404 errors are the bane of webmasters, content managers, and website owners alike. It can be difficult to figure out what’s causing a 404, let alone a soft 404. Understanding the difference between a 404 and a soft 404 is key to resolving the issue and ensuring that visitors to your website have a positive experience.
In a hurry, here is a quick summary.
|Code||What is the error||How to fix it|
|404||Page doesn't exist||Fix the page, redirect with 301 or ignore|
|Soft 404||Page returns 200 header status code instead 404||Fix, show 404 status or redirect with 301|
Difference between 404s and Soft 404s
The difference between a “404 Not Found” error and a soft 404 error is the status code returned by the server.
The server returns a 404 or 410 code when a page is not found. But with a soft 404 error, although the page is still not found, the server sends a “200 OK” code which could be confusing for crawlers, as it may suggest that the page is present when it is not.
What Causes a 404 and a Soft 404?
A 404 error can happen for various reasons, such as a broken link, a deleted page, or a misconfigured URL. But the most common cause is when a website returns a “200 OK” status code for a page that doesn’t exist or has been removed. This can happen when the website is not properly configured to handle missing pages and, instead, returns a generic page with little or no content, such as an error message or a page with a “404” in the title.
If you have a custom 404 page, that page also should return the 404 header status code, not the 200 header status code.
What is the Impact of 404s and Soft 404s?
According to Google, the presence of 404 errors on some URLs of your site does not impact the performance of other URLs (those that return a 200 status code) in search results.
However, it can natively impact if the broken page ( Page with 404 error ) has many backlinks pointing to it. As backlinks are still a key ranking factor. Also, if there are internal broken links, that can hurt the user experience on your website.
Google Search Console Reporting on 404s and Soft 404s
Google Search Console can be a valuable tool for identifying 404s and soft 404s. It will provide information on any pages returning a 404 error and any pages returning a soft 404. This can help webmasters and content managers pinpoint which pages are causing the issue.
Tips to Help Fix 404s and Soft 404s
The first step to fixing 404s and soft 404s is identifying the cause. Once that is done,
- Webmasters can create 301 redirects to ensure visitors and crawlers are directed to the correct page.
- If a page has been deleted, it’s best to create a 404 page. Lastly,
- Fix any misconfigured URLs or servers to ensure that pages are correctly returning 200 codes.
Fixing 404s and soft 404s can be tedious, but it’s essential to ensure a website is functioning properly and visitors have a positive experience. Google Search Console can be a useful tool to identify the cause of 404s and soft 404s, and following the tips outlined above can help resolve the issue quickly and effectively.