Are soft 404 errors killing your website SEO?
Technical errors like soft 404 errors could be undermining your entire website SEO effort, don’t lose your rankings to a technical error.
It is possible for you to have a completely functional website, neat content and attractive layout and not feature on the first page of the SERP. There are quite a few places where you can be losing your optimization efforts; such as soft 404 errors. In fact, one of the biggest technical errors that most SEOs face is the 404 error.
What are soft 404 errors?
Soft 404 errors are a misnomer since they send out the strongest negative signals on behalf of your website. When a user tries to access a web page on your domain that returns the message that it does not exist, it is a 404 error. This is a classic response with a 200 OK HTTP response code.
This just means the website is saying that the URL is not broke. It indicates a fruitful and complete HTTP request. This also shows a serious user experience. All sites that return soft 404 errors face severe SEO issues as well.
What are hard 404 errors?
A hard 404 error is the most common 404. You may have already faced one since the morning. This one tells the user that the search engine can not access or find the page. This may be because the page does not exist at all. Hard 404s are very annoying for you as a user since you cannot find the page or information you are looking for. However, 404s are not always the site or host’s fault. If a user types an address wrong, he will receive a hard 404 as well. Therefore, they do not send out as strong a negative signal as the soft 404s out there.
The relationship of 404 and page indexing
Google bots are busy bots. They can dedicate only a limited amount of time per domain before they can move on to the next one. When your website gives out 404 errors, these bots interpret them as unique pages you want to be displayed. Therefore, these bots are spending unnecessary time on soft 404s that require no indexing. This is your website’s crawl budget.
The page you want the bots to crawl and index, take longer to rank. Bots spend so much time trying to make sense of your soft 404s; they reach the meaningful content way later. You need to ensure; your bots reach your target keywords fast. These 404s act as speed bumps and dead-ends for the Google bots. If you have an incredibly high portion of 404 pages, you will find yourself ranking for terms that hardly make any sense in your niche.
What is the effect of 404 on SEO?
Soft 404 will limit the number of pages bots can index at one go. When they finally reach these pages, they will not be able to invest as much time. This will have a negative impact on your website SEO. The bots will end up wasting time with useless soft 404 errors when they could have been updating real content.
Every time Google bots crawl your pages, they update Google of all the changes made and update the newest versions of your pages. Therefore, if you include much 404s on your domains, the bots will list them as updated versions of your pages as well. The presence of a vast number of 404 soft errors automatically means you will not be able to enjoy the perks of those expertly crafted SEO-friendly blogs and web pages.
How does Google see soft 404s?
Google has always been the maverick. Just when you settle down to the new rules, Google goes on ahead and sets its own. The latest bit from the Webmaster Central Blog states that Google does not like soft 404s at all. They can confuse readers and search engines. It is like following an address that does not exist. These are the proverbial 221B Baker Streets of the web.
In the case of subdomains and subfolders, the rules and guidelines are not as clear. You should always steer clear of any 404s in the domains. Soft 404s are very confusing since they do not always tell users that “The Page does not Exist.” A soft 404 will redirect the user to a homepage or show related pages that aren’t relevant to the user’s search. This is indeed very frustrating for someone looking through a website for particular information.
How to deal with non-existent pages?
One effective way to deal with pages that do not exist anymore is to use a redirect. Google does not have a penchant for redirects, especially if they are pile together. However, on redirect does not make much of a difference.
If you are not planning to refurbish the page or if it is a traffic dampener, you may want to delete the page completely. Get it off your sitemap for good. If you have a valuable link to another website, you may want to reconsider removing the site. In this case, a 301 is highly useful. You can use the 301 code to bring your user to a new page with the high-value link juice.
Do not turn all your 404s to 301s. It is smart as long as a replacement is available. If you have no replacement pages, it will be an SEO-fiend.
You can check for soft 404s very quickly by using the Google Webmaster Tools or the Google Search Console. This will give you access to Crawl Errors and detailed diagnostic analysis. The report will provide you with a list of URLs that Google thinks are soft 404s. Sometimes, pages returning 200 OK response come off as 404 errors. This is misdiagnosis on Google’s part. You should have the page indexed again to avoid all confusion.
Today, some tools will help you fix all kinds of errors including 404s. You can use Fetch as Google or HTTP Status Code Checker to get an idea about your website’s 404 statuses.