Does Google See Multiple Redirects as Soft 404 Errors?

We already know that multiple redirects waste Googlebot’s budget. However, there is another reason for fighting them. Google reports multiple redirecting pages as soft 404 errors, which is even worse.

Our case study

We had an interesting case with one of our clients recently. Our client’s domain was redirected due to his re-brand. After domain migration, some of the non-existent product pages were redirected to the relevant category pages (inside the new domain).

Redirect chains in SEO

Within a short period of time we got alerts from Google Search Console reporting a substantial increase in soft 404 errors for an old domain (which was fully redirected).

Errors in Search Console.

Error increase in Google Search Console

This problem was detected for the redirected domain first. Unfortunately, the target domain was also affected, and a few days later, we received one more alert warning us about soft 404 errors.

We quickly connected these two facts and scraped the former domain’s index to find as many URLs as possible (including redirects and redirect chains).

Then we took the list of all the multiple redirects and compared it with the list of soft 404 errors reported by Google Search Console.

Many of the URLs reported as soft 404 errors were redirected more than once. However, almost none of the single redirects belonged to that group. Also, we couldn’t find non-redirecting URLs there.

This led us to a hypothesis – Google is treating multiple redirects just like soft 404s.

Solving a soft 404 problem

It turned out that fixing the problem with soft 404 errors was quite easy. We created a list of all the multiple redirects and sent it to the client (they are still indexed in Google, but not linked to the new domain).  All we had to do was create redirects directly to the target URL without any hops in-between.

Let me show you the results:

The number of soft 404 errors reported for the new domain dropped almost to zero!

Could my domain also be affected?

You should check your URL structure for redirect chains before Google reports problems. You are especially prone to this kind of issue if:

  • The name of your domain was changed.
  • The HTTPS protocol was recently implemented on your domain.
  • The URL structure was changed.

 The key is to check all your redirects from the old to the new URL to see the possible redirect chains. You can use a really nifty tool “Ayima redirect path” to check it in your Chrome browser.

Sample redirect path view:

Detailed redirect view:

Ayima is very helpful in manual on-page analysis, but you will definitely need a full crawl with an extensive site structure.

To sum up

In our client’s case, Google itself took care of its precious crawling budget. The logic is simple: If a non-existent page redirects to another non-existent page, it apparently should be a 404 error page.

Did you notice some similar cases in Google Search Console? Or maybe are you struggling with redirect chains? Let us know and don’t hesitate to take advantage of our technical SEO services!