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  • [Forum] Soft 404 Errors in Google Webmaster Tools

    We've historically had a large number of spam signups which were all placed in the Banned usergroup. A couple of months ago, we purged these old banned users as we knew they would never be returning.

    Since this was done, Google has been emailing us reporting a significant rise in "soft 404" errors for "member.php" containing the deleted user ID, see below for an explanation:

    http://support.google.com/webmasters...&answer=181708

    As Google explains, when a page does not exist it should return a 404 response code. The problem with vBulletin is that it almost never issues a 404 response code.

    All of the deleted user URLs return a 200 OK response code, which is clearly not correct. A 200 response means that the URL request found related content, a user which does not exist is not valid content and should not be indexed. I appreciate that there is a "noindex" meta tag on the page, but Google still treats this as a "soft 404" and is not happy about it.

    Many of these spam user accounts were linked to from other external sites, so these incoming links are not going away. We need to return a 404 error page for pages that do not exist.

    I hope you agree that this is the only correct response.

  • #2
    vBulletin does not work that way. if someone tries to link to a non-existent user profile, they will not get a 404 because the file being called actually exists. They will instead receive a message from the software advising them that the user profile requested is invalid.

    This is correct behaviour - you want to keep people on your site, not drive them away with a 404 error. vBulletin is written primarily with the end user experience in mind, not what's convenient for Google.
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    • #3
      Originally posted by Mark.B View Post
      vBulletin does not work that way. if someone tries to link to a non-existent user profile, they will not get a 404 because the file being called actually exists. They will instead receive a message from the software advising them that the user profile requested is invalid.

      This is correct behaviour - you want to keep people on your site, not drive them away with a 404 error. vBulletin is written primarily with the end user experience in mind, not what's convenient for Google.
      I'm sorry Mark, this is not technically correct. The page, as far as the customer is concerned, is fine and does not have to change. The HTTP response code is plain wrong. A 200 response header tells Google the resource requested exists. A 404 response tells Google it does not. Returning a 200 response for a resource that has been deleted is not right, no matter how you look at it. It's not even debatable.

      The customer doesn't see the response code, it's a single line of PHP to add the following header to a request for a deleted user/thread/anything:

      Code:
      header("HTTP/1.1 404 Not Found");
      The customer sees the same page and is happy. Search engines understand that the resource no longer exists and should not be indexed.

      Please do not dismiss this out of hand, my company develops an ecommerce CMS product and has to get response codes right.

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      • #4
        I would log this as an improvement request in the tracker:

        vB4 Improvement request
        http://tracker.vbulletin.com/secure/...20&issuetype=4
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        • #5
          Originally posted by Bluepark View Post
          Originally posted by Mark.B View Post
          vBulletin does not work that way. if someone tries to link to a non-existent user profile, they will not get a 404 because the file being called actually exists. They will instead receive a message from the software advising them that the user profile requested is invalid. This is correct behaviour - you want to keep people on your site, not drive them away with a 404 error. vBulletin is written primarily with the end user experience in mind, not what's convenient for Google.
          I'm sorry Mark, this is not technically correct. The page, as far as the customer is concerned, is fine and does not have to change. The HTTP response code is plain wrong. A 200 response header tells Google the resource requested exists. A 404 response tells Google it does not. Returning a 200 response for a resource that has been deleted is not right, no matter how you look at it. It's not even debatable. The customer doesn't see the response code, it's a single line of PHP to add the following header to a request for a deleted user/thread/anything:
          Code:
          header("HTTP/1.1 404 Not Found");
          The customer sees the same page and is happy. Search engines understand that the resource no longer exists and should not be indexed. Please do not dismiss this out of hand, my company develops an ecommerce CMS product and has to get response codes right.
          Great! Thank you for sharing that, now Which template exactly would we add that to in order to fix the issue?

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Budget101 View Post

            Great! Thank you for sharing that, now Which template exactly would we add that to in order to fix the issue?
            Yes, does anyone know how to fix this in the templates?
            I just cannot believe that VB has let this bug go for so long, and then try and pass it off like it's supposed to be that way. Why would it supposed to give the wrong code to search engines? I'm getting dinged with hundreds of soft 404s because of this.

            Do other forum software have this behavior? If not, then that means those forums are going to have less errors and rank higher just because those owners chose a different software.

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            • #7
              That is PHP code and cannot be added to a template. It requires code changes which we do not support or recommend.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Joe D. View Post
                That is PHP code and cannot be added to a template. It requires code changes which we do not support or recommend.
                So VB is and has been broken, and it appears there is no plans on fixing it?
                We are all getting dinged by Google and other search engines because of this, and VB official response is 'oh well'?

                This topic has been brought up many times I see now that I've search more about it, why has VB decided to not fix this?
                I have several hundred soft 404's that I can't fix because that Google sees as a problem, that I can't fix because of your software.

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                • #9
                  It seems to be debatable if this is a bug or an improvement request/feature change, but the only chance it has of being changed is if someone puts a report in the bug tracker.

                  http://tracker.vbulletin.com/secure/...20&issuetype=1

                  The reality is however VB 4.x probably doesn't have many updates left and there is certainly no guarantee at this point it will get fixed, Your best bet would be to look for help with a manual code edit on www.vbulletin.org.

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                  • #10
                    Did this ever get addressed?
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                    • #11
                      I doubt it, I am also getting slapped for having multiple duplicate meta descriptions.

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                      • #12
                        I'll solve this debate -- it's a serious design flaw. The fact that it doesn't return the appropriate status code at this late date - 404 - is quite mind boggling. And the proof that it's a serious design defect is that vBulletin 5 returns a 404.
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