When doing SEO, one of the most popular issues you have to fix is soft 404 errors. In this article, we will walk you through what it is, what’s its relevance to SEO, and how to fix and spot it.

What exactly is a 404 Error?

When someone tries to browse a website page that is no longer there, we have a 404 error. This code is important to Google since it tells the search engine to stop indexing that page.

Also, no only does the 404 HTML code signal the search engines, the server should also show the browser a 404 page. However, this is where things get tricky. There is the generic “File Not Found” error page, but there are also customized 404 error pages that can be shown (usually to provide more info to the audience and to lead them to other pages in the site). But sometimes, these pages do not return a 404 code.

What is a “soft” 404 Error and why is it bad for SEO?

Of course, the page being shown spate from the HTTP code response that is sent at the same time. In short, just because you see a 404 page, doesn’t technically make it a true 404 page, if there is no HTTP 404 code response from the server.

A page that appears, for all intents and purposes, as a 404 error page but then actually gives a different HTTP status response from its server (usually, it is a code 200) will confuse Google. What happens is that the URL will be indexed. This creates problems:

–          It steals time from Google bots and prevents them from crawling your true page URLs as often at they should be.

–          It will be very difficult to determine which pages in your site are broken.

–          Therefore, if you have inbound links to these broken pages, it will be harder to fix and redirect.

–          Your site will rank for the wrong keywords and may even get penalties.

How to spot and fix your soft 404 Errors:

For web developers, always have 404 error pages send the correct 404 code. You can also create your custom 404 while fixing the pages. However, setting the code to be sent is not really a hard task for most web developers. The issue is spotting the soft 404 errors once they already exist.

To spot the errors, you can:

Use the feature in your Google Webmaster Tools, which has alerted you to the errors that have been detected by Google. Use it to find the others. You can go through your site and check using the “Fetch as Google tool” which can be accessed through: Webmaster Tools Home>Click on your Your Site>Click on “Crawl”> Click “Fetch as Google”

When you are creating custom 404 pages, here are some great suggestions:

–          Create a page where the user can see the most relevant pages to your site along with links to your home page

–          Create a page with a link to your “contact us for feedback” page or your email address so that users can alert you to the 404 error.