404 is a URL that returns a page telling the user that the page does not exist
and also a
status code. In some cases, it might be a page with little or no content (for
example, a sparsely populated or empty page).
Returning a success status code, rather than
404 (not found),
301 (permanent redirect), is a bad
practice. A success status code tells search engines that there's a real page at that URL. As
a result, the page may be listed in search results, and search engines will continue trying to
crawl that non-existent URL instead of spending time crawling your real pages.
When Google's algorithms detect that the page is actually an error page based on its content,
Search Console will show a soft
404 error in the site's
Index Coverage report.
Depending on the state of the page and the desired outcome, you can solve soft
404 errors multiple ways:
- The page and content are no longer available.
- The page or content is now somewhere else.
- The page and content still exist.
Try to determine which solution would be the best for your users.
The page and content are no longer available
If you removed the page and there's no replacement page on your site with similar content,
404 (not found) or
response (status) code for the page. These status codes indicate to search engines that the
page doesn't exist and the content should not be indexed.
If you have access to your server's configuration files, you can make these error pages useful
to users by customizing them. A good custom
404 page helps people find the
information they're looking for, and also provides other helpful content that encourages
people to explore your site further. Here are some tips for designing a useful custom
- Tell visitors clearly that the page they're looking for can't be found. Use language that is friendly and inviting.
Make sure your
404page has the same look and feel (including navigation) as the rest of your site.
- Consider adding links to your most popular articles or posts, as well as a link to your site's home page.
- Think about providing a way for users to report a broken link.
The page or content is now somewhere else
If your page has moved or has a clear replacement on your site, return a
301 (permanent redirect)
to redirect the user. This will not interrupt their browsing experience and it's also a great
way to tell search engines about the new location of the page.
The page and content still exist
If an otherwise good page was flagged with a soft
404 error, it's likely it
didn't load properly for Googlebot or it was missing critical resources during rendering. Use
URL Inspection tool
to examine the rendered content and the returned HTTP code. If the rendered page is blank, or
nearly blank, it could be that your page references many resources that can't be loaded
(images, scripts, and other non-textual elements), which can be interpreted as a soft
Reasons that resources can't be loaded include blocked resources (blocked by
robots.txt), having too many
resources on a page, or slow loading/very large resources. The URL Inspection tool should list
which resources could not be loaded, and also show you the rendered live page.