As a site owner, have you noticed that 404 error detection seems to be inconsistent across desktop and mobile? Plenty of SEOs have noticed this peculiar finding – and Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller came forward with an explanation.
Hard 404 versus Soft 404: What’s the Difference?
You’ve probably seen plenty of 404 errors on the web. This code actually belongs to a widespread series of codes – those in the 400 range indicate that a page won’t load. Specifically, a 404 code means the page almost definitely won’t load upon being refreshed. A common cause is a mistyped URL, though there are plenty of other issues that may spark a 404 error code.
A regular 404 code – which, in this context, can be called a ‘hard 404’ – is a code returned to Google by the web server. A soft 404 code, meanwhile, is a label applied to a page by Google. In other words, Google is not responsible for assigning real 404 codes, but will flag pages themselves with a soft 404 code.
How is Google Changing Soft 404 Detection?
It turns out that the subject of these complaints wasn’t imagined. On the July 9 episode of Google’s Office Hours livestream series, Mueller revealed that Google had changed the way that Search Console reports 404 errors to the user. Specifically, desktop pages and their mobile counterparts are tracked separately, and may show separate results.
“In Search Console, we do show soft 404s,” Mueller explained, “but we show it for the mobile version. So, if on the mobile version everything is okay on your side, then in Search Console it will look like its indexed normally. But for desktop, you won’t be able to see that directly in Search Console.”
As a result of this change, SEOs have noticed that Google is either failing to index their pages, or that they’re seeing a spike in soft 404 errors without being notified in Search Console.
According to Mueller, Google is working to solve the problems SEOs have seen over the last few weeks.
You can see Mueller talk about the issue around the 22-minute mark of this video.