When a person or search engine visits a website, they request a three digit code from the website’s server to get a status of the website they are trying to visit – a response status code. These response codes tell your computer or device what is going to happen on that visit. The 200 response status code is the standard response and tells your device everything is fine and it is good to visit the website, you as the user won’t see this response code and your visit will continue as normal. However, if there is an issue, there are different ranges of codes available to explain what is happening:
3xx range - these are all types of redirects.
4xx range - errors on the client's side.
5xx range - errors on the server level.
What are the 300 response codes?
Redirects are a vital tool for SEO, when a URL changes the content on the original will no longer be accessible and you will lose rankings for it. Redirecting the URL saves this. This also applies with deleted pages and content (404) or whenever a URL changes. When a page is deleted the common practice is to redirect to the most similar page or from a sub category page to a main category page.
Here is a breakdown of what the different 300 error response codes mean:
301 – Moved permanently.
302 – Moved temporarily.
303 – See other.
307 – Temporary redirect that works with HTTP/1.1.
308 – Permanent redirect but according to another RFC.
When setting up a redirect it is important to avoid creating redirect chains; oldest page > older page > old page > new page. Skip the chains and update the old redirects to go to the latest page; oldest page > new page. This is much faster for the search engine to reach the correct page and improves performance of the website with both crawlers and users.
What are the 400 response codes?
404 is the most common 400 status code; most people will be familiar with this, either they have experienced it or have heard it mentioned in conversation or referenced in pop-culture. It means that a page doesn’t exist at this URL anymore and the content you’re looking for has either moved or been deleted. It’s a very useful tool and your 404 page can be customised to inform and advise the user that finds it. A 404 is stored in the index as a missing URL but the crawler will come back regularly to check whether the URL returns, after a while the URL will be removed from the index. It may not be possible to consistently have 0 404s but it’s important to keep track of the performance of the 404s using services like GSC.
The next most useful is the 410, which means that the URL and page is gone and won’t ever exist again. You will need to use a 410 if there is nowhere to redirect to and the content is never coming back. The 410 response code isn’t seen much but is a valuable option for directing search engine crawlers and letting users know about a removal of content from your website.
500 Response codes and soft 404 codes
The range of 500 error response codes are usually server-side errors and not something that either the user or the website itself has done. The 500 response code is an internal server error, 503 is a “service unavailable” error, which means that the server has been overloaded by something on the server. This doesn’t necessarily mean the website itself overloaded the server, it all depends what is on the server and what resources are allocated to the website.
If your website needs to go down for maintenance temporarily, you need to use the 503 status code. Don’t block web crawlers during this time with robots.txt and don’t redirect away from the website. This way the search engine will recognise that the website is temporarily down and knows to come back later to see if there is an update with minimal impact on your rankings.
Google sometimes issues a “soft 404” which is a page that is displaying a normal 200 status code but it thinks should be a 404. You will be able to see these in Google Search Console and it’s a great opportunity to review what in on the pages in question and either make them a 404 or update the page the make Google change it’s mind on the soft 404 status.
To talk about the status of your web pages or if you want a review of your website, get in touch with us today and we can see how your website response codes are performing.