Soft 404 errors are a common issue for many sites but also one that can negatively impact your SEO rankings – that’s why it’s important to stamp these errors out quickly and learn how to prevent them from popping up in the future. Luckily for you, soft 404s are an easy error to fix and an even easier one to avoid. I’ve also written a guide on redirection errors, which can provide users with a similar error, see redirection error SEO guide here.
Let’s first understand what exactly soft 404s are.
What is a soft 404 error and how is it triggered?
A soft 404 error springs up when your website tells a search engine, such as Google, that the page is valid and working (It does this by returning a success code) but at the same time, it tells visitors that the page is no longer available.
A soft 404 error can come up for other reasons too, often because the page looks broken to Google in some form or another:
- If your page has little to no content on it, search engines may believe that the page should instead be a 404 and will serve that to the user instead.
- Category pages with nothing on it are often flagged as soft 404 because they’re predominantly blank space.
- It may be the case that your website theme is creating pages by default that you don’t want to have and leaving these pages blank.
As you can imagine, none of these scenarios is great for users and search engines alike so it’s important that you fix soft 404s as soon as possible.
How to fix soft 404 errors
There are three options for fixing soft 404 errors; which method you utilise depends on what the cause of your soft 404 is:
Cause = Low content
If the page displaying the soft 404 error is short on content, a simple solution would be to beef out the page with high quality content – this would also provide value to the end user and help the page rank.
Cause = Page has been moved
If instead the page has been moved or there’s a clear replacement that can be linked to, set up a 301 permanent redirect instead.
If you use WordPress as your CMS, I’d recommend downloading the ‘Simple 301 Redirects Plugin’ – this makes the entire process easier.
Cause = Page has been deleted
If your page has actually been deleted, you should set up a proper 404 error code page – this page should tell the user something along the lines of “Sorry, we couldn’t find the page you were looking for.”
Try to make this page as useful as possible to the end user because 404 pages can be frustrating – for example, you can make recommendations of how to find what they’re looking for. Something along the lines of “We’re sorry you couldn’t find what you were looking for, try using the site search function instead” should do the job.
Need help with soft 404 errors?
If you can’t quite figure out why you have soft 404 errors popping up or would like a comprehensive technical audit to be performed on your site, fill out the contact form on the technical audit service page to get a free quotation.