure you have a great 404 page.
- You might be getting soft 404 because of the thin content on your website, to fix that give it some solid, relevant content to show search engines that this page has value.
- In case the page moved to a new URL, give it 301 redirection that is permanent redirection to the relevant page.
- In case you want to keep the page but don’t want the google to index it but no-index.
Keep one thing in mind and that is site maintenance is important, keep tracking your website time to time and maintain your website as such it has a great impact both on user and search engine.