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Some of the web-pages on my site are very slim. I've recently noticed that Google appears to qualify such pages as "Soft 404":

The target URL doesn't exist, but your server is not returning a 404 (file not found) error. Learn more

Your server returns a code other than 404 or 410 for a non-existent page (or redirecting users to another page, such as the homepage, instead of returning a 404). This creates a poor experience for searchers and search engines.

This is incorrect. They should be included in the index.

One such example is http://ports.su/www/apache-httpd-openbsd, which as of now appears to have about 2 lines of unique content, probably around 140 characters, especially if you subtract words from the URL from the page itself.

How do I tell Google these short pages are normal? What happened with the concept of each page only having as little information as is necessary?

  • You should update your site map with those pages and submit again through your google web master. – Helping Hands Dec 23 '14 at 5:08
  • @HelpingHands, my sitemap already has all those pages listed. – cnst Dec 23 '14 at 5:10
  • Mostly google returns that error because of lack of content or improper content, did you try by update those page content? – Helping Hands Dec 23 '14 at 5:17
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    I think you have this covered with What's the smallest page size for Googlebot to not go “Soft 404”? Is there a reason that this question still needs to remain open? – Stephen Ostermiller Dec 23 '14 at 16:17
  • @StephenOstermiller, not really -- other other question was supposed to be general about the criteria, and this one is more about a button that doesn't exist (yet) – cnst Dec 23 '14 at 16:23
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Your pages don't look like very good landing pages. Whether or not Google identifies them as "soft 404", I wouldn't think Google would want to include them in their search index.

The questions I would have when I land on these pages would be:

  • Why is this page so plain looking?
  • What is this site, who runs it, is their information credible?
  • What information can I get from this page that I can't get from the software's official website?
  • Do I have any options to get the info I need other than clicking back to the SERPs or clicking to the official site?

Your other question lists several reasons that Google may think this pages is a soft 404. There would be several other reasons that it may not appeal to users:

  • The purpose of the page is not apparent
  • There is no call to action. Do you want people to download this software, install BSD, click to the official pages, or something else?
  • There are a lot of technical terms and navigation on your site that are likely to confuse users. Directory paths, version numbers, source control system abbreviations.

My suggestions to you would be:

  • Use your site name in a heading, not just in the page title
  • Use a site logo on every page
  • Your site is not a subdirectory of /usr/ why are you making the navigation appear that it is?
  • The fact that www is a category isn't immediately apparent. You should say it is the category at the top of the page (like you do at the bottom) or use more familiar breadcrumb navigation "ports.se > BSD software > www > Apache > apache-httpd-openbsd"
  • Describe what the page and site are supposed to do, maybe something like "Browse and compare the software that ships with BSD. View the software package dependencies"
  • Use something other than a white background, black text, and blue links. Anything really.
  • Take version numbers out of the headers. "OpenBSD improved and secured version of Apache" is a good header and smaller below it could be (with more description): "Package name and version: apache-httpd-openbsd-1.3.20140502p2"
  • Describe your navigation links "CVSWeb" and "allbsd" are rather opaque. What are they? How are they related? Why would I want to click on them?
  • Get some more content. Can you review these packages? Allow others to review them? At least link to reviews or ratings?
  • thanks! this looks like a good review of the site from an outsider. i knew about and have already considered some of these points, agree with others (was somewhat blind to them due to being exposed within the community), and others are just fine as is. but thanks again for your PoV! – cnst Dec 23 '14 at 17:29
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Google doesn't want to waste its resource crawling pages that appear to not add values, so when it comes across to a page that look like an error page, Google gives a soft 404 error warning to let you know the page will not be treated like a normal page anymore unless you fix it.

Few examples of when soft 404 happens

  1. content on a page is an error page yet it is showing status code 200
  2. content on a page is minimal and looks like an error page
  3. content on a page is irrelevant to the original page (when a redirect is in place) - especially when do a catch all redirect to the home page

The first thing I notice of the page you gave is that there is no description in the content as to what the page is about.

I am not technical enough to understand the information on the page so if I got to the page for the first time, I would likely either just close the page or hit the back button on the browser.

When I checked on the important SEO elements,

  • the title doesn't mean anything to people who are not technical enough to understand
  • no meta description
  • very little content

Adding more content and description would be the best solution.

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I want to point out that a page can be declared as a soft-404 if the text in it suggests that it is an error page regardless of the amount of quality images or template surrounding it. For example, if your page contains text such as:

"The page you are requesting could not be found"

or even:

"The page you are requesting is currently not available"

Then it can send a signal to search engines that the status is a soft-404.

As others have mentioned, you want to create a quality page rich in text that people can understand without using any shady techniques and add some hyperlinks to other sections of your website to make the web page more real and more user friendly.

Try to make any text about the page the least negative as possible. For example, if something is upcoming, you may want to add the following:

"In about (insert time frame here) from now, we will be having (insert future event name here). In the meantime we have info about (insert current event name here). (insert blank lines and description of event here)"

instead of this:

"The page about (insert future event name here) could not be found"

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