Get the facts on server status codes, Google Search, and your website
Search engines like Google see HTTP status codes when crawling and indexing your website. Based on the server status code type and message, Google may decide not to index your website. This is not ideal for SEO.
HTTP status codes impact your SEO strategies, search engine results, user experience, and how Google understands your website.
What is an HTTP Status Code?
An HTTP status code is the message sent from a website’s server to a web browser. Most of the time, you and your users do not see these messages. But depending on the problem with a website or a specific URL, an HTTP status code might be displayed.
It is important that you understand HTTP status codes so you can identify and fix website and server errors quickly. Remember, just because you don’t see an HTTP status code, doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. For example, it’s rare for you and your website users to see a 500-class status code – but Google is seeing these.
Not all HTTP status codes are a bad thing – you can use some 300-class status codes to help Google and your users find the pages and content they want.
The Five HTTP Status Code Classes
HTTP status codes with similar meanings and responses are grouped together. This helps you determine the reason for the message.
Here are the definitions of the HTTP status code classes from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and information from Google about each code in italics:
- 1xx (Informational): the request was received and is being processed.
- 2xx (Successful): the request was successfully received, understood, and accepted.
Google considers the content for indexing. If the content suggests an error, for example an empty page or an error message, Search Console will show a soft 404 error.
- 3xx (Redirection): further action needs to be taken to complete the request. There was a redirection to another location.
Googlebot follows up to 10 redirect hops. If the crawler doesn’t receive content within 10 hops, Search Console will show a redirect error in the site’s Search Console report.
- 4xx (Client Error): the request contains bad syntax or cannot be fulfilled. This class of error is returned when the page or website cannot be reached, or the request page cannot be found.Google’s indexing pipeline doesn’t consider URLs that return a 4xx status code for indexing, and URLs that are already indexed and return a 4xx status code are removed from the index. Any content Googlebot received from URLs that return a 4xx status code is ignored.
- 5xx (Server Error): the server failed to fulfill an apparently valid request. There are problems with the server and the request failed.5xx and 429 server errors prompt Google’s crawlers to temporarily slow down with crawling. Already indexed URLs are preserved in the index, but eventually dropped.Any content Googlebot received from URLs that return a 5xx status code is ignored.
Google provides this general statement about HTTP status code classes:
Search Console generates error messages for status codes in the 4xx – 5xx range, and for failed redirections (3xx). If the server responded with a 2xx status code, the content received in the response may be considered for indexing.
An HTTP 2xx (success) status code doesn’t guarantee indexing.
HTTP Status Codes and SEO
HTTP status codes are visible to search engines when crawling and deciding to index your website. Depending on the type of HTTP status code, specifically 4xx and 5xx codes, your website may not be indexed. This impacts your SEO and where (or if) you rank in the search engine results.
Remember that search engines prioritize high-quality websites in the search engine results. Multiple 4xx and 5xx HTTP status codes tell search engines that your website is low quality, resulting in a low ranking.
HTTP status codes that adversely impact user experience need your immediate attention. Page and user experience goes beyond the layout of your website, it includes technical SEO and ensuring your website is functioning correctly.
HTTP Status Codes You Need to Know
Make sure you know these HTTP status codes and how they impact your SEO:
- 200 Success: your page is okay – your readers and search engine bots can access, read, and use this page successfully.
- 301 Redirect: you need to use this code to tell Google and search engines when a URL has moved and needs to be permanently redirected. While there are other codes you can use to tell Google that a URL has moved, a 301 ensures link equity (the value/authority of your links) is transferred to the new URL.
- 302 Found: this is used for a temporary redirect, when the URL might change again. There is no guarantee that search engine bots will index this new page. Do not use a 302 for a permanent redirect.
- 400 Bad Request: Google says “All 4xx errors, except 429, are treated the same: Googlebot signals the indexing pipeline that the content doesn’t exist.”
- 404 Not Found: this means the original page could not be found. This happens frequently, for example when someone types a URL that does not exist. It’s a good practice to create custom 404 pages that help your readers find what they’re looking for. Google has suggestions on how to create custom 404 pages.
If you have removed a page, do not use a 404 – use a 301 status code to send your readers to the most relevant and helpful page.
- 410 Gone: this tells search engines that the page is gone. Make sure you are not linking to any pages with a 410 status code.
- 429 Too Many Requests: Google says “Googlebot treats the 429 status code as a signal that the server is overloaded, and it’s considered a server error.” Because a 429 status code impacts your crawl rate, you must not ignore this code.
- 5xx Server Errors: Google says “5xx and 429 server errors prompt Google’s crawlers to temporarily slow down with crawling. Already indexed URLs are preserved in the index, but eventually dropped.”This class of codes indicates to Google and other search engines that your website is not well-maintained and likely does not deliver a positive user and page experience. You cannot ignore 5xx HTTP Status Codes.
For a complete list of HTTP status codes, refer to the IETF documentation on Response Status Codes.
Learn More About HTTP Status Codes
Use these resources to learn more about HTTP status codes:
- List of HTTP Status Codes (Wikipedia)
- Overview of Status Codes (IETF)
- How HTTP Status Codes, and Network and DNS Errors Affect Google Search (Google)
Contact us with you questions about HTTP status codes and how they impact your SEO. Do not ignore 4xx and 5xx HTTP status codes – these do hurt your SEO strategies and search engine rankings.
About the author
Kayla Heigelmann is the Director of SEO at Know Agency. As the Director of SEO, Kayla leads the development and execution of client strategy to deliver organic presence and online success. Kayla guides clients through all aspects of the SEO lifecycle, from keyword research to site audits, and aims to educate those new to the digital community. Kayla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from one of the nation’s top journalism schools, Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps.