Understanding Soft 404 Errors in Google Search Console & How to Solve Them

Last Updated: 11 Jul, 2024

Understanding soft 404 errors is crucial for website owners. Unlike a standard 404 error, which indicates that a page is missing, a soft 404 occurs when a page returns a “200 OK” status code but displays a message saying the content is not found. This discrepancy can lead to confusion both for search engines and users. In this article, we’ll delve into what soft 404 errors are, why they occur, and how to resolve them effectively, sharing you with the knowledge to manage your website more effectively.

What Are Soft 404 Errors?

Soft 404 errors occur when a webpage returns a “200 OK” HTTP status code despite not displaying the content the user expected. Instead, these pages might show a “not found” message, a thin content page, or even a redirect to a different page. This confuses search engines, leading them to flag these pages as soft 404 errors.

How Google Identifies Soft 404 Errors

Google Search Console identifies soft 404 errors by analyzing the content of your pages. If Googlebot finds that the content is minimal, irrelevant, or non-existent but receives a “200 OK” status code, it considers this a soft 404 error. This can negatively impact your site’s SEO as Google may deindex these pages or reduce their ranking, believing they offer a poor user experience. The urgency of addressing these issues cannot be overstated, as they directly affect your site’s performance and user satisfaction.

Common Causes of Soft 404 Errors

Several scenarios can lead to soft 404 errors:

  1. Thin Content: Pages with very little content, such as placeholder pages, can trigger soft 404 errors.
  2. Improper Redirects: Redirecting users to irrelevant pages or homepages without appropriate status codes can cause these errors.
  3. Error Messages on 200 Pages: Displaying “not found” messages on pages that return a “200 OK” status code.

How to Identify Soft 404 Errors

Identifying soft 404 errors is straightforward using Google Search Console. Here’s how to find them:

  1. Access Google Search Console: Log in and select your website property.
  2. Open the Coverage Report: Navigate to the “Coverage” report under the “Index” section.
  3. Check for Soft 404 Errors: Look for any listings under the “Soft 404” category. Google will provide a list of URLs it considers to be soft 404s.
soft 404 Understanding Soft 404 Errors in Google Search Console & How to Solve Them

How to Resolve Soft 404 Errors

Resolving soft 404 errors requires a strategic approach, focusing on providing a clear and accurate response for each type of error. Here are effective strategies to tackle these issues:

1) Improving Content Quality

If your pages are flagged due to thin content, the solution is to enhance the content quality. Ensure that each page provides substantial, relevant information that meets user expectations. Here are some tips:

  • Detailed Content: Expand the information on your pages with detailed text, images, and multimedia where appropriate.
  • User Intent: Align the content with what users are likely looking for when they visit the page.
  • Regular Updates: Keep the content updated to maintain relevance and usefulness.

2) Correcting Improper Redirects

Improper redirects often contribute to soft 404 errors. Here’s how to address them:

  • 301 Redirects: Use 301 redirects for permanently moved pages. This tells search engines and users that the content has a new permanent location.
  • Relevant Redirects: Ensure the redirected page is highly relevant to the original URL. Avoid redirecting to unrelated pages or the homepage.

3) Handling Non-Existent Pages Properly

For pages that no longer exist, it’s crucial to handle them appropriately to avoid soft 404 errors:

  • Custom 404 Pages: Create custom 404 pages that provide helpful navigation options and maintain a good user experience. Include links to important sections of your site.
  • 301 Redirects: Implement 301 redirects to relevant, similar pages when possible, ensuring users and search engines are directed to useful content instead of hitting a dead end.
  • 410 Gone Status Code: Use the 410 Gone status code for pages that have been permanently removed, which indicates to search engines that the content is intentionally and permanently unavailable.

Monitoring and Maintenance to Avoid Soft 404 in the Future

To prevent recurring soft 404 errors, it’s important to take a proactive approach and continuously monitor and maintain your website. Conduct regular site audits using tools like Google Search Console, Screaming Frog, or other SEO audit tools. Make sure that all internal links lead to valid, existing pages, and promptly fix or remove any broken links. By staying on top of these issues, you can maintain a healthy, user-friendly website and avoid potential SEO and user experience pitfalls. 

Additionally, consider user feedback; if users report issues finding content, investigate and resolve potential causes of soft 404 errors.

Conclusion

While less noticeable than traditional 404 errors, soft 404 errors can significantly impact your website’s SEO and user experience. By understanding what causes these errors and implementing the strategies discussed, you can effectively resolve and prevent soft 404 errors. Regular monitoring, quality content, proper redirects, and appropriate handling of non-existent pages are essential to maintaining a healthy, user-friendly website. Addressing these issues improves your site’s search engine ranking and enhances the overall user experience, driving better engagement and satisfaction.

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