A 404 error message is an HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) status code that indicates that the server could not find the requested website. It simply means that the users’ web browser could connect with the server, but the given page that the user is attempting to access could not be reached. 404 errors exist in two forms: soft 404 errors and hard 404 errors. Soft 404 errors occur when a page exists but has been removed. In soft 404 errors, the user receives the message, but Google crawl bots do not. In hard 404 errors, both the visitor and Google crawl bots receive the message.
Impacts of 404 Errors on SEO
SEO is affected in different ways by 404 errors. First, website ranking on Search engine result pages (SERPS) is affected by soft 404 errors. The website is affected based on how Google crawls a website. Google utilizes a Crawl budget to lower the workload of crawl bots and prevent website servers from straining. When soft 404 errors are many in a website, the website would be utilizing a higher crawl budget. When the crawl budget is high, the number of crawled pages minimizes, resulting in poorer and fewer rankings in SERPs.
Secondly, the presence of soft 404 Errors leads to a poor experience. The presence of 404 URLs in the search results is likely to direct the user to pages that do not exist. This may make the user bounce and poor reflection on the website.
Thirdly, the ability to pass link juice through a website will be affected by 404 Error messages emanating from broken links. Spiders dead in their tracks will be stopped; hence not an asset to SEO.
Finally, although 404 Error pages are said not to consume many spaces in the server as content pages, they consume some bandwidth. This is likely to slow the performance and speed of the website.