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Understand How HTTP Status Codes Affect SEO

Anyone who has spent time surfing the web has likely received a “404 Not Found” error message when trying to access a website that no longer exists or by trying to connect with a website with a broken or dead link. This Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) status code is one of dozens used to manage and track the application of HTTP. Website servers issue such status codes when responding to a request from a client for website access or other action.

HTTP status codes can impact Google Search results. If your website’s server is issuing a 404 code in relation to any of your web pages, it’s undoubtedly going to negatively impact search results. On the other hand, 200 series status codes generally indicate success, with the likelihood that the targeted page will be recognized by Google for indexing and its subsequent ranking for SEO.

Understanding HTTP status codes is important for online marketing efforts. As such, Google recently released a new advanced search engine optimization (SEO) document—“How HTTP status codes, and network and DNS errors affect Google Search”—to help digital marketers better understand the interplay between codes and Google Search. The new Google document details the most common status codes that its Googlebot runs into during searches. These status codes are typically referenced in the Crawl Stats reports that digital marketers monitor to view Google’s crawling history on their websites.

Rather than describe each of the top 20 status codes, we’ve highlighted the primary status code categories to better help you understand how a code might impact SEO. Know that the first number of the code—the 4 of 404, say—signifies the category. For example, a category 4 code covers client errors.

HTTP 2xx Marks Success  

Generally speaking, HTTP 2xx series codes indicate that Googlebot can successfully crawl through the content, making it eligible for Google Search. However, Google states that these codes only mean that no errors were encountered and do not guarantee that a page will be indexed for search purposes. While not an error per se, the 204 code signals that a page has been successfully accessed, but that no content was found. Naturally, this is not going to help with SEO if passed onto the indexing pipeline. Google’s Search Console Index Coverage report may show this as a soft 404 error. 

Redirects Tagged by HTTP 3xx

HTTP 3xx series [MJM1] [HH2] codes indicate redirects, with 301 showing that Googlebot follows the redirect with a strong likelihood for successful indexing for search purposes. HTTP 302 and 303 essentially indicate a weaker redirect with a likely reduced signal for indexing. Googlebot will follow up to 10 redirect hops before giving up and indicating a redirect error in the Index Coverage report.

HTTP 4xx is All About Client Errors 

HTTP 4xx codes are B-A-D bad and will definitely put a damper on your SEO. URLs that return a 4xx status code will not be indexed and URLS that are already indexed will be removed from the index if they return a 4xx code. In short, Google treats pages with 4xx codes as if the content does not exist.

HTTP 5xx is All About Server Errors

HTTP 5xx codes are also B-A-D bad and will prompt Googlebot to reduce rates of crawling. URLs that persistently return such server error codes are eventually removed from the indexing pipeline. Reduced rates of crawling will undoubtedly decrease search results, while removal from the indexing pipeline ends your appearance on Google Search.

Learn More with Moxxi Marketing

If you would like to learn more about search engine optimization and how we can help boost your digital marketing efforts, consult with Moxxi Marketing by contacting us today at 239.330.6236. We keep abreast of all SEO developments and Google initiatives in order to maintain the highest success with our online marketing initiatives.


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