How to fix Soft 404 Error Pages on Your Online Portal?

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Posted On: 05 Mar, 2021

An efficient, user-friendly website needs proper maintenance. A developer’s primary goal is to build a site that the users can easily find in the search results and navigate it without hindrance.
However, if contents are removed from a page and are not replaced by newer contents, then error landing pages appear during website maintenance. There are several types of error pages, and the soft 404 error page is one of them.

When users search for a specific website and lands on an empty error page, most of them would not probably bother to come back. The error pages can hit the conversion rate hard. Google provides a free Google search console service that monitors and maintains a website. 

The Google search console service makes sure that users can find a website. If the developer doesn’t update the website and replace old links with newer ones, then Google will keep showing old links as a search result. This process is known as indexing.

In this process, information is organized before a search takes place so that users can get fast responses to their questions. 

In the Google search console, a developer can update the page information of a website, so that the console can fix the indexing of that certain site. And users can land on a page with updated content. 

What exactly is a Soft 404 error page?  

A soft 404 error page takes place when the user requests a page that is not found, and the server, instead of returning the exact HTTP error code (example, 404 or 410 NOT FOUND), returns a status code 200 OKs (success) to tell the search engine that the page is valid.

Therefore, the search engine keeps indexing and crawling for these pages and list them down in the search results. A search engine would not consider the lost page as invalid or dead. 

In a soft 404 error page, a user tries to access a page, and a server returns the wrong code. Website developers should take care of such a situation.

Why the developer must fix the soft 404 error pages? 

Bad User Experience – A user clicking on a particular link and not finding the desired page will probably push them away from your website, mostly if it happens every time. Coming to a page that has little or no content will be of no value to the user.  

A page must always return the correct HTTP status code. Instead of non-valid pages with zero content, the user should redirect towards 200 success code pages.  

It is crucial to fix the soft 404 error pages because it may affect its organic search performance. If there is a high proportion of soft 404 pages, then it is harmful to the website. 

Finding soft 404 error pages 

Google search console is a reliable way of finding soft error pages. Mostly, it’s essential features like Coverage Report and URL Inspection Tool. First things first, you (sellers/developers) must register with Google, as it will give access to many other features and improve the web page’s SEO.  

URL Inspection Tool, Google Search Console

  • Coverage Report: You can learn how to use the Google search console coverage report to find the soft 404 error pages. Its process is as follow: 
    Login to Google search console.  
  • Go to index, click on the cover to view the Coverage report.   
  • Select the Error Tab and look for the following items: 
  • Soft 404 
  • Submitted URL 
  • Not found 404 
  • To get more information about the affected pages, click on the error description. Use the URL inspection tool to find the HTTP status code response. For this, follow the following method.  
  • Type in the URL into the URL inspection Tool and enter.  
  • First click view crawled page and then on more info.  
  • You will be able to see the HTTP RESPONSE.  

Coverage Report Google search console

Fixing Soft 404 error pages

Sometimes Google search console raises a false alarm by incorrectly marking a page as a soft 404 error page. Therefore, it is crucial to check whether there is an issue or not. For this, the following methods are: 

  • Check the affected page. 
  • First, to view the list of affected pages, click on the “Submitted URL seems to be a soft 404” tab.  
  • Now move the cursor over the URL to click the “open in a new tab” button. 
  • Click on the Validate Fix button if you want your selected page to appear on the search results. This method will indicate Google to know that a soft 404 error page got fixed. 

Testing Live URL And Inspecting The Page

Testing Live URL is another method to fix the soft 404 error. Select the inspect URL. It will provide a lot more details about the page and offer an option to request indexing. Click the test-live URL to ask google to refresh the report. In several cases, the page is fine, and no further changes are required.

Optimizing The Page And Request for Indexing 

It is an exciting way of removing the soft 404 error pages. At times, the pages in which there is very little content or no content at all, Google search console finds them meaningless to keep them in its index and removes them from its search engine.
Therefore, to keep them on the search engine, the developer needs to go through the content and enhance it to remove the soft 404 pages, and the page gets proper visibility on the search engine.

Redirect the page to 301

It is a fundamental method. Google search redirects always redirect from an old page to a new valid page. Adding a 301 redirect in the .htaccess file can indicate the search engine that page move to a new location.  

Example: Redirect 301/ soft page-404-page URL. Use a Yoast SEO plugin to add a 301 redirect. It is another more manageable way. Sellers must help an efficient CRO team determine which method would be best suited to fix the soft 404 error pages.  

Difference between 404 Error Page And Soft 404 Error Page 

The main difference between them is that when the page searched by a user is unavailable, the search engine sends the correct HTTP status code.

A message like “The page is unavailable”“This page is invalid”, and so on. 404 is the landing page that tells the user that the requested page is inaccessible.

However, the Soft 404 error page redirects the users to a new valid page. There are several reasons why soft 404 errors occur, and developers can fix them easily compared to 404 error pages. Soft 404 error returns a 200 OK status once the developer fixes the errors. 

Conclusion 

A developer regularly must maintain the sellers’ website and delete the old and outdated content. However, a void is left behind when he deletes the old pages.
And thus, the search engine leads users to old URLs to an invalid landing page while dealing with a 404 error page. On the soft 404 error page, users land on the valid-page but cannot access any content.
If the developers don’t fix the errors regularly, it will hamper the website’s conversion rate.

A search engine must decide whether to index a specific page or not. It depends on a code that returns from a website’s server for completing the indexing task.
It will affect the organic search because if the soft 404 error pages increase, Google search will keep indexing pages with little to no content.
Several methods help you find the soft 404 error pages, like Google search console > using the coverage report. You can find and fix the soft 404 error pages.

To fix the soft 404 error pages, methods like checking the affected pages, Testing the Live URL and inspecting the page, Enhancing the page and request indexing, Redirect the page to 301 can be very helpful.
404 error page will display the correct HTTP code, whereas the soft 404 directs you to a new page. This is the most significant difference between the two error pages.
Sometimes, it is impossible to handle these error pages, and an efficient CRO team can help spot the soft 404 errors and guide you to find the best method to fix them and make websites most searched.
Invalid pages and old content can be removed by the methods mentioned above and help take the right decision. However, if you want to know more about soft 404 error pages and use Google search console for your website,

Click here for more details!

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