Soft 404 Errors In Search Console: What They Are and How to Find Them

Brandon LazovicMay 3, 2021

What are soft 404 errors and what do they have to do with search engine optimization? In this article, we will answer that question as well as talk about how you can find them on your website and how to fix them. 

What Is A Soft 404 Error? 

Soft 404s happen when the web server cannot find the requested resource or file. This causes an error message to pop up instead of a page for visitors to see. You don't want these errors because they affect your search engine optimization by not providing valuable content for Google's crawlers and it frustrates visitors who click on links expecting something different than what is actually there. 

Difference Between 404 Not Found and Soft 404 Errors

When the web server can't find what it's looking for, there are two possible errors that will happen. The first type is a 404 Not Found error which means that the file or resource was never created in the first place or has been deleted since then. A soft 404 error occurs when what you're looking for is still on your site but not where Googlebot thought it would be.

Why 404 Errors Are Bad For SEO

404 Errors are bad for SEO for a number of reasons.  First, they make it more difficult for Google or other search engines to find what you're looking for and that can negatively impact the way your site is ranked. Second, not only does a 404 error discourage visitors who are trying to get something from your website but also takes them away from where they came in on which means fewer opportunities for conversions. Thirdly, because of all this frustration with these errors people might start avoiding your website altogether meaning no traffic at all- sounds like a recipe for failure!

It can also harm what is known as your website's crawl budget. Google only has a finite number of resources to crawl and index the millions of web pages out there on the internet. After a while of crawling your website, Google will reach its "crawl budget" and stop crawling your other site pages.

If you're wasting crawl budget by directing Google to 404 error pages, this can lead to new or important pages on your site not being crawled, indexed, or ranked on Google.

How To Find Soft 404 Errors

Google Webmaster Tools is a great place to start. All you need to do is log in and click on "Crawl" then under Crawl Stats, select 404 Errors from the drop-down menu. This will show how many times Google has found an error message that we can't find any webpage for at all (404).

Another way to check your website's soft 404 errors are by using Screaming Frog SEO Spider which can quickly crawl through your site as well as analyze it thoroughly - even checking what pages have been indexed or not! After running this analysis, make sure to open up the HTML Code tab where there should be a list of URLs with status code 200 but no content.

How To Fix Soft 404 Errors On Your Website

Fixing soft 404 errors on your website is easier than it sounds. We'll walk through a few reasons why your website may have soft 404 errors and provide solutions on how to fix them, depending on the root cause.

404 Page Is Returning A 200 HTTPS Status Code

A page that isn't found is still returning a 200 HTTPs status code, which is a confusing signal to Google's search crawlers because it's telling them that the page still exists.

To fix this, simply return a 404 or 410 HTTPs status code to inform Google that the page has been permanently deleted.

Thin Content Issues

One way to create a soft 404 error is if you have thin content on your website. Thin content can be anything from spammy blog posts or pages with only images and no text, for example. There isn't enough content on the page to signal to Google that it's either valuable.

To fix the problem, try adding more unique content that provides value to users and search engine crawlers alike.

301 Redirect Isn’t Relevant

Another common way to create a soft 404 error is if you 301 redirect a page that's no longer relevant or active. For example, if you once had an entire blog post talking about the best places in California to visit and now it only has one sentence on what they are, then Google will think this content was never important for users to see because of how outdated it seems.

This also happens if the page you're redirecting to isn't relevant or similar to the old page. So if you have an article on the best places in California to visit, but you're redirecting users to a page about credit cards, this isn't a 1:1 301 redirect, so Google will consider the old page to be a soft 404.

To fix the problem, make sure your website is updated with fresh new content so readers don't feel like their time reading through something old. You can also consider removing any redirection links from pages that don't have a relevant page to drive users to, or create a new page that is relevant.

Google Is Mistaking The Page For 404 Error

This may happen if the verbiage on your web page has 404-like messaging. So in the case of an e-commerce website, using verbiage like "out of stock" or "not available" may signal to Google that the web page is actually a 404 "not found" because the inventory doesn't exist.

The fix to this is to update the content to avoid these types of phrases.

Blocking Google Access

If certain aspects of the website are blocked or not properly rendered by Google, such as Javascript or CSS files, then Google may mistake the page for not having content because it isn't able to see these coding elements.

Make sure that your Javascript / CSS files are being crawled / rendered by Google - one way to check is to use Google's URL inspection tool in Search Console to identify any potential issues  in this regard.

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