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Soft 404 Errors and how to fix them

If you've ever journeyed through the web, you have probably encountered a Soft 404 error. While very common, this error can be confusing, so let's learn more about 404 errors so we can learn how to fix them:

There are Regular 404 errors and Soft 404 errors. A regular 404 error is when a page is not available and the server sends the status code - 404 NOT Found to the browser informing that this page can not be found. A soft 404 error happens when the server sends a 200 OK status for the requested page, but Google treats such a page as Soft 404. 

Google says: “A soft 404 error is when a URL returns a page telling the user that the page does not exist and is also a 200 (success) status code. In some cases, it might be a page with no main content or an empty page”

Common reasons why Soft 404 Errors appear: 

  1. Thin or no content. When there is very little content, it is often referred to as 'thin content.' When content is completely missing, the server will still respond with a 200 OK code, however, search engines treat such pages as soft 404s. For example, there could be a product page without a product description, or a blog post that is too short, leading users to bounce out of the website.
  2. Wrong redirects. This happens when a page has been deleted but redirects to another but irrelevant page. It's important to properly manage redirects so the user is redirected to the appropriate and correct content.
  3. Automatically generated pages, or dynamic pages. This occurs with websites that create their content based on what users search for. Other factors might cause a site to show pages with nothing on them. For example, you might get a search page that says there aren't any results.
  4. Placeholder Content or Temporary Content. If temporary pages are not blocked from being indexed and have little or no content, they might be treated as soft 404s.

How to find Soft 404 Errors

The best way to find the soft4 404 error is to use Google Search Console, just go to the Pages and click the Not Indexed tab:

Screenshot of Google Search Console displaying not indexed pages

Click Soft 404: 

Screenshot of Google Search Console displaying soft 404 pages

And you will see all urls that returning soft 404 errors: 

Screenshot of Google Search Console displaying a list of soft 404 pages

How to Fix Soft 404 Errors

There are a few solutions to Soft 404 Errors:

    1. If the page is no longer available: If the page doesn’t exist, set up a proper 404 or 410 response code. This way, both users and search engines will see that the page no longer exists.
    2. If the page is available - improve the content: If a page from your website appears in search results but is considered 'thin' content by Googlebot, it may trigger a soft 404 error. To fix this, work on improving the page's content so that it's valuable for users and long enough.
    3. If the page has been relocated to a new address: Redirect the page using 301 redirects to its new location, and make sure all internal links lead users directly to the right URLs.
    4. If you need the page but don’t want it to be indexed by Google: implement a “no-index” tag. Using a no-index tag tells search engines not to include a page in their search results. You should do this when you think a page might not meet search engines' quality standards. 

In summary, dealing with Soft 404 errors is a typical hurdle for website owners. By promptly tackling these issues and applying suitable solutions, website owners can boost their site's performance and maintain a strong online presence.


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