HTTP error codes and their impact on SEO.
In our recent article, we outlined what each error code means and how it may come about. In this post, we look at how they may impact the ranking of your site – and when to use certain error codes strategically.
For a quick recap, error codes signify a failure in providing you with the webpage or website that you tried to visit. For more information on the varying error codes and what they mean, be sure to view our guide. But to find out how these error codes may impact your search engine optimisation, read on.
301 / 302 redirects
Both 301 and 302 redirects serve the same purpose of sending a user from URL A, to URL B, but they do so in distinctly different ways. It’s all about authority – a page’s perceived value and expertise in the eyes of search engines. To put it simply, the higher the authority, the higher the page can potentially rank in the SERPs.
When a 301 redirect is put in place, it is meant as a permanent redirect and as such it is not only users that will be redirected, but almost all the authority of the old page (it is estimated to be around 90%) will also be redirected to the new page. This means that the new page gets a boost in authority to help it rank quicker if it’s a new page or potentially rank higher if already existed.
A 302 redirect redirects users, but not the authority of a page. This is because it is meant as a temporary redirect. If URL A is being worked on, you can temporarily redirect users to URL B using a 302 redirect, and it won’t affect the ranking of URL A. It should also maintain its place in the SERPs while traffic is being redirected.
Using 302s where a 301 should be used is a common error and can have serious implications on the ranking of a website. A complete list of internal redirects can be found using a crawler such as Screaming Frog (in its ‘response code’ section). It is then simply a case of reviewing any to see if they are being used correctly.
These errors occur on a website when a user tries to visit a page which no longer exists and will typically be presented with an error page. If your website has 404 pages within it, it can have a negative impact on your ranking efforts.
This is because Google wants to provide the best user experience possible to all users. This simple tenet is behind most of Google’s key ranking factors. If there are 404s found within a site, this could lend to poor user experience as users will not be able to easily find their way around the site. Added to this, it is indicative in Google’s eyes of a poorly managed website.
This type of error code is a relatively common occurrence on a website that is being updated regularly, especially with larger ecommerce sites, and so resolving these 404 pages are often viewed as ‘SEO admin’ with checks performed regularly.
There are plenty of tools out there for finding 404 URLs within a website. The two we use most frequently at TBB are https://www.brokenlinkcheck.com/ and Screaming Frog, again looking at the ‘response codes’ tab.
Once found, it is simply a case of navigating to the source URL and either editing the link, or putting a 301 redirect in place.
A 500 error will halt a user’s experience in much the same way as a 404 error, and just like a 404, 500 errors can have a definite negative effect on the ranking efforts of your website. A 500 error signifies an issue with the server that is hosting your site. While an error here may not be your ‘fault’ in the same way that a 404 error is, the effects can be profound.
If Google repeatedly hits 500 errors on your site for an extended period of time, it may end up in pages, or the entire site itself, being removed from Google’s index. If you manage to resolve the issue and get your site working again, you may have to restart your SEO campaign from scratch.
In the short term, 500 errors may negatively affect your rankings, as they are impacting on the user experience of the site.
Finding 500 errors can be tricky, as it is not good practice to attempt to view every page on your site just to check. In this case, it not necessarily finding them, but more acting on them quickly when they are reported along with checking that there are not wider issues.