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Medium This Hint is worth investigating further, and may warrant further attention depending on the type and quantity of URLs affected. Potential Issue This Hint is unlikely to be affecting the site at the moment, but should be investigated as it could cause issues in the future.

Contains possible soft 404 phrases

This means that the URL in question responds with a 200 status but may appear to be an error page (soft 404).

Why is this important?

A soft 404 is a page that looks to the user like a 404 page, but actually returns a 200 HTTP response. For example, it may show a message like 'This page does not exist', so as far as the user is concerned it is a 404 error page - however it is not actually returning a 404 error response.

Such pages may be generated for various reasons by your website's web server or content management system, or the user's browser.

For example:

  • A missing server-side include file.
  • A broken connection to the database.
  • An empty internal search result page.
  • An unloaded or otherwise missing JavaScript file.

This can result in a terrible user experience, as the user is expecting to find content, but are presented with some kind of error. And since the pages don't respond with a 404, they may not be picked up by the normal monitoring solutions in place.

What does the Hint check?

This Hint will trigger for any internal URL which contains one or more of the trigger phrases within the content area, and returns a 200 HTTP response.

Examples that trigger this Hint:

The Hint would trigger for this URL if it has a possible 404 phrase in the content area:

<!doctype html>
<html lang="en">
<p>Can't find the page</p>

Why is this Hint marked 'Potential Issue'?

This Hint is a 'Potential Issue' as there is an element of doubt as to whether the pages are indeed soft 404s. This website generates some false positives, for example, the page we have on broken links:

False positive - soft 404

Which of course makes sense. This is not actually a soft 404, it is just a page that mentions a trigger phrase, but it is worth checking to make sure.

How do you resolve this issue?

You will need to go through and review all the pages flagged and determine if they are indeed pages that *should* be returning a 404 HTTP response.

If this is the case, then you will need to get developer help to resolve the underlying issue that is causing pages which should be 404 to return a 200 status. You will also need to make sure that internal links are updated if they are now pointing at 404 pages.

If it is NOT the case, then you may need to get the developer to fix the issue with the server or CMS which is causing the page to display broken content.

Also, these may simply be false positives - remember that all Sitebulb is doing is looking for trigger phrases within the content.

If you establish that these are false positives, it may be worth exploring if Google thinks that the pages look like soft 404s (which can be due to finding a phrase like Sitebulb, or could be due to very thin content) - which you can check in Google Search Console.

Soft 404s will be flagged in GSC, you can use the live inspect option in Google Search Console to confirm if specific URLs are affected:

Is this page indexed on Google

Additionally, if you know that certain phrases cause false positives and you don't wish Sitebulb to flag them, you can adjust the set of phrases which Sitebulb uses to trigger this Hint, in the Global Settings:

Soft 404 Phrase Settings

Further Reading

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