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HTTP response codes can be considered as one of the most technical aspects of SEO, yet hardly taken care of. The most technical aspects of SEO can judge whether your pages end up in the search engine indexes or not at all. Content is considered as the king of SEO, but it doesn’t matter how well you write your copy or optimize your pages – if you can’t be indexed, you can’t be found. No matter however good your content be, but unless and until you get into top SERPs, all efforts are futile.

Following is the list of HTTP Response codes that I think are important for SEOs to watch for.

  • 200 – Ok. The webpage was returned successfully.
  • 301 – If you have intended for your page to redirect to another file then you are in good shape. The 301 header is a redirect message telling the browser/crawler that the page has moved.
  • 302 – Use when you need to temporarily move your file from one place to another. But this response code can damage your rankings. So don’t use unless you need it inevitably.
  • 304 – Not modified response. If you have never updated pages of your static website, the web server will respond with a 304 the page has not changed. The cache date within Google will not change. To make sure that pages stay updated, put in a date somewhere in static pages and change them once a day. For Linux hosting environment, use the touch command to update file. It only changes the last modified date of the file, not the content.
  • 400 – Generally, a bad request from the client.
  • 401 – Unauthorized. You might see this, if you are using password protection.
  • 403 – Forbidden. It is forbidden for everyone.
  • 404 – Not found. Take care of this. Make sure that all of your pages are there.
  • 500 – Internal Server Error – Almost always a bad config in Apache.
  • 502 – Bad Gateway – Commonly a Proxy problem or some strange network config.

Why are http response codes important?

The prime goals of a SEO include enabling the bots to easily index your site. For that you need to keep things in mind.

  1. 302 redirects are not the SEO-friendly way to tell search engines where a page you removed now resides. Instead of that it is recommendable to use 301 redirect. So constantly providing 302’s would be dangerously risky!
  2. Do not throw 200 (ok) when you really should be throwing a 404 (not found). If the page does not exist, but you just told Google that it is. Again, it is not advisable to do so.
  3. Finding 302s, 403s, 404s, 500s, etc. is critical so that you can have more of your content indexed and at a solid frequency by bots.

How does this affect SEO?

The reaction of the search engines spiders depends on the response codes that they get back from server. A badly configured server sending back the wrong response codes can stop site from ever being indexed. Some common examples of really bad server configurations are:

The server always returns the response code 404
– Some badly programmed scripts that give sites “search engine friendly URLs” return 404 values instead of 200. In this case, the search engines won’t index these pages at all.

The server never returns 404, even when a page is not found
HTTP RedirectIf you type a wrong URL, then ideally you should get a page telling content cannot be found. But if this page isn’t returning a 404 code then the spider will assume the page is ok. So, whenever you remove a page, or if content on your site expires, then the page will still be indexed in the search engines, but with the “Sorry this page cannot be found” text instead of the original content. This page could compete with your other pages in the search results, and creates unnecessary duplicate content throughout your listings.

The server redirects pages using 302, not 301
– Suppose for a special campaign which has a short URL like “/discountoffer/” and it redirects to another page on your site like /rates/. It should use a 301 redirect to tell the search engines that the real page is /rates/, not /discountoffer/. Using a 302 will confuse the search engines as you are saying “The real page is /discountoffer/ and /rates/ is just a temporary page”. This will make it hard for /rates/ to be listed properly in the search results.

Some of the other forms of redirects are Meta, JavaScript and iFrame redirects. Out of these Meta redirects and JavaScript redirects are not SEO-friendly, while iFrame is quite messy task and so advisable to avoid.

Thus, response codes can have a quite drastic impact on your search results. It is therefore extremely important to understand what response codes your site is giving in different situations.

Keep your eyes on my blog, you will get some more interesting stuff on HTTP response codes and corresponding links. Contact us for SEO services, Website Designin, Website Development in India.

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