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This is a strange question, but I really struggled to find any decent info by searching for it.

I have a client who has a new e-commerce product collection called "Error 404", and they want me to create a landing page for it.

Bad user experience aside, what is the likelihood of a page with the wording "Error 404" with images and links to products being accidentally labeled as a soft 404 page by Google? And if it is likely, is there anyway to force it to be indexed as a valid page?

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    Tricky one. As far as I know, 404 is an HTTP Error code and I don't think it participates in SEO. As long as the pages are sending the HTTP 200 code, it should be okay.
    – MovieMe
    Jul 8 at 3:59
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    If your concern was valid then wouldn't a Google search for "error 404" return zero results instead of 984,000,000 results for pages which explain what a 404 is? If anything, your client has an uphill battle against blogs which explain 404; let alone Wikipedia.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Jul 8 at 13:31
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    Since you are seemingly mostly curious about Soft 404s: there is not much precise documentation, probably by design. You could set up a test site with a couple pages (don't worry, nobody will find it, given your competition), set up a Search Console property and observe the Soft 404 tab/graph to get a feel for it. But even then, Google does change their algorithms quite a lot, so you will constantly worry. Anecdotal: with thousands of pages, we do experience lots of fluctuation with Soft 404s.
    – kubi
    Jul 8 at 15:01
  • Perhaps the graphical designers would be ok with stylising it as Є𐌲г០ꓣ ⠴⡧ ⢎⡱ ⠴⡧ or something like that? Jul 8 at 19:25
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    google.com/… I think that trying to have a brand name of 404 is rather problematic. It's much easier to trademark a word that you've made up therefore doesn't have any established meaning (e.g. "Nabisco", "Kodak"). Trying to trademark "Error 404", especially in a computer-related field, is going to be very difficult (doing it for an unrelated field, such as clothing, would be much easier, but still difficult). It's not like you can prohibit people from using "Error 404" without your permission. Jul 9 at 4:04

4 Answers 4

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You will be able to get your most of your content indexed, but there will probably be some SEO issues associated with that brand name. Google uses heuristics to determine if the page is an error page. You are right to worry about "soft 404" errors. Enough sites use "200 OK" status for error pages that Google has to look at the content of the page to determine the error status. It can't rely on the reported HTTP status alone.

Google's heuristics are most likely to hurt short pages and redirects.

  • If you have a page with "404 Error" in the title and there are only 100 or so words on the page, Google is likely to think that is an error page. The more content you put on a page, the less likely it will be to be viewed as a soft 404.
  • If you redirect to a page with "404" in the URL path or "404 Error" in the title, Google is likely to view the redirect as a soft 404 rather than a URL change. Many websites are configured to redirect to soft 404 URLs rather than to serve the 404 status directly.

I wouldn't recommend including "404 Error" in the name of your site.

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  • This was my concern, I just haven't been able to find a lot of specific details about the google soft 404 algorithm.
    – Cam Parry
    Jul 8 at 12:59
  • I don't know for sure exactly what Google does, but I it appears to be similar to the soft 404 detection I implemented with for a link checker that behaves like I describe in my answer. Jul 8 at 17:27
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This would be quite unlikely, to the extent we can assume that the people writing the stuff at Google are competent.

The status code (which includes 404 errors as well as a number of others) are delivered by the web server as part of the header, not in the content/payload of the page. It is this header that is used to determine the page type - and indeed, having this in the header combined with a payload is how you can get fancy looking 404 error pages. The content of the web page will not trip Google up, because the bot will handle the content separately from the header.

Similarly, if you google things like "How to make a 404 error page" in Google it comes up with a lot of results - results that would not work if Google did not know how to differentiate.

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    It's more soft 404 errors that I'm worried about, as I've read that pages that look like a 404 page but return a 200 status code are marked as a soft 404 which more or less gets treated the same as a hard 404.
    – Cam Parry
    Jul 8 at 13:01
  • @CamParry to Google, they look like a 404 page by being mostly empty, not by containg the word "404". See also MonkeyZeus's comment above.
    – kubi
    Jul 8 at 14:54
  • For an example of a soft 404 page, consider webmasters.stackexchange.com/questions/asdfasdfasdf Jul 8 at 22:45
  • @CamParry any evidence for that assertion?
    – davidgo
    Jul 9 at 2:21
  • @MooingDuck Isn't that an actual 404, with content? The network tab shows it as 404'ing for me. Jul 9 at 14:07
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If the page(s) you create are correctly optimized, the collection name "Error 404" should not be a problem for the indexing of the pages.

  • Let's assume the collection is about t-shirts. You should not optimize the page for "Error 404" but for instance for the query "Error 404 t-shirts". I checked the SERP for this query and a number of landing category pages of e-commerce websites show up.

  • You should use your target query (and related queries) in the title, the slug, the H1, the images' alt text, and in the content of the page if there is any (for SEO reasons I suggest adding text describing the collection - if it is a category page - or the products - for product pages).

  • Internal links on specific anchor texts pointing to your collection or product pages are also important to show Google that the pages are valid and relevant and for which query.

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So a month later I have a conclusive answer to my own question!

TL;DR: Yes, google will think it's a soft 404 page.

Long answer:

After warning my client about the potential issues surrounding this particular branding choice and suggesting many of the good points made on this page such as adding enough content, they decided to go ahead with building the landing page with just a logo and a contact form, and sure enough when they added it to search console Google said it had detected a soft 404 for the url provided and was unable to index the page.

It still got some good use as a landing page collecting emails from direct marketing links and social media etc. but can't be found anywhere in google search results. We shall see if they decide to add more content to fix the issue but for now they have decided to leave it as is.

Anyway I thought it was interesting to share my findings, someone may randomly find this helpful in the future.

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