I have a site that have pages for certain category based on region.
and so on
The content of these pages are user generated. So naturally some pages show empty results (with friendly message).
Also these URLs are generated and included on sitemap automatically.
Lately I am getting Soft 404 Error on webmaster panel.
To fix this I am now sending just a status code 404 header on the result page (instead of showing not found custom 404 page).
At this point I think I have done it right way but I am not sure if i should remove the URLs from sitemap too?
Actually my question is: Does sending 404 header for empty result pages affect ranking if URL exist in sitemap? How to do this properly?