atlrus - 3:48 pm on Jun 18, 2013 (gmt 0)
Here's the best example I can come up with without using specifics:
We sell "examples" at example.com. We have pages for "examples" in every state: example.com/alabama, example.com/alaska... ect. We write articles about "examples" for most states and list them here: example.com/alabama/articles. So lets say we have'nt written any articles for "examples" in Alaska yet. The page is still there: exampl.com/alaska/articles but instead of listing the available articles (there are none) it says "no articles for Alaska yet". google is telling us in WMT that example.com/alaska/articles is a "soft 404". And they're right, these are pages that are not adding value, that should not be there.
I don't usually give google much credit but they are nailing this! For whatever it's worth, I'm impressed that they have been able to figure it out.
Actually I am a bit worried about this, but not as much as you should be. After all, those "soft 404s" in your example are not really 404, just very thin content pages, however, unlike 404 - they do exist. Soft 404 has nothing to do with actual content, but with errors implementing a "real" 404.
I'm not sure when the "soft 404" crept in, but if your page has "There are no articles at this time" - it's a perfectly legit 200 OK page. Google considering those pages 404 is like claiming that a bakery doesn't sell cupcakes because they are out at this time.
Or as someone else mentioned, Google soft 404-ing products out of stock. Just because the product is out of stock it doesn't mean the page does not exist!?!
I just hate when Google doesn't follow simple protocol rules, but make up some arbitrary BS...