Jim Munro: A soft 404 is an error page which should return "404 - Not Found" but instead returns "200 - OK", Steven. Sometimes soft 404's are misreported in Google Webmaster Tools but you should check these URLs and check that the right response code is returned.
Steven Ciccantelli: I just read somewhere that I should have one.So I am OK not having one? Always so much info out here and I am not real sure what is valid or just Hokey.
Jim Munro: No, mate. You should not have "soft" 404's because by returning 200 OK you are effectively telling Googlebot that the page is OK even though it is an error. ; You can check the response your server is returning by putting your URLs into this tool. ;
The article you were reading may have been referring to a "custom" 404. Is that possible?
Federico Sasso: ;what you might probably have read is you need a "user-friendly" 404 page, which is a different concept. Hope this helps.
john matthew: ;hi Federico, can you explain little bit more about user-friendly 404 page and are these 404 pages really effect rankings?
Dave Elliott: Not so much rankings but usability. Having things like a sitemap on them to aid your customers to find the correct page, or a search box. Hopefully keeping your users on the site rather than pinging back off to google and find a competitors site.
Sitegains: The problem is that when people build "custom" 404's they inadvertently cause soft 404's as the new page commonly returns a 200 response.
Federico Sasso: ;user-friendly 404 page are just what their name says: instead of simply returning an empty page with a 404 code, along with the 404 code return a page to explain users the page they are looking for doesn't exist and help them find their way (i.e. without bouncing back). Take a user-friendly 404 without a 404 (don't do it at home!), and you'd get a "soft 404 page".
An no, a user-friendly 404 page doesn't help with ranking, but can help reducing bounce rate and hopefully improve conversion rate, keeping a potential customer on site without wasting the chance to make her convert.
Steven Ciccantelli: it was a custom 404 I looked it up came across soft and got more confused. I am really new to this so thank you all for even answering my questions.A little SEO curiousity is a dangerous thing.Just so much to learn and not even the experts agree on everything. Oh and then Google changes it around.
Federico Sasso: ;I read you comment after posting my last one. As you can read, I'm aware of the fact :)
Federico Sasso: ;it's just jargon. Things are quite simple at the end: + when a content doesn't exist, return a 404 status code, and you have a (generic) 404 page + along with the 404, return helpful message to make the 404 page "user-friendly" + but, do remember to keep the 404 http status code, otherwise you'd get a "soft 404"
Dave Elliott: are you setting the 404 page through your cms or through your server? its normally best done through the server if you have access.
Dave Elliott: Oh and if you have chrome bugger ; tool use this ;
Steven Ciccantelli: if I need it I would have to ask the webmaster to do it.My bounce rate is rather high.