What Are Soft 404s and How to Fix Them

What Are Soft 404s and How to Fix Them

Published By: Admin

Posted On: 29 Mar 2022

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Anyone who has used the internet is likely to have come across the 404: Page not found error. When a page loads on a web browser, it has a response code in the header. Typically response codes 400-499 are reserved for pages that did not load for some reason.

What is a 404?

404 is a response code that means the page is no longer available, and wont be. That said, imagine what it can do to your website. There are chances of misuse with it, warn a WordPress development company in Hyderabad.

404 errors are caused by either a link that takes the user to a page that no longer exists, or a faulty link that takes the user to a page that is not even there.

What are soft 404s?

soft 404 error

Soft 404, are responses that the page is not found, but the message is not sent by the server. Instead, it is sent by Google. The engine adds this 404 page not found to its index.

Now that is something we definitely must pay attention to!

How this happens is, Google is this giant spider crawling, indexing and saving it for searches, right? When it comes across missing pages, or pages that load poorly, or are configured badly, in order to optimise resources, it flags and indexes it as 404.

Chances are, the page may not actually be a 404 but is classified as one by google. This could potentially affect SERPs (Search engine result pages) because engines will continue to index these web-pages till they are fixed.

Difference between (Hard) 404 and Soft 404 Errors?

The difference lies in identification and classification by search engines. A hard 404 is what everyone sees – the page is not displayed or does not exist for both the user and the search engine. On the other hand, a soft 404 is what only the user sees. The search engine looks at it as a 200 OK error, meaning it is ok to crawl and index the page.

How do Soft 404 Errors Impact Site Ranking?

Yes. They do affect and impact your website’s SERP. To understand why, let us look into how a search engine actually works. Consider Google. Like explained earlier, the giant spider crawls all over the big world wide web, and uses something called a ‘crawl budget’ which is essentially a number that tells google of how popular your site is, how many requests it gets etc. What it then does is assign an index – a score on how the page must show up when a user searches for it. Now, here is where it gets slightly tricky. If out of ten pages there are 3 pages with soft 404 errors, Google will assign a lower crawl budget to your website, thus bringing down your SERP. 

Effect on UI: Another major problem with soft 404 errors is a diminished user experience, which is pretty obvious. So if there are a lot of soft 404 URLs, users would end up seeing non-existent web-pages. This increases your website bounce rate and can effect traffic, and in turn performance. 

Effect on website performance: Though soft 404 error pages are non-existent and don’t take up space as they do not have content, they do take up bandwidth. SO you would be wasting bandwidth on pages that do not add any value to your website or business performance.

Finding and fixing soft 404s:

It is easy to miss soft 404s as a website owner. But it is also easy finding and fixing them! One tool widely used in finding these is the Google search console. All you have to do is do a basic check on it here. Once you verify site ownership and follow the process through, 404 errors if any will show up. Soft 404s turn up as errors on the console. Most content management systems manage these. Even otherwise it is a simple process, says a leading web development company in Hyderabad. Target these 404s first. Now we get to fixing them.

Linking Errors:

If the cause of the soft 404 is due to a linking error, you just have to fix the links. Use a tool to find any broken or missing links and set them right. Some popular tools to find broken links are ahrefs and broken link checker.

Page That No Longer Exists:

This one is obvious. If the url is directing to a page that no longer exists and that is the cause of the 404, you could either re-direct it to the new page, or retore that page if necessary. This can be found by sifting through and finding all linking errors on the website. You could use specific tools to identify and fix these. Backlink research tools like Moz or Open Site Explorer can help. These give you a list of backlinks reported to your site. You can go through them and look for any links that need fixing.

Use crawl tools:

While you can identify potential and existing soft 404 based on the individual cause, you can also deploy a crawling tool and detect soft 404 before the search engine finds them. The crawling tool crawls the entire website, behaves like an actual search engine would and classifies 404 errors accordingly. The detection is the most important part, because once detected these issues are usually easy fixes.

To conclude…

Remember, Google treats soft 404 errors and hard 404 errors the same way. Since this effects website authority, and search engine ranking page SERP rankings, you must pay close attention to them and fix them.

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