What are soft 404 errors and how to solve them in WordPress

If you habitually use the Google search console, old tools for webmasters (and if you should not) you will have seen some kind of strange errors, the so-called errors "soft 404" or 404 errors as Google calls them.

No need for hyperventiles, let's see what they are and, above all, how fix them .

What are soft 404 errors?

Basically they are pages that should have the error code " 404 – Not found " but they are actually pages 200 normal response, which show content, but not the one that the user expected to find .

Come on, let because a page looks like a Error 404 does not mean that it is . And Google thinks that that can upset, annoy, make feel bad or disappointed your visitors (poor things) so it warns you to fix it.

I do not mean you can not customize your 404 pages by adding a search engine or whatever but the HTTP header must be clearly 404 error code, or even 410, not another . And sometimes we lose our hand by customizing 404 error pages, even changing the HTTP headers, so that neither the user nor, above all, the search engine is able to identify it as error message 404.

A 301 redirect to the cover for example, is not a very common procedure either. If you do redirects 301 they should be to pages with similar content to those you had indexed and, for whatever reason, you decided to remove them. Google detects soft 404 errors redirects 301 to the cover of your site a very helpful resource, but Google considers a bad joke for the user.

Another reason why Google can show a soft error 404 is when a page, even if it exists, has what is called as " thin content ", come on, it does not give a shit, you've put a little phrase there or less. [19659003] In summary, soft 404 errors may be due to:

  1. Pages that do not have the 404 error header and should.
  2. Massive redirects to the front page.
  3. Thin content .

How do I know if I have soft 404 errors?

Easy, Google notifies you, by email or directly in the search console, with messages like this …

to fix soft 404 errors?

The first thing to do is identifi if the pages with soft 404 errors are crucial for your position or, in which case it would be clear that you should solve it urgently.

But if they are pages that do not bring you traffic, and above their quantity in relation to the Total pages of your site is not relevant, you should not lose sleep, although it is always good to ignore Google.

Ergo, If the number of pages with 404 soft errors is large you should also fix it for not penalize your website in the SERP .

How do you know if the pages are crucial for your positioning?

You should be checking Google Analytics to know which pages of your website they bring you traffic and how much, and if not today is as good a day as any other to start doing it.

How to know if the number of pages with soft 404 errors is in a relevant number?

By simple mathematics if you web has tens of thousands of URLs and you have soft 404 errors in only a few tens, and they are not important, you can postpone this task for something more important, like taking the dog out or reading some old WordPress Help article.

But if we talk that they represent a relevant% of the total of your pages, let's not say if the percentage is two digits, then close the agenda and put it on when you can.

How do I solve soft 404 errors?

The strategy to be carried out to solve soft 404 errors would be as follows:

If the page no longer exists

  1. Allow 404 or 410 errors if the page really is not and does not receive significant traffic or links . Of course, make sure that the response of the HTTP header is 404 or 410, not 200, easy using the Google search console tool called " Explore as Google " (we see it at the end of the article)
  2. If the page is relevant, create a 301 redirect to a related and relevant page on your site.
  3. And never make massive redirects of missing pages to the front page of your website. Or leave them as 404 or redirects 301.

If the culprit is massive redirections to cover in this case what you have to do is roll up and fix them by hand, well doing redirects 301 to pages with similar and relevant content from .htaccess or by using the (wonderful) plugin Redirection as you prefer.

If the page still exists

Yes you have pages that exist and should not return soft 404 errors first make sure that the page has some content, and when I say something I mean more than one line or phrase. And is that sometimes Google can show soft error 404 when a page has very little content, which I said before the " thin content ".

In this case the solution is simple: Write something worthwhile!

If the reason is that the page indicates that it is a 404 but its header says something else if its HTTP header returns the answer code 200 , make sure to change the HTTP header. How? Well the first thing you should do is check if your active topic has a 404 page, normally 404.php but I recommend you create one, whose header should clearly specify the HTTP error code to return, like this:

And then already the normal code of active theme pages, with their calls to loop etc.

Where do I see pages with soft 404 error?

] To identify the pages with soft errors 404 take advantage of the report offered by the Google search console and click on the button to see the errors, which will take you to a page where you can see your URLs with soft 404 errors, this:

Once on that screen identify at a glance, or one by one if you prefer, to see if you can detect what errors are due .

To fix them first click on the URL to fix and you will see a popup window with a link to page .

]

And yes, click on the link to see first hand what kind of problem is causing the error soft 404 which in the example that I showed you was a pijada of Google, that also happens, and that is in that page in the text is an error as if it were an HTTP error, and the Google bug should have thought that it was showing an error that was not. Come on, it's not an exact science, it can happen.

I fixed it by putting the conflicting text inside a pre-formatted code label and pushing.

But that was the anecdote …

The case of the result pages of search

To follow the example, the rest of the errors were true 404 errors of a search form that should return listings of a directory and, when not finding certain results, it showed a page with header 200 but that really did not have anything .

If you find this type of errors have easy solution simply add to your file robots.txt a few lines so that the pages of internal search results are not indexed, like this:

With what, in a robots.txt file type of WordPress would look like this: