We have all had frustrating moments with 404 error pages. Those pages pop up when a website or a page you’ve typed into the address bar doesn’t exist. 404 error pages are actually not there to frustrate users, they actually serve a real purpose. There are two reasons why these pages are important. The first reason is to let the webmaster know there is a mistake. After all, there might be a broken link or something else wrong with the website. The second reason is to guide the viewer of the page to what they might have actually be looking for. When directed to custom Error 404 page with instructions, it is called a “soft 404 error page”.
Soft 404 Error Pages
Soft 404 error pages are not actually 404 error pages — they’re fakes. Error 404 pages that are real should are HTTP error response codes. They mean that the server couldn’t find what the user was looking for. Error 404 pages that have been created by the website designer are “soft 404 error pages” because they are designed to keep people on the website. According to Google Support, “It’s like a giraffe wearing a name tag that says “dog.” Just because it says it’s a dog, doesn’t mean it’s actually a dog. Similarly, just because a page says 404, doesn’t mean it’s returning a 404.” So basically it is not that the page itself doesn’t exist, but the server does not recognize it. But these soft 404 error pages do not actually put out a real 404 status code.
So what’s the difference in 404 Pages?
Soft 404 errors return a HTTP status code other than a real 404 code for a non-existent page. While users may not know the difference, Google does. Doing this can sometimes hurt SEO. Google recognizes that the phony 404 error you’ve created is a real page. This wastes Google’s time, and they can decide to stop crawling your site.
Whether or not you want to design a 404 page or leave it up to the real 404 error code is up to you. While soft 404 error pages can keep people on your site, they can also hurt SEO.