Did you input your website into Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) only to find that errors are displaying for a few pages on your website? One of the common types of URL errors is referred to as a soft 404. While soft 404 errors can be frustrating when you come across them unexpectedly, this issue can be remedied.
What is a Soft 404?
When a page no longer exists on your website, a 404 error is typically returned. However, a soft 404 error is slightly different. This is when your website server displays an actual page for a URL that does not actually exist. Essentially, your server is handling these non-existent URLs as if there is nothing wrong with them. Often, these soft 404s will redirect to the homepage or a custom 404 error page that has been created.
How Do You Fix a Soft 404?
If the page is truly non-existent, then a soft 404 error is not necessarily a bad thing. However, you do want to make sure you have things configured properly, so that Google knows what to do with these types of pages.
- Make sure you indicate that the page is non-existent with a 404 code. While it may seem counterintuitive to want your website to display an error, this is actually necessary in order for Google to view and process your website pages properly. If you fail to designate a soft 404 error for non-existent pages, Google will continue to crawl and index these pages. Do you really want your website to start ranking for terms like “file not found” in the search engine results? Additionally, your crawl coverage may be negatively impacted because of all the time Googlebot is spending on pages that do not exist. Instead of allowing Googlebot to waste time on non-existent pages, you want it to crawl your unique URLs quickly and frequently.
- Create a custom 404 page for your website. Instead of having your website simply display an error message such as “file not found” or “page does not exist,” you can use this as an opportunity to share some of your useful content. You could create a compelling button that entices visitors to click through to your homepage, offer them a list of some of your most popular pages, or invite them to check out your blog.