AdWords is now Google Ads. Our new name reflects the full range of advertising options we offer across Search, Display, YouTube, and more. Learn more

2.8K members online now
2.8K members online now
Improve your Google Ads performance and boost your ROI, CTR, and Quality Score
Guide Me

Soft 404, weird PPC traffic. Was I Hacked By Competitor? How Do I Fix?

[ Edited ]
Visitor ✭ ✭ ✭
# 1
Visitor ✭ ✭ ✭

I don't know if I'm just paranoid...

I've been doing SEO in a competitive space for an up and coming startup. Our efforts have been pretty good considering we started with a brand new domain just 9 or so months ago.

We recently started jumping into the Adwords space. Obviously we're adding a bit of competition to an ad space dominated by some pretty big companies for years. It's incredibly competitive and clicks don't come cheap.

Well...all of a sudden, our website has a HUGE increase in soft 404 errors. The URLs end like this:

Yeah...pretty suspicious. I can't imagine this would be a random hack. Anyone else experience this?

Our most recent Adword campaign has seen a decent amount of clicks, the traffic stays on our landing page for a decent amount of time. Well...the lead form was filled out a significant amount of times...but with super bogus info...

No only does this screw with my conversion data, but it's costing us clicks.

Honestly at this point, none of this is a HUGE deal. But once we start increasing Adwords budget and running bigger campaigns, it will get annoying.

Has anyone else experienced this? Any advice?

2 Expert replyverified_user

Soft 404, weird PPC traffic. Was I Hacked By Competitor? How Do I Fix?

Top Contributor
# 2
Top Contributor

Hi @Sally M,


Where are the 404 errors showing up at... in Google Webmaster/Search Console? 


With the web form, do you use recaptcha to prevent bots from filling it out? 


Kind Regards,



Google My Business & Google Ads Top Contributor
Google Partner | GYBO Agency | Local Guide | My Profile




Soft 404, weird PPC traffic. Was I Hacked By Competitor? How Do I Fix?

[ Edited ]
Top Contributor
# 3
Top Contributor

those particular soft-404-errors are typically due to spam-searches --
usually on sites with an internal search feature, such as wordpress.

these can sometimes be prevented by changing the site's search-parameter --
for example, from /?s= to some permanent random string, such as /?ask23930=

or by simply removing/disabling whatever the offending on-site feature may be.

also, checking the entire site for an exploit would likely be prudent.

however, such issues are rather outside the scope of this forum and are
likely better addressed by asking within google's webmaster-central-forum --!categories/webmasters/malware--hacked-sites

as to the form-issue, the best likely course would be to better target
who see the ads in the first place and as was indicated, take precautions --
such as using recaptcha, asking better questions or questions that could
be answered only by a person who is truly interested in the product or
service, asking complex or area-specific questions that can be answered
only by a person, then carefully rejecting invalid form-fields, etc.

collecting data around the profile of the type of person who is filling

out the form erroneously, verses the profile of potential customers --
can sometimes be used to create the best preventative measures,

a better form, and likely more importantly, the type of ad-targeting

that is used to help show the ads only to the most relevant potential

customers, in the first place.

for example, are the most relevant customers more likely to be physically
within a specific geographic area, use a specific device, available mainly
during certain times of the day or certain days, use specific search-terms

or not use certain search-terms, etc.

of course, if the advertising is part of a very general brand-campaign, or
the marketing goal is simply to collect information from random people,
or the exact purpose of the data collection is unclear, such methods are

unlikely to help much and the ads may even violate google's policies.