When it comes to SEO and trying to improve the optimisation of a website, server header status codes should not be overlooked. They can both improve and severely damage your onsite SEO. Therefore it’s vital that search engine optimisers understand how they work and how they can be interpreted by search engines like Google and Bing.
How Header Server Status Codes are Served Up
When a user requests a URL from a their website, the server on which your website is hosted, the server will return a header server status code. Ideally the server should return a ‘200 OK’ status code to inform the browser that everything is okay with the page and the page exists in the requested location.
This status code also comes with additional information which includes HTML code that the user’s browser uses to present the page content, images and video accordingly as the website owner has defined.
The above status code is usually only served up when there are no server-side issues with a particular page. There are other codes which can be served up and which provide information into availability of a certain page and whether it even exists or not. Below we outline the desirable status codes and those which are more detrimental to your SEO efforts and website rankings.
Desirable Server Status Codes
- Status Code: 200 OK – The 200 OK status code confirms that the webpage exists and is able to be served up OK on request. This is the most desirable status code you can see when analysing a website for SEO. The 200 status code is interpreted by the search engines in a positive way, informing them that the page exists in the requested location and there are no issues with resources not being available for the page.
- Status Code: 301 Moved Permanently – This is usually used to show that a page is no longer at the requested location and has been permanently moved to another location. 301s are the most assured way of informing both users and search engines that page content has moved to a different URL permanently. The permanency of this time of URL means that search engines such as Google will transfer any rankings and link weight and link authority permanently to a new URL It will also help the search engines know to remove the old URL from their indexes and replace them with the new URL.
Detrimental Server Status Codes
- Status Code: 500 Internal Server Error – This status code is a general server status error that indicates to both visitors and search engines that the website web server has a problem. If this code regularly occurs then this not only appears negatively to visitors and makes your website experience poor, it also conveys the same message to search engines and any ranking you have or may have had will be greatly reduced in the search engine rankings.
- Status Code: 302 Found – This code is often used in temporary redirection or URLs. It is meant to define where a URL is temporarily redirecting to another location but is likely to change in future or be switched to a 301 permanent redirect. Often 302 temporary redirects are used by mistake, instead of 301 redirects. This can mean that page content is given less preference because the search engines think the URL or content could change and is not as fixed for users as a page which has been permanently redirected. Traditionally, this status code also does not pass link authority and can cause links to be de-indexed in time. In general it is advised not to use this type of redirect unless a website is brand new and has little link authority anyway, or in very specific special cases where it may make sense to only temporarily redirect URLs.
- Status Code: 404 Not Found – This server status code means that the requested URL has not been found and there is usually a message on-page saying “The page or file you are trying to access doesn’t exist”. The problem with 404’s are if they are appearing for URLs which previously did exist then search engines will interpret them as the page having been moved or removed. As a result the pages will quickly be de-indexed as they serve little content and any link authority remains on the Not Found URL. The best solution if you’re experiencing many 404’s is to review them and try and re-direct any relevant URLs to correpsonding matching or similar URLs. Google Webmaster Tools often produces a report showing 404s that Google’s bots are finding, allowing users to sort out 301 permanent redirection to the most related URLs and therefore pass on any link weight and rankings that were previously held.
In summary, it is vital that webmasters and SEO’s use 301 redirects to resolve any URLs which are throwing up 500, 302 or 404 server status codes. Search engines won’t rank URLs that do not permanently resolve to a relevant URL so it is worth taking the time to review and resolve your URLs . You can use data and tools like Google Webmaster Tools, Xenu Link Sleuth or Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider Tool in order to find erroneous status codes and to resolve them.
About the Author:
Rob Stoubos is the Managing Director & Owner of Odyssey New Media. Odyssey are a leading full service Digital Marketing company in Birmingham, UK who offer expert SEO services in Birmingham. Rob has been working in digital marketing since 2005 and has helped many UK and international clients improve their sales, return and overall ROI through digital marketing channels.