Google: why expired product pages might be marked as soft 404 errors

In a webmaster hangout on YouTube, Google’s John Mueller explained why Google might mark expired product pages as soft 404 pages. A webmaster redirected outdated product pages to new product pages that showed alternate products. Google marked them as ‘404 not found’ although the pages worked.

what is a soft 404 error HTTP status code

What is a soft 404 error?

A soft 404 error means that a page on your website returns a page telling the user that the page does not exist. The usual HTTPS status code for that is ‘404 not found’.

If the ‘the page could not be found’ page delivers a ‘200 OK’ HTTP status code then Google will mark the page as a ‘soft 404’ error based on the content of the page.

Why was the redirected page marked as a soft 404 page?

In this case, the webmaster correctly redirected the page with a 301 redirect to the alternate product page. However, the page contained a text that told the visitor that the old product was no longer available and that the visitor might want to check an alternate product instead.

The ‘no longer available’ part of the text was the reason why Google marked the page as a soft 404 error:

“What is happening here is that our algorithms are looking at these pages and they’re seeing that there’s maybe a banner on this page saying ‘This product is no longer available and they assume that that applies to the page’ […]

That’s sometimes not really avoidable. If you’re really replacing one product with another it might make sense to just redirect [the page].”

You can view the video here:

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Johannes Selbach

Johannes Selbach is the CEO of SEOprofiler. He blogs about search engine optimization and website marketing topics at "http://blog.seoprofiler.com".