When it comes to on-page technical aspects, fixing 404 pages is a common practice. Even if you are not actively involved in the SEO activities, you must have heard that 404 pages are bad for SEO. This is because these are the missing pages and. when a visitor clicks on it, they find nothing but a response code saying 404.
Going a little bit deeper into this, each page that is loading in your browser returns a response code along with the HTTPS protocol. And, the codes that come between 400 to 499, simply mean, the resource has failed to load. The talking specifically about 404 response, means that the page is permanently gone and it will show up anytime. But, the main question is if 404 means a missing page then what a soft-404 mean, and what does it mean.
Understand What Exactly Is A Soft-404:
A soft 404 error isn’t an official response code sent to a web browser. It’s just a label that Google adds to a page within their index.
Technically, a soft 404 is not any kind of official response from the web servers, it’s a custom code that Google attaches within their indexation process. Google and other search bots are very advanced and they make sure that their time is not wasted by unnecessarily crawling missing pages.
There are a lot of servers that are not configured with the best practices and their missing resources show a 200 code when they should show the 404 error. And, if the HTTP shows a 200 code even after knowing that it should be a 4040, such pages get indexed and the crawl budget is wasted.
Google and other search engines also try to resolve by issue while trying different ways to find out if a page is actually 404 or it’s not being able to load properly. Google tries to match the pre-available 404 characteristics with the soft-404 to make a final decision.
Misidentified Scenario Of A Soft 404 Error:
There are many cases where the pages are not actually 404 or missing but the bots have mistakenly put certain pages into the 404 categories. Thin content, smaller page, or a lot of similar looks pages are some of the key reasons behind the misidentified 404 errors.
Soft 404 Due To Linking Errors:
If you find that the error is caused by a missing page, then it’s important to replace the link with a working one. But the challenging thing is to find multiple links that are having 404 or either soft-404 errors. To find this, you need to use any website crawling tool and check out the status of your site. If the site is having thousands of pages, then finding and collecting them will take a little more time.
If The Page Is No Longer Available:
Another major factor in 404 vs. Soft 404 Errors is the non-availability of a resource page. If a page has been removed from the website or has moved to another location, you to fix them as well. To fix these 404 pages, you have two options to go for. First, you can upload a new page on the same URL destination.
And on the other side, if the page is removed by you, then you need to use 301 permanent redirects. By applying redirects, you will not lose SEO rankings and the user experience will also be maintained.
In case if you have migrated the website to a new CRM, make sure there are no 404 pages that later hurt the SEO in the long run. If you don’t have an in-house SEO team, it’s highly recommended to hire a professional SEO company and perform a comprehensive technical audit.
Managing Orphaned Pages:
Orphaned pages are those old pages that might get removed during the redesign but external links from other websites might be still linking to them. In this condition, if anyone clicks on that link, it will land upon a 404 page. It becomes important to fix these orphaned pages to make sure there are none 404 pages. For finding such pages, third-party link audit tools may not be enough. You need to use tools like Google Search Console or run a “Site:” operator command to find those pages.
But if the website has thousands of pages, then it might take a lot of time to fix on your own. In such scenarios, it’s better to hire a good SEO Packages that can do this for you. After knowing all the factors, it’s important to know what are some ways to avoid soft 404 and avoid getting any penalty.
Fixing The Thin Content On Pages:
Sometimes, pages with very little content are marked with a soft-404 and you need to use website crawling tools to find them out. A crawling tool will give you a complete list of pages that are indexed along with their word count. You need to figure out which pages are having thin content and you need to add more content to those pages.
Fixing Duplicate Content:
There are several reasons search bots can mark certain page content as duplicate and might not index them. To avoid such conditions, you need to check pages if they are having nearly similar content. If you found such identical pages, make sure you are fixing them by changing the content. Once you do this, soft-404 errors will be resolved as the pages will get crawled with new and better content.
Your site may have pages that are based on topics that have very little to say and that’s why the content is low on those pages. To fix such an issue, you need to consolidate such topics and create single pages for them. Consolidation will remove the problem of thin content and protect the site from throwing any soft-404 error.
These were some common differences between 404 vs. Soft 404 Errors. To keep the SEO sound, you need to make sure the site is having no such URLs and every important page is crawled by search engines.