Google "Soft 404" errors piling up!
I am in a dilemma with regards to soft 404 page errors. Been getting a lot of these soft 404 page error messages in WMT.
I deal with a large site that publishes business listings city-wise and within that category-wise. Each listing has its own unique page as well as they are also listed in the category pages for the city.
Two potential issues lead to lot of 404 page errors that is handled by doing a smart targeted 301 page redirect:
a) Every month lot of old listings are removed and new ones added up that result in 404 errors for their unique listing pages. We simply do a 301 redirect to the corresponding city's home page for the city specific listing that was removed. i.e if a listing that was in "City A" is now removed, then we do a 301 redirect to the home page of "City A" for that listing page URL. This is resulting in many soft 404 error messages via Google Webmasters Tool. We checked via "Fetch as Google" and it shows a proper 301 redirect.
b) In many cases, lot of categories too become redundant and they are removed, so we employ a simple mechanism to 301 redirect the 404 page categories to related higher level category till it finds a perfectly working 200 page category. It can find it either one level up/two level up/three level up/ or if none exist, then redirect to the home page.
What do you think should be done? Should we treat them as 404 or continue with the existing settings. These settings have been in place since almost 10 years now.
If at all, we start to treat them as 404 error pages:
- What would be the impact on Google rankings when it suddenly starts finding a huge number of 404 errors.
- We could also add the "Google Webmaster Tools 404 widget " to the 404 page which would show relevant related pages (provide alternatives to incorrect URLs), but in many cases it could also show up links that are actually 404 error pages, but not yet updated in Google. That could set a loop.
How do the experts suggest handling this issue?