You could be losing site traffic due to soft 404 errors. In this video, Brent Haeseker and Justin Cook provide an overview of what soft 404 pages are, why they are bad for SEO, and how you can find and fix these errors.
Brent Haeseker: Hi I’m am Brent Haeseker, website consultant here at NetSource Technologies and I’m here again with Justin Cook who is our SEO expert and we’re going to talk to you today about soft 404 pages. How they impact your SEO and what you can do to fix them. But first, most people probably heard about standard 404 pages just real quick, give us an overview of what that is so we can have a baseline of what we’re talking about here.
Justin Cook: So a hard 404 is a response code given to Google on your page saying that the page is not found. So it was either removed or there’s errors on the page that prevented it from loading. Any number of things could happen within that. So hard 4 04 is basically a google response code.
Brent Haeseker: Saying we can’t find this page, sorry look elsewhere or you can have a custom 404 page that says hey this page doesn’t exist maybe you want to go to our home page or go to our product pages or something like that. So now that’s hard 404 pages. So what then would be a soft 404 page?
Justin Cook: A soft 404 is actually not a response code. It is a code that is given back from a search engine such as Google or Bing when they call a page and they say well you know this page doesn’t have a lot of content on it or this is a duplication from another page. It reads that within it’s index and it says Okay well this is a soft 404. The basics of it are it’s either a low quality content page or it’s duplicate .
Brent Haeseker: Okay so low quality content page. Tell us a little bit about what that means because then you’re actually saying not necessarily that the page doesn’t exist. The page actually might exist but there’s low quality content on it?
Justin Cook: Yes so it might actually be a product page that you have but you have no description about it. It’s just a product and a price. Some of those types of products, Google is going to look at it as this is nothing that is relevant to the user. It just sees a picture and a price. Another example would be such as a RV dealer that has an inventory page that has no units on it and has a brief description about that big it’s going to consider that soft 404 because it has no value towards the customer.
Brent Haeseker: Okay so the page exists. Google is saying though that this is a soft 404 and so how does that then impact you from a search engine standpoint?
Justin Cook: So from a search engine standpoint, you have to make corrective actions for the page that has been giving the error for soft 404 to keep it in the index. Otherwise Google will de-Index the page and any type of pages that go along with it. So if you have a d uplication, it will drop all those duplicate content pages. If it’s a low content page then it will just deindex that.
Brent Haeseker: So how would somebody know if they’ve got soft 404 pages. I mean can you just go look through your website and find it or if you’ve got hundreds and thousands of product pages is there an easier way to do that?
Justin Cook: So in Google Webmaster Tools and Bing, their equivalent to master tools. They will have an actual section for errors on your website and it would be called index coverage issues. And those will be where you’ll identify where the errors are coming from. And it will give you a list of all the soft 404s that you have on your website.
Brent Haeseker: What should you then do when you find the soft 404 for pages? Is there something that a web designer has to do? Is it something that the site owner, the business owner, can do kind of give us a rundown of that.
Justin Cook: Right. So the site owner can actually make the adjustment to those soft 404 pages since it is either considered a low content page or duplicate. With the low content pages,the only thing that you want to do is to add more content. Google will then recrawl the page and then they’ll say well you added content. This looks good. This is something valuable to our customers so we’re going to go ahead and index this. Keep this in the index. For duplicate, you want to identify each page that has been considered duplication and then figure out which page to consolidate that to. So if you have three different pages for Hairspray. And for some reason there’s three different URLs that point to the same product. Then you want to somehow say OK well this is the page that I want to be at the forefront of that and then consolidate those into one.
Brent Haeseker: And so you would then merge as you were talking about merging the pages but there might be situations where, and correct me if I’m wrong here like say if you’re going to your website, say you have a product that’s indexed in Google. A product page that has got a lot of information. Maybe now you no longer offer that product. So you now have “this product is no longer available when you come to that page and that’s the only information that’s there. Is that potentially something that could show up as a soft 404 page going forward?
Justin Cook: Well that at that point that’s not a good tactic for a 404.So the 404 should be identified as a page to Google saying well we’ve removed this page. This is the page that we want you to look at now. So that would just be the response code that you’d give Google.
Brent Haeseker: Anything else you can tell us about 404s and how they impact your SEO?
Justin Cook: So overall since a soft 4040, it will just get deindexed. So that could have an impact on your traffic. So if you have a good page that was working well before then it got identified as a soft 404 page then you could lose traffic potentially from that particular page. It’s not that soft 404s will have a overall impact on your site from an SEO standpoint rankings. It may ding you a little bit because Google has said well you have a lot of pages that are just low content and I don’t like that on your Web site. So they will ding you for that. But as long as you update those pages then you should be okay.
Brent Haeseker: SO it’s just being mindful of those 404 pages, where they exist, locating them, updating the information on those Web pages so that they don’t register anymore as a soft 404 and that’s pretty much it. It’s kind of an overlooked thing. Most people don’t hear about soft 404s. So that’s why we wanted to kind of talk about it and bring it to your attention because it could be those little hidden things in there that are maybe dinging you to some degree on your SEO and you don’t even realize it but they’re easy things to fix. And additionally by fixing those soft 404s, you’re giving more useful content to the user that’s coming to your web page. Excellent. OK. Well this is a short video we just kind of wanted to touch on that, give you some information on that if you have any other questions on soft 404s or just on anything else in regards to search engine optimization on your Web site feel free to give us a call again I’m Brent Haeseker. This is Justin Cook and you can reach us at 1 800 7 0 9 3 2 4 0 and you can also view us on line at netsourceinc.com. Thank you for watching. Have a good day.