How Soft 404 Errors Impact SEO


Understanding Soft 404 Errors and Their Impact on SEO

One often overlooked issue that can significantly affect a website’s performance in search engine rankings is the occurrence of soft 404 errors. Partnering with Now Media Group, a leader in digital marketing solutions, can help you understand what soft 404 errors are, how they differ from hard 404 errors, and their impact on SEO. This knowledge is essential to ensure a smooth, user-friendly online presence.

Speak to one of our SEO specialists today to protect your search engine rankings by calling (858) 333-8950. 

What Are Soft 404 Errors?

A soft 404 error occurs when a web server returns a page that appears valid but contains a “Not Found” message or is otherwise empty. Unlike a hard 404 error, which returns an HTTP status code of 404 indicating the page does not exist, a soft 404 error returns a status code of 200, indicating the page was found. This discrepancy can confuse search engines and users, leading to a suboptimal user experience.

How Soft 404 Errors Occur

Soft 404 errors can happen for several reasons:

  • Incorrect Redirects: Redirecting non-existent pages to irrelevant content instead of a proper 404 page.
  • Empty Pages: Returning an empty or nearly empty page for a non-existent URL.
  • Error Handling: Poorly configured error handling that displays a “Not Found” message without the appropriate 404 status code.

The Impact of Soft 404 Errors on SEO

SEO analytics chartCrawling and Indexing Issues

Search engines like Google rely on proper status codes to understand the structure and content of a website. When a soft 404 error is encountered, search engines may continue to index these non-existent pages, wasting valuable crawl budget and potentially leading to the indexing of irrelevant or low-quality content. This can dilute the overall quality of the indexed pages, negatively impacting the site’s ranking.

User Experience Concerns

Soft 404 errors can lead to a poor user experience. When users click on a link expecting relevant content but land on an empty or misleading page, their trust in the website can diminish. High bounce rates and low engagement metrics resulting from soft 404 errors can signal to search engines that the site offers a subpar user experience, further harming SEO performance.

Loss of Link Equity

External links pointing to non-existent pages that return a soft 404 error can result in the loss of valuable link equity. Instead of passing authority to a relevant page, the link equity is wasted on a non-existent page, reducing the overall authority and website ranking potential.

How to Identify and Fix Soft 404 Errors

Using Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a powerful tool for identifying soft 404 errors. Under the “Coverage” report, webmasters can find pages that Google has flagged as soft 404s. This report provides insights into which pages are affected and allows webmasters to take corrective actions.

Proper Error Handling

Implementing proper error handling is crucial for avoiding soft 404 errors. Ensure that non-existent pages return an HTTP status code of 404 or 410. Custom 404 pages that are user-friendly and informative can also help improve the user experience.

Redirect Management

When dealing with redirects, ensure they lead to relevant content. For example, if a page no longer exists, redirecting to a closely related page or a category page can be more beneficial than a generic homepage redirect. Avoid using redirects for pages that should return a 404 status.

Regular Auditsdata analytics

Conduct regular website audits to identify and fix soft 404 errors promptly. Using tools like Screaming Frog, Ahrefs, or SEMrush can help in identifying these issues and maintaining a healthy website.

Proactively Manage Soft 404 Errors for Optimal SEO Performance

Soft 404 errors, while less obvious than their hard 404 counterparts, can significantly impact a website’s SEO performance. By understanding what soft 404 errors are, and their potential impacts on crawling, indexing, user experience, and link equity, you can take proactive steps to identify and fix these errors.

If you’re looking to optimize your website and tackle SEO challenges like soft 404 errors, partner with Now Media Group. Contact us today by calling (858) 333-8950 to learn how our team can help enhance your site’s performance and improve your search engine rankings.

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