Soft 404s Or Noindex Empty Pages

Michelle Race, aka ShelliWeb, asked an interesting SEO question, she asked what is better for Google when you have empty webpages. Should you noindex the empty webpage or should you let Google index it and treat it as a soft 404?

The specific case is that you create a category page but you have no product on that page yet. What do you do in the meantime, while you wait for products to come into that category. Do you noindex it from Google or let Google index the empty page and treat it as a soft 404?

Here is Michelle’s question:

Now, John Mueller of Google said it doesn’t really matter. John said “I don’t think there would be any noticeable difference between those two approaches. When things change (empty -> content), we usually get signals from various places (suddenly internal links), so we can use that to pick up crawling when needed.”

Here is John’s response:

Now of course it might be best to have a feature to not show the page at all yet without any content on it. Do not add it to your navigation, do not present it to users or search engines until the page has content. But there must be a business or technical reason for having to show it without content first, in this specific case. Either way, John’s response is interesting and new.

Here is Bing’s response on this:

Forum discussion at Twitter.