Soft 404 errors might not be as well known as other indexing statuses, such as “Crawled – but Currently Not Indexed” or “Discovered – Currently Not Indexed”, but they can significantly harm your website’s visibility on Google.
The Impact of Soft 404 Errors
If a page is flagged as a soft 404, it means it isn’t indexed in Google.
The problem is that often, high-quality pages are mistakenly identified as soft 404s. In this article, I show you how to identify such problems.
Here are the three most common reasons for Soft 404:
- Low-Quality Content: As you might expect, poor content can lead to soft 404s. However, in this article, we focus on less obvious cases when soft 404s occur.
- Google’s Misinterpretation: Sometimes, Google can deindex thousands of pages because it has misunderstood the content on a site.
Case Study: An E-commerce Website’s Deindexing – (50% drop)
For example, one of our e-commerce clients implemented a layout change. They thought it was just a small change and didn’t need to be reviewed by the SEO team. That’s when most SEO horror stories start 🙂
As a result, Google deindexed 800k URLs, totaling almost half of the website. The website lost around 40% of its traffic.
We started our SEO analysis and found a short sentence in the code that wasn’t included in the old layout. There was a tiny, innocent, boilerplate phrase (“no product available”) in their code. The phrase wasn’t even visible on the screen, yet was included in EVERY product page.
Getting rid of this boilerplate sentence helped our client get back on track (see the chart around August 2022). It took a while for Google to fully process the changes, but eventually, we got rid of these issues after Google’s March Update.
Google’s Martin Splitt shed light on this issue, noting that sometimes Google’s error page handling system can misinterpret a valuable page based on the keywords used, classifying it as a Soft 404 error page.
“This can also lead to very funny bugs, I would say, where, for example, you are writing an article about error pages in general, and you can’t, for your life, get it indexed. And that’s sometimes because our error page handling systems misdetect your article, based on the keywords that you use, as a soft error page.”
Soft 404s can be fixed
Soft 404 problems are definitely fixable. Here are just three examples from some of our clients:
Here’s the basic logic for fixing Soft 404 errors
Step 1: Check the quality of affected pages
First you need to click on Indexing -> Pages.
You’ll see the number of affected pages. In my case, it’s 1107.
Then, to view a sample of affected pages, you need to click on “Soft 404”.
Choose a sample of important pages identified as soft 404s and try to objectively judge their quality.
Consider improving page quality
If the pages are low quality, consider improving them. However, if you’re certain that a page is of high quality and it’s still classified as “Soft 404”, you need to:
- Review if there are phrases that might make Google think the product/content is not available, such as “Page not found,” “Product not found,” “Out of stock,” etc.
If your website struggles with indexing, we strongly recommend using ZipTie.dev.
We also offer consulting services to help you detect and solve indexing issues to restore your traffic back to normal. Questions? Comments? We’d love to hear from you. Feel free to reach out to us!