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The Ultimate SEO Guide to HTTP Status Codes: Everything You Need to Know

HTTP status codes are a server’s response to a browser’s requests. You must manage these codes carefully for the Googlebot to crawl your site properly. Check out how these codes impact the SEO.

Home / Blogs / The Ultimate SEO Guide to HTTP Status Codes: Everything You Need to Know
Raghav Tayal

Head Of Operations - Digital Web Solutions

June 19, 2024

HTTP status codes may not mean much to regular visitors of a website, but they are quite significant for its search engine optimization (SEO) and overall website health. These status codes give an indication of what happens when browsers try to connect with your website. These codes tell the users, as well as search engines, whether things are going well or not. Before we explore how these codes impact the SEO of your website, let’s start from the basics.

What Are HTTP Status Codes?

HTTP status codes are the responses from the server to a browser’s specific requests. Every time you visit a website, the browser you are using sends a request to the website’s server. In response, the server sends a three-digit code, which we know as the HTTP status code.

These status codes (also referred to as response status codes) act as a means of communication between your browser and the website server. The server uses several other status codes besides 404 to respond to a specific request made by the internet browser. These codes are segmented into different classes based on the type of information they communicate.

For example, the 404 status code falls under the 4xx class of codes, which denotes that, in some way, the page or website could not be reached. On the other hand, 2xx codes mean that your request was completed successfully.

Importance of HTTP Status Codes in SEO

While conducting an SEO audit, it is important to check what HTTP status codes exist on the website. As mentioned, these HTTP status codes help determine the website’s health and pinpoint major problems that can affect the site’s SEO. Based on the responses, these status codes are divided into several categories:

  • 1xx – Informational

This set of status codes indicates that the server has received the request and is continuing the process.

  • 2xx – Successful

If you see this type of response from the server, it means the request was successful, and the browser is getting the expected content or resource.

  • 3xx – Redirection

Receiving this status code indicates that you have been redirected and that further action is required to complete the request.

  • 4xx – Client Error

This status code reveals that the requested page could not be reached. Either the page is unavailable, or the request contains bad syntax.

  • 5xx Server Error

In such server responses, the request seems to be valid, but the server is unable to complete it.

By analyzing these status codes, you can understand whether your website is functioning as it should or whether you need to take measures to improve its accessibility and user-friendliness. Since some of these responses indicate an error or serious issue with certain pages or resources on the website, they can send negative signals to the search engine crawlers if not fixed on time. Needless to say, these HTTP status codes play a pivotal role in your site’s SEO.

HTTP Status Codes for SEO

200 OK

The 200 OK code means that everything is working as it should. Getting this status code is the ultimate goal for 99% of your website’s content. It signifies that the website is functioning properly and offering a great user experience.

This status code also ensures that your pages are accessible and are providing the content that was expected. This is essential for both users and search engines. If your content returns a 200 OK status, you can rest assured that the website is properly accessible for crawlers as well as visitors.

301 Moved Permanently

Ideally, all website content should stay on the same URL and respond with a 200 OK status. However, things operate differently in the real world when it comes to managing a website. A 301 status code is crucial for your website’s SEO, as it tells the search engine that the page’s URL has been changed permanently. This status code also redirects the user to the new URL.

It is absolutely essential for maintaining the domain authority of the site and its search rankings, as it passes the SEO value from the old URL to the new one. If you are restructuring the website or changing its domain names, using a 301 redirect is a must to preserve the benefits of your SEO efforts.

If the page or content is gone, instead of using the 301 moved status, you can let it become a 404 error or redirect it to something similar on the website. If it is a page dedicated to a product you are no longer going to sell, you can redirect it to the category page, where it will make sense. 

302 (Temporary Redirect)

If a page on your website is temporarily removed and will come back soon, you don’t want it to return a 404 not found status or a permanent 301 redirect, as they both impact your website’s SEO. Instead, you should use 302 found status, which will tell the search engines to check back later on as this is a temporary redirect. To the user, it will be the same as 301 moved status.

For example, you have a dedicated product page, and the product has been sold out. So, you have decided to remove the page from the website until it is back in stock. In such a case, a 302 temporary redirect can be useful. Once the product comes back online, you remove the redirect, and the page will retain its value, including its good rankings in search engines.

304 Not Modified

The 304 not modified status indicates that the requested resource has not been modified since the last time it was loaded, and there is no need to transfer it again. Users see the cached version of the source, while crawlers such as Googlebot find that there is no need to recrawl the page as nothing has changed on it.

The caching opportunities provided by the 304 HTTP code are not crucial for small websites. For larger websites, however, the 304 response code is a brilliant opportunity to save the crawl budget. Google’s crawler will not recrawl the pages that were unchanged; instead, it will be able to crawl more new and updated pages.

403: Forbidden

The 403 forbidden status code indicates that the client does not have access rights to the content or requested resource. In other words, it is unauthorized, so the server is refusing to offer the requested resource. Generally, a 403 forbidden status code does not have a direct impact on the website’s SEO. However, it can indirectly affect SEO if it prevents search engine crawlers from accessing important pages or resources on the site.

If search engine crawlers, like Googlebot, encounter a 403 forbidden status code while accessing a page or resource, they may interpret it as a sign that the page is inaccessible to users. As a result, the page’s ranking in search results may get lower. As search engines prioritize pages that are user-friendly and easily accessible, a 403 status code can indicate that the page does not meet those criteria.

404: Not Found

If a page is no longer to be found, it will result in a 404 not found status code. With this code, the server indicates that the page you are looking for is not found. It is an important status code to keep track of, as it can significantly hurt your website’s SEO if not fixed in time.

When a page returns a 404 not found status code, it won’t be shown in Google’s search results. It does not get removed immediately. However, if it is not fixed soon, it will be removed after a short period of time. If your website has a high-performing page that is suddenly returning a 404 error, you need to fix it quickly.

Moreover, if there were external links pointing to the page, they would stop giving any value to the website. Thus, even if the page does not get any organic traffic, it can negatively impact your SEO efforts. You can simply set up a 301 redirect to fix this problem. This will provide a better user experience and successfully pass a majority of the link value from external links to the new page you are redirecting to.

410: Gone

A 410 gone status indicates that the requested content or resource has been permanently removed from the server with no forwarding address. This code is particularly crucial for website SEO because having too many 404 errors can affect the site’s usability and reputation with search engines. On the other hand, having 410 gone status tells crawlers and bots that the page is gone for good and that they should remove it from their index.

Any links you have on the site that point to a 410-page send bots and visitors to a dead resource. To fix it, you need to remove any references or links to such pages from your content as soon as you see them.

500: Internal Server Error

The 500 internal server error status is a generic error response. It indicates that the server has encountered an unexpected situation that prevented it from fulfilling the request. You may see this type of error when no other error code fits the criteria. The hosting server usually cannot determine the exact problem and display a more specific message.

A 500 error affects access to your site, resulting in lost visitors and bots. Search engines generally prefer well-maintained sites, so you should investigate these status responses and get them fixed as early as possible.

At times, server administrators log error responses like the 500 status code with more details about the request to prevent the error from happening again.

503: Service Unavailable

You receive a 503 service unavailable status when the server is not ready to handle the request. It generally occurs when the server is down for maintenance or is overloaded. Along with this status code, a user-friendly page explaining the problem needs to be sent to the user or search engine bots.

This response should be used for temporary conditions. If the status code lasts a long time, it may signal to search engines that the site is unreliable or unavailable. Since it is a temporary condition response, it should usually not be cached.

How Status Codes Affect Crawlability and Indexability

While visiting a website to discover and index its pages, search engine crawlers encounter HTTP status codes. How you handle the status codes often impacts how effectively search engines crawl and index your content.

By utilizing the right status codes, you can make sure that search engines can crawl and index the website accurately. If done correctly, this may lead to better visibility in search results.

Status Codes Demystified

Before crawling the website, the crawler notes the page’s HTTP header. If the status codes in the header say that the page does not exist, search engine crawlers will not crawl it. As discussed above, different status codes impact the site’s crawlability.

Unraveling Indexability

HTTP status codes help search engines like Google check website errors, reduce downtime, bounce rates, and lags, and boost rankings. Search engines consider only servers that return a 200-status code indexable, as the code indicates that the page is properly functioning.

Navigating the Web

Status codes also help users and search engine crawlers easily navigate the web. As mentioned before, these codes are the internet equivalent of a conversation between the server and your browser. They communicate whether things are going well for the website and server or if something is wrong.

Advanced Strategies for Utilizing HTTP Status Codes

In order to utilize HTTP status codes, developers need to identify the outcome of every request scenario for all API endpoints. They need to write the logic for these scenarios. Since status code implementation is a crucial aspect of API development, it is important to comply with the following strategies:

  1. Select specific status codes that accurately reflect the outcome of the request.
  2. Add meaningful response bodies when there is an error to help the client understand what went wrong.
  3. When using redirection codes, make sure that the new location of the resources is provided in the response headers.
  4. Avoid exposing sensitive information in error responses.
  5. Provide a clear run-down of your API’s status codes in API documentation
  6. Address various edge cases to verify that the API is returning the appropriate status codes

These strategies help you use the HTTP status codes to your advantage. Consider using Google Search Console to check the website’s HTTP status codes on a regular basis. This will allow you to identify and fix any errors before they can affect your website’s SEO.

Conclusion

The HTTP status codes play a crucial role in your website’s SEO. Knowing when and how these statuses appear can help you maximize the user experience for your website and reduce the number of errors visitors and search engines notice. As discussed, all these status codes serve specific purposes. By fixing the errors in time, you can ensure that the pages on your website are user-friendly and are being indexed correctly by search engines.

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