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Understanding Soft 404s

Soft 404s in GSC can strongly correlate with JavaScript and suggest a rendering issue. If Google cannot see the content on the entire web page, it may be more likely to noindex it.
soft 404s

In technical SEO, Soft 404s are a topic that often raises eyebrows. They can be a strong indicator of underlying issues, particularly those related to JavaScript and rendering. Let’s delve into this concept to demystify it and understand its implications.

What are Soft 404s?

So, what exactly are Soft 404s? These are not your typical “page not found” errors that users encounter when a webpage is genuinely missing. Instead, Soft 404s relate to how Google’s bots interpret a webpage’s content, specifically in relation to JavaScript rendering.

 

Many modern websites heavily rely on JavaScript to load and display content dynamically. While this can create engaging user experiences, it can also pose challenges for search engines like Google.

 

If JavaScript is used to load critical page content and fails to execute correctly, Googlebot may perceive the page as empty, leading to a Soft 404.

The Rendering Issue

The core of the Soft 404 issue often revolves around rendering. When Googlebot crawls a webpage, it not only fetches the HTML content but also attempts to render and understand the page as a real user would.

 

If JavaScript fails to execute correctly or certain elements aren’t properly rendered, Googlebot may mistakenly believe the page is empty or meaningless.

The Noindex Dilemma

Now, here’s where it gets interesting for SEOs. If Googlebot encounters such rendering issues repeatedly on a website, it might become more cautious. It may begin to consider the possibility that the website is intentionally hiding content from search engines or experiencing persistent technical problems. In such cases, Google may be more inclined to apply a “noindex” directive to those problematic pages.

 

The implications of Soft 404s and potential noindexing are significant. When Google decides to noindex a page, it essentially removes it from its index, rendering it invisible to users searching for relevant results. This can be disastrous for websites and SEO, as it effectively means your content won’t appear in search results.

How to Handle Soft 404s

Soft 404s are a signal that should not be taken lightly in Google Search Console. They often hint at JavaScript and rendering issues, which can lead to Google’s decision to noindex pages. To avoid this scenario and ensure your website’s content is discoverable, it’s crucial to address these issues promptly through thorough technical SEO audits and optimisations.

Nikki Halliwell

Nikki Halliwell

Based in Manchester, UK, Nikki is a freelance Technical SEO Consultant. She has worked at several agencies and in-house and has worked across the health, hospitality and fashion industries and more. Nikki enjoys working with eCommerce websites and beyond to ensure that websites are easy to find, load quickly and work efficiently. 
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