On the Internet, there are many conversations and actions going on, but one of the most important ones is when a user asks their browser to visit a website. The information doesn’t just simply show up on the screen. Take a look at what’s actually going on behind the scenes.
What are HTTP status codes?
Once the visitor types in a URL or selects a page on the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), the browser will call his friend Server and say, “Hey, would you mind showing me this info?”
The website’s server can respond in many different ways, commonly known as response codes. These replies contain a 3 digit code that informs us of the status of the requested page at the time of the query.
In one sentence: an HTTP Status Code is the code the website server sends back to the user’s browser when opening a page.
This response can be “OK, here you go” or show any issue that either impede the user from seeing the page or delays the page load. Let’s look at them in more detail.
How to identify a response code?
HTTP Response codes will always begin with a number from 1 to 5, initially presented as 1xx, 2xx, 3xx, 4xx and 5xx. Each range of numbers will belong to a server response (basically, a general issue), and will get more detailed depending on the numbers following the first digit.
You have probably encountered a couple of them when browsing around. What about the most hated 404 Not Found? Or the baffling 500 Internal Server Error?
Now you know where they come from, let’s find out what they actually mean.
Most important HTTP Status Codes for SEO
You’ve probably already guessed it but yes, HTTP Status Codes do have an impact on SEO. It’s not enough just knowing which ones appear on a website; a good SEO Expert should be able to spot them before Google or any other bot crawls them. Most importantly, an SEO specialist should be able to fix all website errors in order to:
- Provide the best navigation experience for users, avoiding frustration with non-existent pages or long waiting times.
- Present an optimized page to search engines, keeping an optimal crawl budget to not waste their time and receive a better consideration, leading to stable rankings!
These are the types of status codes that are relevant to SEO strategy.
What does status code 200 mean?
Don’t panic, this is the best you can get! 😉 This code indicates that the page is properly displayed, with no server-related issues. Remember that according to Google’s guidelines, all of the pages linked within your website will have to return a 200 code, which means that everything is OK.
HTTP Status code 301
Any code that starts with 3xx refers to a page redirect. The 301 response code means the page is permanently redirected. You’ll normally find more pages returning this kind of redirect because when you implement it into an old page, you tell the search engines to follow the new page, as the previous one will no longer be displayed.
HTTP Status code 302
If you have HTTP code 302 redirects, you’ll have to make sure that they make sense, since they mean temporary redirection and the destination page will not be taken into account by the search engines, as they understand that the webmaster will go back to the older version once he’s done redefining the page. This isn’t good for SEO, so make sure to look at them carefully.
What is error code 400?
There are two types of status codes that start with 4xx:
- HTTP status code 404 Not Found: these are the pages that no longer exist or that are inoperative but keep receiving links, and that’s why users and search engines found them.
- But if you are never going to fix these pages, assign them a 410.
What is a 503 error?
An HTTP Status code 503 indicates that the server is currently unable to handle the request because of temporary maintenance or overloading, so the page will be back soon. In this case, the server is out of order because changes are being implemented and they need to shut down for a while.
With the Status Code 503, Google understands that there’s a temporary error and the page will load later. For this reason, a 503 error isn’t a big issue.
How to fix HTTP Status Codes?
Once you’ve listed all the errors, try to understand why they happened on those specific pages. They could be the consequence of an action made by another team or the result of an SEO strategy that wasn’t planned correctly. Wherever the error is coming from, you’ll have to find a solution to fix it, here are some suggestions.
- Implement a custom 404 page with the corporate image and some links back to the main categories or the homepage: this way, you’ll keep visitors browsing around your website.
- You don’t want users to encounter a 404, so try to send links pointing them to pages that do exist!
- Assign a 301 redirect to the 302 if it shouldn’t be considered temporary.
- Add a 410 to the pages that shouldn’t be found by Google anymore, but watch out! This is a major action. Most of them will be orphan pages, but make sure they aren’t receiving any relevant links.
- When it comes to server errors there are not many things an SEO Professional can do, so get in touch with your developers to solve these.
- Use an SEO Crawler to diagnose site errors fast and minimize the impact on the SERPs. Every webmaster must understand all status codes, so using a very comprehensive tool helps even the least experienced website owner.
Try FandangoSEO to get a clear understanding of errors and to track fixes. You can export the affected pages to ease the process and track their progress by comparing them to previous crawls.
Spot and fix major technical errors to benefit from a healthy website.