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What are soft 404s and how to fix them

Introduction

A 404 error is one of the most prevalent and frustrating errors that webmasters encounter. It’s a shame that so many businesses have to struggle with such an unhelpful error message, because there are some ways of fixing this problem.

Soft 404 errors are different from standard 404 errors in that they redirect visitors to a page other than the homepage. This is not always helpful for the website visitor, which is why we've put together this post on how to fix these types of error messages.

What are Soft 404 Errors?

A standard 404 page is when your site can't find any content matching a visitor's request. Probably the most famous example of this is Google search, which returns an error message such as

  • Sorry, we couldn't find your search query, 404
  • google page not found,404
  • page not found, 404

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That's more or less what you get if there is no content available for the particular URL you've requested.

A soft 404 page is a different thing altogether. It's when a web server delivers an error message that redirects the visitor to another page. This means that instead of getting the "sorry, we couldn't find your query" message, you get something like, "click here for lesson plan xyz.php."

These give business owners and website administrator’s headaches because it's difficult to know what their clients were looking for or how they were trying to find your business. Unfortunately, these errors often make people think that your site is down or broken when in reality it's just a misunderstanding on their part!

How to fix 404s

Move with the following in sequence to solve this issue:

  • Open your website's address in a new tab or window.
  • If you're using a desktop computer, right-click anywhere on the tab or window below your website address and click "Open Link in New Tab." If you're using a laptop, hold down Ctrl+T and click your address while it appears on screen.
  • Once inside this new tab or window, try typing www.example.com/main_page/index
  • successfully into that bar at the top and then clicking enter (or whatever button your web browser has for going back to where you originally were). If not, then this is a Soft 404 and needs to be fixed.
  • If you can't, then it was a Soft 404 and needs to be fixed.
  • If after following these steps you are still unable to navigate directly to index page or page before main page, then maybe your website's structure is broken or navigation is broken or something like that so kindly ask your developer for help and do not try this stepwise procedure again

The above process will help you check if the error is on the level of DNS Zone or Web Server. It will be helpful to the webmaster who is not an expert in programming.

To fix the soft 404 issue follow these steps given below:

  1. Visit your website's admin panel. If you are using a web hosting service, it should be easy to find as it will likely be in the same tab as your website address. If you are self-hosting, go to your Hosting provider's control panel and check your server logs (usually located under Tools > System Logs) for entries that start with "Fatal error: Soft 404 error." or similar messages.
  2. If you are having a hard time finding the source of your Soft 404 error, ask your hosting provider for assistance. Your hosting provider will be able to help you identify the cause of your soft 404 error.
  3. Once you have found the source of your soft 404 error, ask a programmer or an expert user in that area of development to fix it for you. This takes work! Don't just copy and paste someone else's code!
  4. If you are unable to locate a programmer, learn basic HTML and CSS and try creating your own stylesheet to override the problematic template.

Example: A 404 error is an "page not found" message that usually indicates a broken link or URL.

This type of mistake can happen when the online user has typed in an incorrect URL, mistyped a Web address, bookmarked the wrong page, or is simply visiting the wrong website. Sometimes it's just as simple as hitting Ctrl+R to reload the page, but not all internet errors are so easy to fix.

The best way to prevent this from happening is to use 301 redirects whenever you make a change on your website;this will tell your visitors that their destination has been updated and point them back to where they used to be.