When a user visits a website, your browser immediately sends a request to the server site. The server’s response to the browser’s message is called an HTTP Status code. It is represented as a three-digit code and is an online communication between the browser and the server. The communication identifies an impending issue, a touch-and-go, or an ok status update.
So, it is more than essential for you to understand the status codes and what they signify so that you can spot and fix the issues or errors on your site. You can effectively reduce your website’s downtime, and at times these codes also come in handy to intimate the system and the users to access a site that has been moved or removed permanently.
HTTP status codes are three-digit responses between the site server and the browser. The most common ones are the 301-page error and the 404-page-not-found error. Each digit in the HTTP status code represents a different level of response from the server. The first digit that is between 1 to 5, which is expressed as 2xx or 3xx, shows the status codes in that range.
The HTTP status codes are also called response status codes. The code classes will vary depending on the type of response the status codes are communicating. This difference in the code classes is shown in the first digit of the code. For instance, if the error code begins with 2xx, that means your request was completed successfully, and an error code beginning with 4xx indicates that the site or the page could not be reached.
Important HTTP status codes for your SEO
- As a search engine optimizer or a website owner, you need to clearly understand the types and impacts of the different status codes. You must instantly identify what the errors mean to your SEO and fix them at the earliest. Be it an error related to a server issue, user experience or changes to the URL; you need to spot the cause and implement a 404-page error before you start losing site traffic.
- The Status Code 200 means everything is functioning well on your site. You must aim to maintain this ideal code to facilitate easy navigation through linked pages for visitors and the search engine. It does not require any action from your end, so your webpage is secure.
- An HTTP Status Code 301 can be used to redirect visitors and bots to another URL permanently. When you permanently redirect, link equity is ensured, i.e. all the links to your content are also sent to the new URL. However, tests indicate that redirects are not treated equally, although this is the most popular option when you want to redirect your page permanently.
- For a temporary redirect, you can opt for the HTTP Status Code 302. This is almost similar to status code 301, except that link equity is not redirected, but only the bots and visitors are sent to the new URL. Therefore, if you are making permanent page changes, it is better to avoid 302. Instead, using 301 will ensure a complete redirect along with link equity.
- The most commonly spotted HTTP status code is 404, meaning the site or file the user is looking for cannot be found. However, this increases the risk of your site visitors withering to the other website after seeing a 404-page error, which is like hitting a blank wall! Moreover, it does not indicate if the missing resource or page is temporary or permanent, so the visitors may retry or move on to several other sites that can benefit them.
- Although it is common for most sites to return a 404 error code, a key tip to remember is to avoid a 301 code that will show a 404 error on the homepage. This will annoy and confuse the users who may not know that the site they are trying to open does not exist.
- Suppose the pages showing 404 codes are highly active pages with the most popular links; you can use the status code 301, redirecting users to the other most relevant pages. For instance, if your page on “colour gel pens” does not exist anymore, you can use a 301 code to redirect this page to a “black and white gen pens” page, which might be more relevant for the user.
- However, it is sometimes better to use a 404 status code to keep the page from getting indexed by search engines. Refer and learn from the Google search console to use the 404 status code to give a good experience to your visitor.
- A status code 410 is more unchangeable than a 404 code. It indicates that the page is permanently wiped off the server without any forwarding address. So before using the 410 code, removing all links and references from your content is better so that your visitors do not end up at a dead source.
- The HTTP status code 500 indicates an issue with your server. It will impact the access to your site, link equity will get slow, and your visitors and bots will be lost. Remember, search engines favour only well-maintained websites. So, when you see a 500 error code, identify and fix the issue at the earliest.
- For a temporary loading issue or maintenance of your server, HTTP status code 503 is displayed. All the site visitors and the search engines will be asked to revisit later. This code ensures that the page or site will be down only for a short while, and the search engine can return later to retry.
Fixing a 503 error code
- First, check if your website is running and receiving traffic. Look into your Analytics or log history of your server to see if other visitors can access your website.
- If you find that your site is not receiving any traffic, it means your server needs a maintenance check or has crashed. You can show a 503 if it will be up and running soon, or you might have to restart if it has crashed.
- Heavy traffic on your website indicates that the server is overloaded and has run out of resources; hence it returns 503 errors. Although the high traffic volume can be from real visitors, it is critical to identify if the traffic is the work of a malicious party. Then you fall prey to a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack.
- You can identify a DoS or DDoS by monitoring your server logs for sudden traffic surges or if there are high requests from one or more IP addresses. Most times, a TTL (time to live) of a ping request will time out. You have to promptly apply a strong defence technique to protect your site.
- But if your site has become popular and has started receiving more traffic that your server cannot handle, then fix the issues limiting your server’s performance. There can be issues like fail-safes, system resources or a choking bandwidth that might have impacted the server. In such cases, it is ideal for upgrading the server to have enough resources to handle the growing traffic.
- However, if you regularly see a 503 error, it might require an in-depth investigation to find the problem with your server. This problem could be the one eating up your server resources.
Fixing a 404 error code
- Sometimes a 404 error can be a temporary issue that can be simply fixed by refreshing the page. Also, check the URL and try retyping again. If the URL is correct, then try again from another device. If it works, then you might simply have to clear the browser cache or cookies.
- If none of the above tricks works, some of your content might have been deleted. In this case, you must set up a redirect URL that will take the visitors to the new page so that you can be assured that you do not lose your visitors. A 404 error is the ideal response if everything works fine and only the page was deleted from your website.
- If you still notice more visitors coming to this page, it could be because of an internal link directing them to this page. So, just remove the link that is pointing to a non-existent page. However, if there are external links to this page, you can probably add a 301 redirect that will take the visitors to a different page on your site. This makes your SEO more effective and saves you from losing customers.
- The 404 page might continue to show up in the Google search results sending visitors to your website because Googlebot does not know if the page is missing permanently or temporarily. In this case, you have to promptly retract that page or redirect to another functional page so that it doesn’t affect your Google rankings.
- However, there is still a way to find your 404 pages in Google Analytics. You can either check by the page title because the 404 pages will have “Page not found” in their title, or go to your Analytics tool -> Site content ->All pages and set the main dimension to the page title and look for “Page not found”. This way, you will get a clear report of 404 pages that you can check and fix.
HTTP status codes are designed to help you stay alert and fix the issues before it goes overboard. They can be a warning signal of an impending issue or an indication of a pending change. Either way, they are present to facilitate better communication between the server and browser.
Therefore, educate yourself about these three-digit HTTP status codes, their types and what they signify, and their impact on your SEO. Though they often send a clear message to the visitors, they might sometimes impact your site traffic.
Status codes support search engines to check website errors and spot and reduce downtime, bounce rates, and lags to improve ranking. Search engines prefer servers that send a 200-status code as indexable because this status code assures that the page is functioning well. So stay alert and deal with these HTTP status codes more prudently.