How to fix “Soft 404” in Google Search Console

How to fix “Soft 404” in Google Search Console

Soft 404 is the status of Google Search Console. This means that some of your pages are not indexed because Google considered unavailable.

The “404 Soft” status indicates that your page is cluttering Google. Even though your server says the page is available, its content appears to be missing.

You may be dealing with rendering or redirection issues and other threats to your visibility, so you should address the issue immediately.

What is the cause of the “Soft 404” status?

The name of the case refers to the 404 error that you encounter whenever you want to visit a page that has been removed. But it’s completely different. Let’s start by explaining what status codes are and how 404 differs from them.

Servers communicate with crawlers and browsers through status codes. When you can view a page without any problems, the server will most likely respond to your browser request with a status code of 200.

An illustration of how the server communicates with clients,

There are also several status codes that indicate possible errors, due to which the server cannot grant you access to the page. The 404 status code is one of them. This means that The page is not available because the server could not find it.

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Google does not index 404 pages because they provide no value to users.

An illustration of how the server communicates with clients

The Soft 404 does not occur, however, when the server responds with a 404 error. Google ranks pages as soft 404s when they meet two conditions:

  • It seems that its content is missing however
  • The server still responds with a status code of 200.

In other words, Google believes that the given URL should return a 404 status code even though a 200 response has been provided. On this basis, it concludes that the page should not be indexed.

How to fix the “Soft 404” status

You can find your pages affected by the “404 Soft” status in the Page Indexing report. It’s easy to access from the left navigation bar in Google Search Console.

Screenshot showing where to find soft 404 errors in Google Search Console.

You can get more information about these pages by clicking on the status name. It will display a graph showing how the number of affected pages has changed over time and the list of URLs. You can export the list using the button in the upper right corner.

Screenshots showing how to navigate the report in soft 404s.

Let me guide you through the possible causes of the “Soft 404” status and ways to fix it.

Ensure that pages that do not exist return a 404 status code

Many websites provide custom 404 pages that, rather than just reporting an error, help users navigate to the information they need and encourage them to explore the field. Sometimes the process gets messy when left unattended, and these pages return a 200 HTTP status code.

This is bad for SEO because 200 blank pages cause Google to waste their crawl budget. The solution to this problem is to configure your server to return the correct status code for non-existent pages (even if they are customized) – 404 Not Found.

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Avoid redirecting to irrelevant pages

When you encounter a lot of outdated or empty pages, you may be tempted to redirect them all to one common place, such as your home page. However, this solution is not useful from the point of view of your website visitors.

When you encounter this type of redirect, Google may classify it as a soft 404. To solve this problem, stick to stricter rules while creating redirects:

  • keep redirects relevant,
  • When you don’t find another that matches the user’s intent, set up a 404 page instead of a redirect.

Avoid pages with little or no content

A good example of a page with little or no content is a blank catalog page on an e-commerce website where products come in and out frequently. Google will probably classify it as a soft 404.

Thin content pages are not useful to users and pose threats to your SEO, such as:

  • wasted crawl budget,
  • convincing Google that your entire website lacks quality, which may discourage Google from crawling your website more often,
  • Lower ratings after manual procedure for thin content.

Pages with little or no content are best prevented from being indexed using the noindex meta tag. It’s also a good idea to review the structure of your site and consider which product categories are not working and not in demand.

Be wary of 404-like words

Google’s algorithms are not perfect and may misidentify a page if it contains words that would normally appear on a typical 404 page. This might happen, for example, on e-commerce sites when a product page uses terms such as:

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  • “out of stock”
  • “The product is not available”
  • “We do not deliver to your location.”

You can try to troubleshoot the “Soft 404” status by omitting these words or using neutral synonyms.

Fix display issues

Some content may not be visible to Google because it is unable to display it. Such problems frequently occur when the robots.txt file blocks crawlers from accessing your CSS or JavaScript files.

You can see if Google is displaying your pages correctly by checking them in the URL Inspection tool. All you have to do is click on the magnifying glass icon next to the URL selected from the “Soft 404” list.

Screenshot showing how to scan a page

To fix the problem, make sure that Google has access to the resources needed for the rendering. Review your robots.txt file and make sure that crawling of your CSS and javascript is allowed.

Conclusion

The “404 Soft” status describes non-indexed pages that display the 200 status code, but Google is convinced that a 404 error would be more appropriate for them.

To troubleshoot a “Soft 404” status in Google Search Console, try:

  • check if your nonexistent pages correctly return a 404 status code,
  • fix irrelevant redirects,
  • thin content marking pages with noindex tag,
  • omit words that may be misleading to Google,
  • Check your SEO.

These are effective solutions to the soft 404 problem, but none of them guarantee permanent results. To eliminate indexation and budget creep issues, contact Go Start Business for a discovery call.

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