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I have a set of pages in user profiles which, depending on the user's actions, may or may not have any information on it. It's essentially a feed of the user's comments. Some users add comments, some don't.

Google Webmasters has marked the pages without any comments as 'Soft 404s'. Now, these pages aren't 404s as they are meant to exist, but they don't have any data (yet). What is the correct http status code to handle these types of pages which exist, but may/not have data on them in the future?

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The reported Soft-404 (a page that perhaps looks like a 404 but returns a 200 OK status) is really just a "helpful" report that GWT provides. "Hey, your site has served a page that really doesn't have anything on it?!" It is not necessarily a problem, unless your page contained valid content that you wanted indexed, or it should be a real 404 (returning a 404 status).

As you mention, these pages "don't have any data", so it's not realistically indexable anyway. When/if the page gets content then its status should change. A Soft-404 is unlikely to appear in the search results.

What is the correct http status code to handle these types of pages which exist

If a page exists, it should return a 200 OK status.

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    In addition, for a soft 404 classification the page would normally have to include a recognised message text such as "No comments to display" or "No content to display" or "The user hasn't added any content yet" etc, just having little content on the page would normally be insufficient to cause a soft 404. Oct 24 '14 at 10:53
  • Add to the list text like page removed. I had to adjust valid content to avoid phrases like this from HTTP fetches from other websites included into my content.
    – closetnoc
    Oct 24 '14 at 19:27
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What is the correct http status code to handle these types of pages which exist, but may/not have data on them in the future?

If no data is present, I would specify a noindex, follow directive. PHP example:

<?php if(empty($posts)): ?>
    <meta name="robots" content="index, follow">
<?php endif; ?>

When content is added, the above meta tag will disappear and Google will be free to index the page. This method can prevent thin / non-existent content from being indexed.

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In addition to total lack of data in content zones, or repeated strings in empties, "Not Found" seems to be the general word trigger for soft 404.

If that string is there, you can try removing it and replacing with funny randomized others like "This dude is obviously not a comment pioneer" or "Comments arent gonna write themselves ya know..." or "Tired of looking at blank pages? Chat this dude up." or "If you can make this dude comment ill give you a popsicle"- try to make like 10+ of them to change between on pageviews.

That way it will vary it across the pages, be randomized for the empties, and be funny/enticing for the people reading the empties.

And to handle the bots, Wexford suggests noindex which is correct, however Google will still visit, categorize, and memorize the pages. Better to work towards reducing its soft 404 to begin with.

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