In early July, Google announced its shift in handling soft 404 detections and classifications. The announcement confirmed that Google is now looking at every page by device type and possibly assigning a soft 404 classification across the URL on mobile devices than desktops.
Below are some answers to the most basic questions surrounding this new change and what it entails.
What Is A Soft 404?
Soft 404 is a qualification that’s similar to 404 error pages. Often times a soft 404 is flagged on a page when it provides a HTTP status code of 200, a code that says the page is okay when in reality it’s not loading content or can’t be found and should be returned to a 404 status page.
It’s another way for Google to treat these pages as actual 404 pages as Google as not indexed these pages at all.
Google is still not indexing pages that are flagged with a soft 404, however they have changed how they flag these pages. Instead of giving the URL as a whole a soft 404, they’ll check by device type instead.
Moving forward, when Google sees a URL, it’ll access that same URL on both mobile and desktop. This creates a possibility for a soft 404 to be flagged on a URL on desktop but not on mobile, or vice versa, or on neither.
Google is basically detecting soft 404 status on a URL by URL basis.
This change happened around June, but it wasn’t until July that businesses became aware of it.
Why Is This An Issue?
This is an issue for businesses for two reasons. SEO marketers are making a big deal out of this because of these reasons:
- Google isn’t indexing these pages which means it doesn’t appear at all in Google Search
- SEO Marketers are seeing spikes of soft 404 errors in Search Console, but aren’t seeing problems in Google Search.
To fully understand why those are big issues comes down to the layout of these systems and how Google is conducting soft 404 errors.
Currently, Google is only showing soft 404 errors on mobile crawls. So if a page works fine on mobile, Search Console will never pick it up. This is an issue if Google has flagged a soft 404 on desktop pages. It creates the scenario where if you’re searching on desktop, your page won’t get noticed at all, despite Search Console saying there is nothing wrong.
This problem can appear on the flip side as well. Search Console could be showing spikes of soft 404 pages and yet you can search the pages just fine on desktop but not on mobile.
Google Is Working To Solve The Problem
The Google team is working on changing its soft 404 classifications still and you’re able to help. If you’ve noticed a spike in soft 404s in recent months this could be what’s causing it. You can help the Google team by providing specific URLs and screen shots of the pages that are affected by this change.
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