Soft 404 on your 404 page

Getting Soft 404 Errors on Your 404 Page?
Here’s Why and How to Fix It

Soft 404 errors can hurt your SEO and reduce organic traffic —especially if you have many of them. Fixing those errors may
get you a dramatic traffic boost.

And custom 404 pages present an excellent opportunity to increase user retention rates by re-engaging hard-to-get traffic that
you may lose otherwise.

In this short article, you’ll discover:
• What soft 404 errors are.
• Why you get soft 404 errors.
• How to find soft 404 errors using Google Search Console.
• How to benefit from a 404 page.

Soft 404 on your 404 page

What soft 404 errors are

Here is the Google definition of what a soft 404 error is: “A soft 404 means that a URL on your site returns a page telling the user that the page does not exist and also a 200-level (success) code to the
browser.”

So you’ve got a page on your site that tells the user it doesn’t exist AND tells Google that it does exist at the same time.

That’s confusing for your user and confusing for Google.

Google cherishes speed, so it only allocates a certain amount of crawl time to each website. If Google spends precious crawl time dealing with pages that return a soft 404 error, it has less time to crawl your other, more critical pages —pages that contain your posts or
products.

To fix 404 issues, you have three choices:

  1. Display a cute, informational, custom 404 error page to the user.
  2. Use a 301 redirect. Make sure the 301 redirects to a relevant page. For example, if the original page contained information
    about barbecue grills, redirect to a page about barbecue grills, not your homepage.
  3. Set the page to noindex using a plugin like Yoast, SEO Press, or All In One SEO.

Soft 404 errors are a little different.

404 page

Why you get soft 404 errors

You get soft 404 errors in the following situations.

Problem: You create a new tag in WordPress but haven’t assigned any post to it.
Solution: Use a 401 or 410 response code and a custom 404 page that contains links to popular pages, posts, or similar products.

Problem: The user lands on a page that no longer exists and is automatically redirected to your homepage.
Solution: Give the page a 404 or 410 designation and redirect users to a page that is relevant to search results instead of redirecting
to your homepage.

Problem: An item has been discontinued or is no longer available, so the page displays a notice, “Sorry, this product is no
longer available.”

Solution: The page’s content is too thin or has too many images and not enough text. Add relevant content, CTAs, or links to
similar products.

How to find soft 404 errors using
Google Search Console

You can easily find soft 404 errors by searching your site using Google Search Console.

  1. Go to your Google Search Console.
  2. In the upper left corner, select the site you want to check. If you
    don’t see the site, you may have to add and verify your site.
  3. In the left-hand menu, click on Coverage. You’ll see a list of errors.

In Google Search Console, you’ll sometimes get soft 404 errors on your custom 404 pages. This is usually because the custom 404 page’s content is too light or redirects to a page that is irrelevant to the original search term.

Soft 404 on your 404 page
Soft 404 on your 404 page

How to use 404 errors to your advantage

404 pages are often mundane, lifeless, and underutilized. Using them creatively enables you to retain traffic that you would lose otherwise, boosting engagement and sales. Creating a custom 404 page brings many benefits.

You can:

  1. Capture misguided traffic and direct it back to valuable content.
  2. Display a humorous image or GIF to ease frustration and make your site more human.
  3. Include CTAs to products, popular posts, or promotions that lost users may find valuable.

Here is a free, funny 404 GIF from Giphy to give you ideas. Build your links and CTAs around a GIF (or image like it) when you create custom 404 pages.

Cleaning up soft 404 errors and using custom 404 pages can help you regain lost traffic and give your organic traffic a healthy boost because search engines will better utilize crawl time. It’s well worth your effort.

Farewell Media, headquartered in beautiful Bend, Oregon offers expert Website Development services for Small Businesses in Bend and central Oregon. Learn about our website design packages, WordPress hosting and other services designed to help grow your business.

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