Thursday, July 18, 2024

Soft 404s and Their Sneaky Server Header Status Codes

It is important to understand server header status codes while managing websites. These codes in fact tell search engines whether a page exists, has been moved or has some issues. The codes are something like the infamous 404 that indicates a missing page. However, there is another sneaky error and it is called a “soft 404” and this can cause confusion as it affects performance of sites in search results.

The so-called soft 404 is similar to 404, but it tricks the search engines by letting those think that everything is okay. With an error-like page message to visitors it sends a different code to search engines. The search engines think the page is fine and should stay in their index.

Say you try to visit a page and you see an error message. If the server tells your browser it is a 404 then it is correct and it means that the page is not there. But if it sends a 302 or other code, it is like saying, “Hey, this page is just taking a break, come back later.” This in fact confuses the search engines and the search engines might end up keeping the broken link in their index.

It messes with your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts of the website. Search engines waste time and resources crawling pages that don’t exist or offer no value to users. It also creates a bad experience for visitors who encounter dead-end pages.

There are tools like Google Search Console to identify the issue. You can even check pages manually that seem broken or misconfigured. Look for pages that show errors but return a “200 OK” code—it’s a red flag. Once spotted, try to fix them promptly.

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