Google’s John Mueller addressed an issue some site owners might run into where expired product pages are reported as soft 404s.
This topic came up during a recent Google Webmaster Central hangout where the following question was asked:
“Google is reporting our expired product pages as soft 404. These URLs redirect to a relevant, alternate product with a message saying the product they wanted is unavailable.”
When content is no longer available, it’s standard practice to redirect it to an equivalent page.
That’s exactly what this site owner is doing, so why is Google reporting the expired pages as soft 404s?
Mueller explains that it likely has to do with the messaging on the page that users are redirected to.
Googlebot may crawl the page, see a message that says “no longer available,” and assumes that applies to the page itself.
Mueller says that’s an issue which is not entirely avoidable.
If a new product is replacing the old one, Mueller says the site owner should consider redirecting the page without the “no longer available” message.
However, if the product is gone completely, then it may make sense to treat it as a soft 404.
Hear the full question and answer below, starting at the 11:23 mark.
“I suspect what is happening here is that our algorithms are looking at these pages and they’re seeing maybe there’s a banner on the page saying “this product is no longer available.”
And [our algorithms] assume that applies to the page the user ended up on. So that’s sometimes not really avoidable.
If you’re really replacing one product with another it might make sense to just redirect.
If one product is gone completely and is no longer available then you could put it in this soft 404 state where you say this product is no longer available.”