Recently, I noticed that I have a growing list of Soft 404 errors in Google Webmaster Tools. They are all for dynamically generated search result pages that report "No matches found".
I do understand what Google means by Soft 404 and why they are reporting it for these pages. So I added
<meta name="robots" content="noindex"> to these pages.
However, Google is still reporting new Soft 404 errors for pages that are using the noindex meta tag.
Why does Google report any error for a page I told them not to index?
The problem is that with all these unwanted errors, I can't see if there are any real problems that need to be fixed.
Some have said that these pages should return a 404 status code. But that just shifts the problem over to the 404 errors tab. Besides, Google returns status code 200 for their no results page.
I don't want to block access with robots.txt because I want the links on these pages followed and I want Google to see the noindex meta tag. Besides, there is no pattern that I could use to block these.
Google found these URLs in the first place because the content used to exist, but has since been deleted. I can't return a 410 status code, because my PHP code has no way of knowing the reason why no results were found.
Is there anything I can do to make it easier to see the real problems?