What are HTTP Status Codes?
HTTP status codes depict 3-digit responses that a server returns upon the request of a client. The client can be either a browser or a search engine. Usually, there are five different types of status codes and each of them has a unique message.
Components of HTTP Responses
The HTTP responses that are sent by the web servers comprise of two components– headers and body payload.
The headers consist of the HTTP status code and other necessary information like instructions regarding the length of response cache from the client. The headers, however, are not shown to the user, but they are used for instructing the client regarding how to deal with the response and how to depict if there is a body payload.
- Body Payload
Whenever the body payload is depicted in an HTTP response, it is used for rendering and displaying the page back to the user. In the case of redirects, there is nobody payload; the user needs to be aware that the body payload is optional for some type of errors.
Major Types of HTTP Status Codes
HTTP Status Codes can be broadly classified into the following five major categories-
1. HTTP 1xx Status Codes
This category of HTTP status codes is completely informational. These status codes are used for depicting a request that has been received and understood, however, it hasn’t been processed yet.
2. HTTP 2xx Status Codes
This type of status codes is used for depicting successful requests. In terms of SEO, the most important status code in this range is HTTP status code 200.
The following table contains the major type(s) of 2xx status codes-
3. HTTP 3xx Status Codes
This category of status codes is used to indicate that further action has to be taken. The request has been received, however, not implemented.
The following table contains the major type(s) of 3xx status codes-
4. HTTP 4xx Status Codes
The HTTP 4xx status codes are used or indicating that there was an error at the client-side. Some of the possible reasons for such errors include- the requested party has not been authorized to request a page or requesting non-existent pages or there are too many requests made.
The following table contains the major type(s) of 4xx status codes-
5. HTTP 5xx Status Codes
The HTTP 5xx status codes are fetched when the client makes valid requests, however, the servers haven’t completed these requests due to any reason.
The following table contains the major type(s) of 5xx status codes-
HTTP Status Codes and Their Significance with SEO
The underlying goal of SEO is to fetch organic traffic and in order to drive this traffic, the website owner needs to make sure that his content remains accessible at all times to the crawlers of the search engine. Whenever the crawler makes a request for the website content, the website owner wants the HTTP status code 200 is returned. From an SEO point of view, the website owner doesn’t want to have an HTTP status code of type 5xx and 4xx to be returned. Also, the website owner wants to minimize 3xx status codes.
Common HTTP Status Codes That Impact SEO
1. 301 and 302 Redirects
The purpose of status code 302 is to temporarily redirect the existing page to a newer one. At times, the developers are prompt to use the 302 redirects on the pages that have been permanently changed. However, the user doesn’t realize the damage this has been causing on their previously existing page’s SEO. Google carefully monitors the new redirected pages as temporary replacements and is not willing to consider much regarding its ranking factors. It is true because based on the existing 302 of the user website page, the bots hold the impression that the previous pages are going to be fetched soon. Google holds the page rank as well as link value for the old page and in case the old page doesn’t come up after some time, all the good factors of SEO remain with the older page.
To overcome this, the user just needs to use a 301 redirect rather than a 302 redirect. Whenever the search engines crawl a page with 301 redirects, most of the page rank and link value gets converted to the new page. The correction task is simple and very helpful when one looks to consider the new page. 302 can be effective for e-commerce pages to redirect onto a temporary page for an exhausted product. In the meantime, when the page is again made live, the bots are able to start from where they left it.
2. 404 Error Pages
Error 404 is one of the most commonly encountered errors when browsing the Internet. From a user perspective, it is one of the least like pages but from an SEO point of view, it isn’t that terribly bad. Most of the search engines that are present online don’t take the 404 error page with much seriousness. However, the aftermath and side effects of the 404 error page that damages the SEO. If the website visitors encounter a 404 page, then it indirectly depicts that it is asking the visitors to bounce off from the website and this directly hampers the ranking of the user website. To keep the reputation and ranking of the page intact, the user needs to creatively define a navigation path back to their website. If the user keeps on allowing the 404 error page, then the redirected 301 link gets wasted. Further, it is a bad practice to redirect the wrongly spelled URLs to the intended pages of the searcher (search engine’s visitor).
3. 500 and 503 Status Codes
The 500 error is one of those errors that the website owners never wish to come across. In general terms, the 500 errors depict that there are issues related to the software of the website or even issues in the server hardware. On a sad note, there are no clear and easy solutions to overcome these kinds of problems and most of the tech-savvy experts fail to solve the server or hardware problems. From the search engine crawling point of view, these errors need to be rectified at the earliest. This is because the search engine crawlers are not able to crawl the website or at times fail to analyze anything pertaining to it and they abandon the page almost immediately. Search engines are well aware that the 500 status code isn’t a good user experience at all and it restricts the user from what they were searching for. To perform planned maintenance of the website or server, the website owner can use the 503 status code. The benefit of 503 is that it allows the search engines and visitors to know that the website is down for a temporal period of time only and will be retrieved soon. It also informs the search engine crawlers not to index these temporary pages/versions of the website, and from the SEO angle, this is an optimistic indicator.
HTTP status codes play a significant role when it comes to the quick delivery of a message taking place between the clients and servers. However, it becomes important for every SEO to know these codes as it helps in making their work more efficient and allows them to diagnose issues much faster.