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HTTP Header Responses Explained

by | Last updated May 31, 2024

HTTP Header Responses & How They Impact SEO

When you browse the internet, a lot happens behind the scenes to ensure you can access the content you need. Part of this process involves HTTP header responses, which are status codes sent by a web server to indicate the result of a request made by a client, such as a web browser. These status codes are essential for understanding web interactions and troubleshooting potential issues. Here, we’ll explore the differences between some common HTTP header responses: 200, 301, 302, 404, 410, and 500, and how they relate to search engine optimization strategies.

200 OK

The 200 OK status code is the most common HTTP response and indicates that the server has successfully processed a request. When you visit a webpage and everything works as expected, the server responds with a 200 OK status.

This response means the server found the requested resource, processed the request, and sent the content to the client. A 200 OK response means users can see the webpage they want. For developers and SEO specialists, this status code indicates that the page is functioning correctly without any issues or throwing any errors in the browser that could affect how search engines crawl the page.

301 Moved Permanently

The 301 Moved Permanently status code is used when a resource has been permanently moved to a new URL. This type of redirect is vital for SEO because it passes the link equity (an estimated 99%) from the old URL to the new one.

When a server responds with a 301 status code, it informs the client that the resource has a new permanent location. The client (or web browser) will automatically redirect to the new URL. Search engines update their indexes to reflect the new URL, preserving the site’s search engine rankings. This is particularly important for businesses when they change their domain name or restructure their website.

302 Found (Temporary Redirect)

A 302 Found status code, also known as a temporary redirect, indicates that the resource requested has been temporarily moved to a different URL. Unlike a 301 redirect, a 302 redirect does not pass link equity to the new URL.

This status code is useful when content is temporarily available at a different location, such as during maintenance or when running A/B tests. The user experience is seamless as they are automatically redirected to the temporary URL. However, search engines do not transfer SEO value to the new URL, understanding that the change is not permanent and is only temporary.

404 Not Found

The 404 Not Found status code is one of the most well-known HTTP responses. It indicates that the server could not find the requested resource. This often happens when a user mistypes a URL or tries to access a page that has been deleted or moved without a proper redirect. Additionally, if a user clicks on a broken link somewhere from a site, it can take them to a 404 error page.

For users, encountering a 404 error can be frustrating. Website owners should customize their 404 error pages to provide helpful information and a way to navigate back to the main site. Consider adding a search bar, links to important pages or maybe your latest blog posts. From an SEO perspective, too many 404 errors can harm a site’s ranking, so it’s essential to check for and fix broken links regularly.

What is a Soft 404?

Google Search Console may sometimes report on a Soft 404. This occurs when a page has been deleted or removed, but it still serves a 200 OK response. If a page is truly deleted and you don’t intend to redirect it to a similar page, you should serve a 404. Otherwise, users and search engines will try to read the page even though it is non-existent or unavailable.

410 Gone

The 410 Gone status code is similar to the 404 error but more definitive. It indicates that the requested resource is no longer available and has been permanently removed from the server with no forwarding address.

This status is used when a resource is permanently deleted, and the server owner wants to inform clients and search engines that the resource should be removed from indexes. Unlike a 404 error, which might suggest a temporary issue, a 410 error signals a permanent removal. For SEO purposes, a 410 status helps search engines clean up their indexes more efficiently than a 404. In most instances, a 404 is what is provided at the server level, however, some website systems (like Salesforce Commerce Cloud) may serve a 410 status code. Either will instruct Google and other web crawlers that the resource is gone.

500 Internal Server Error

The 500 Internal Server Error status code indicates that the server encountered an unexpected condition that prevented it from fulfilling the request. Server-side issues, such as a misconfiguration, a bug in server software, or a temporary overload, can cause this generic error message. If you’ve ever experienced a site timing out, this is the status code the server would provide.

A 500 error means the website is currently unavailable for users, which can be particularly frustrating if it happens frequently. Website owners must monitor for 500 errors and address them promptly to minimize downtime. Persistent 500 errors can impact user trust and SEO performance, making it essential to maintain server health and stability.

Monitoring HTTP Status Codes for SEO

Monitoring HTTP status codes is essential for maintaining a healthy and SEO-friendly website. Tools like Google Search Console, Screaming Frog and Ahrefs can crawl a website and report any HTTP status issues. Google Search Console provides detailed reports on crawl errors, including 404 and 500 errors, helping site owners quickly identify and fix issues before they lead to a negative user experience or negative ranking in organic search.

Regular monitoring with these tools is a necessary part of technical SEO. It ensures that issues are promptly addressed, maintaining a seamless user experience and protecting the site’s search engine rankings.

The Importance of Understanding HTTP Status Codes

Understanding the different HTTP header responses is critical for web developers and SEO professionals. Each status code provides valuable information about how web requests are handled and can help diagnose and resolve issues that affect website performance and user experience.

For website owners, responding appropriately to various status codes ensures that users have a seamless experience and that search engines can effectively crawl and index the site. By properly implementing and managing these HTTP responses, businesses can maintain their online presence, protect their SEO rankings, and provide a better overall user experience.

Are you running into issues with broken links and bad HTTP responses? Reach out anytime and we’ll run a crawl of your website to see what needs to be repaired.

About the Author

Thomas Hillary

Thomas Hillary is a professional content strategist. With years of industry experience and an extensive writing backing, stemming from dual bachelor's degrees in English and Communications, Thomas has the skills needed to provide clients with quality and insightful work.

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