Soft 404 errors

A soft 404 is a URL that returns a page telling the user that the page does not exist and also a 200 (success) 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), 410 (gone), or 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.

Fix soft 404 errors

Depending on the state of the page and the desired outcome, you can solve soft 404 errors multiple ways:

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, return a 404 (not found) or 410 (gone) 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 404 page:

  • Tell visitors clearly that the page they're looking for can't be found. Use language that is friendly and inviting.
  • Make sure your 404 page 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 the 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 404. 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.