How HTTP Status Codes Impact SEO

There are many HTTP status codes we come across on the internet on a daily basis, but how many of us actually know their meaning and what they are for? Status codes like 404, 301, and 500 are a few examples of these codes.

These codes might have little to no value for an ordinary visitor, but they can be very important for search engine optimization. Googlebot and search engine spiders use these codes to determine the health of a website. They simply enable a way to understand what happens between your browser and the server. A number of these codes indicate an internal error; for example, the server cannot find the requested content, while other codes suggest a complete and successful delivery of the requested content.

Of course, there are many HTTP status codes, but in this article, we will focus on the most important ones and their effect on SEO.

What are HTTP status codes?

When a browser sends a request to the server concerning a particular content or material, the server will respond with an HTTP status code indicating whether or not the request can be fulfilled.

Before we dive in and talk about how these codes work, we need to first understand how web browsers and servers interact with each other. Visiting websites normally starts with putting their URL or typing a search intent in the search box. Then in return, the server will respond with the appropriate status code that is embedded in the HTTP header, containing the result of the requested URL or the search intent.

When everything works fine, the server will respond with an HTTP 200 code along with the requested content. However, sometimes there could be some errors with the requested material or the server itself. Maybe the page could not be found on the server, which is a 404-page error code, or the server is experiencing some temporary technical issues; in that case, the code will be 500 (Internal Server Error).

These codes are especially important to SEO because they act as a reliable tool to evaluate the health of the website and its accompanying server. Sending the wrong HTTP status codes will affect the website indexing process and hurt its rankings on the search engine result page (SERP).

Different ranges

HTTP status codes have five different ranges that explain different characteristics of the transaction process between the web browser and the server. The list below contains all these five ranges and their purpose.

·                     1xx – Informational

·                     2xx – Success

·                     3xx – Redirection

·                     4xx – Client error

·                     5xx – Server error

Most important HTTP status codes in SEO

It’s not possible to cover all the HTTP status codes in a single article, and you probably don’t need to know all of them. But there are a number of these codes that are very important for SEO, and any website admin or an enthusiast website owner should know about them.

200: OK / Success

The majority of times, you’re going to encounter this code. It indicates that the client request and the content are delivered successfully to the browser. 200 status code means that both the client and the server are working properly. All 2xx codes mean a sort of success.

301: Moved permanently

With 301 HTTP code, we indicate that the URL or the material the web browser is asking for is moved permanently to another location. This code is pretty common because sometimes we need to make a redirection from the old pages to the new ones. If we don’t use this HTTP code status, the users will instead see a 404 error page because they’re visiting an old URL, which doesn’t exist anymore. As you can see, that’s not good for business.

302: Found

This HTTP code status is pretty interesting. We only use this code when we want to temporarily move a URL to a different location. And we’re going back to the same old URL again shortly. Since the search engine knows you’re moving back to the old link, it’s not going to transfer any link value to the new URL location.

You should be cautious with this HTTP status code because it can mess up your website if you don’t use it correctly. For example, do not use it when moving your domain or when you want to make a lot of changes to the site structure.

307: Temporary redirect

This HTTP status code is pretty similar to the 302 code, with one major difference. 307 HTTP status code lets us know that we are changing the old URL temporarily and we will be back on it in the near future, but with a 302 code, we didn’t know if it was temporary or not. With this code, the browser (client) knows that it should keep using the old URL every time making a new request.

403: Forbidden

This status code states that a particular user is prohibited to receive the content they are asking for. They might not have the required credentials to get access to the material. In these cases, the code that will appear on the screen or in the URL would be a 403 HTTP status code.

404: Not found

404 HTTP status code is without a doubt one of the most common codes we come across online. When the server answers your request with a 404 code, we know the content we asked for is no longer available on the server and probably has been deleted.

A 404 error page messes up SEO and increases the bounce rate a lot. Try to fix these pages by either providing the content that was deleted from the server or redirecting the old URL to a newer article or page that has similar content.

You can find about 404 error pages in Google Search Console and try to keep them as minimum as possible. Google sees a 404 HTTP status code as a sign of bad website maintenance. In time these deleted pages will influence your presence in the engine result pages and have a bad impact on your rankings. If you want to let google know that these pages are broken and no longer exist, a better HTTP status code would be 410, as it sends a more understandable message.

410: Gone

The HTTP status codes 410 and 404 are the same. They both let us know that the requested material could not be found. However, 410 status code informs search engines that you deleted the content yourself. 410 code is more specific, and it lets search engines know that they should remove the old URL from the index list.

A good practice before deleting a page or an article is to have similar content already indexed on your website. You can use it to redirect the older page you want to delete. But if you don’t have related content, then it’s not wise to get rid of the content just yet.

451: Unavailable for Legal Reasons

A new addition to the status codes, the 451 HTTP status code, means that the requested material no longer exists because of legal reasons. Maybe you received a takedown request for one of your articles from users, or a judge ordered you to delete a particular content; you should use this code to let search engines know why you’re doing this.

500: Internal Server Error

A 500 error is a common error message that informs us of a problem with the server. The server that is hosting the requested content is experiencing an unexpected issue that is preventing it from fulfilling the client’s request. This code does not provide you with additional information about what’s actually causing the problem.

The problem could be the server or a script file on your site that’s not working properly. You can review your server’s logs to identify the problem.

503: Service unavailable

This HTTP status code is designed to let us know that the server currently can’t handle fulfilling the request. It can be due to an outage or an overload. You can use this status code whenever you want during downtime doing some maintenance on your website. It also informs search engines that It’s a temporary issue and your website will be in working order shortly.

Conclusion

HTTP status codes are an inseparable part of SEO and search engine crawlers. As an SEO manager or a website owner who does their own search engine optimization, you’ll encounter these HTTP status codes on a daily basis. For example, if you want to delete a page or an article on your website, you should know which code to use. It is crucial to understand the differences between 404 and 410. Each HTTP status code serves a different purpose and must not be used correctly.

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