How HTTP Status Codes & Network Impact Your SEO - Technical SEO Audit
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HTTP status codes, Google bot crawl rate, network issues and DNS errors
Understanding the SEO impact of HTTP status codes, network issues, and DNS errors is a crucial step in a technical SEO audit. Your response code status indicates the initial stage of the browsing experience. What's more, it affects your queue in the Google indexing pipeline, Google bot crawl rate and ultimately your SERP ranking.
Recently, Google released a new guide detailing how these issues impact your Google search performance. This article will look at these often overlooked & ignored issues and provide a step-by-step guide.
First, What is HTTP Status Code?
Quick and straightforward, HTTP status codes is a server response to a specific HTTP request.
There are five classes of responses that have an SEO impact:
- 2xx codes (Success)
- 3xx codes (Redirection)
- 4xx codes (Client Errors)
- 5xx codes (Server Errors)
Note：Google confirmed that they would start crawling sites over HTTP/2. See how it will impact your SEO.
How to find the problem?
Step 1: Ask yourself a simple question: Can you view your page in the browser, or it is showing something weird?
- If you can view the content, then you can dig further into 2xx codes and 3xx codes.
- If you can't view the content, you can investigate further into 4xx codes and 5xx codes.
Step 2: Open Chrome developer console > network > Reload the page
- Shortcut：Ctrl+Shift+J (on Windows) or Cmd+Option+J (on Mac).
Step 3: Find the page's slug in the "name' column > check "Headers"> check status code.
Alternative: Use the screaming frog to crawl your website. The status code is shown in the 'status code' column, while the meaning behind this code is shown in the 'status' column within the default 'Internal' tab view.
How to Address Each HTTP Status Codes?
2xx Status Codes (Success)
These codes indicate that the Google bot crawls the content and queue the content for indexing. However, the following scenarios will show a soft 404 error in the Google search console even if your page returns a 2xx.
- Page load time > Google bot timeout with status code 202
- Empty, blank page with status code 204
- The hero textual content shows an error message (e.g. The page is broken)
Note: An HTTP 2xx status code only indicates an error-free page. It doesn't mean that Google will index your page. What's more interesting, if your page returns a 2xx but shows "crawled, currently not indexed" in the inspection tool on Google Search Console. It might be a sign of a quality issue with your site, implied. (I will attach John Mueller's tweet below)
Here is a table view for the 2xx status code (Source: Google)
3xx Status Codes (Redirects)
Some key takeaways below:
- The 301 redirect is a strong signal that the redirect target should be canonical. Same as 308.
- The 302 redirect is a weak signal that the redirect target should be canonical. Same as 307.
Now you know your way with redirection - 302 won't be interpreted as 301 by Google bot.
- 10 is the maximum times a Google bot can take in the redirection chain. 5 for robot.txt file. But, to be frank, you should keep it under 3 for the sake of your crawl budget. (In Google, it says "ideally no more than 3 and fewer than 5.")
- A 304 status code signals to Google that the content is the same as last time it was crawled. It has no effect on indexing. You may encounter this status code when you refresh an AMP page.
Google makes it clear that not every redirect is the same. For example, Google interprets 308 as the same as 301, but it doesn't mean other search engines tend to do so. Choose the proper server response that is suitable for the page status. What's more, Gary Illyes from Google said the “concrete answer” after he dug into how Google Search handles it internally, is to leave your redirect up for “at least one year.” This will result in Google to pass any signals from the origin URL to the destination URL from the time Google found the redirect.
Here is a table view for the 3xx status code (Source: Google)
4xx Status Codes (Client Errors)
The 4xx status codes mean the spider's request to view the URL is denied by the server. One of the reasons can be the server is overload and not able to process the request.
Some key takeaways below:
- If your page returns 4xx before the indexing, Google will not take this page into the indexing queue.
- If your page is indexed but returns a 4xx code afterwards, Google will lower the crawling frequency, then take it out of the index if there's no sign of reinstation.
- 429 indicates there are too many requests that have been made of the server in a set period. When your server slows down, Google bot tend to have a cup of tea & slow down too. (Learn how to tell Google to index your page faster)
Here is a table view for the 4xx status code (Source: Google)