HTTP Status Code: Meaning, Cheat Sheet & SEO Best Practices

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Updated 2/5/2024

Gain an overview of HTTP status codes, from the basics to the most common ones. Use this guide to understand and optimize SEO for your site.

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HTTP status codes might seem intimidating if you’re unfamiliar with SEO or web fundamentals, but they’re easy to understand and more colloquial than you’d think. This quick guide covers the basics of HTTP status codes and what they mean for SEO.

What are HTTP Status Codes?

The HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) status code is a three-digit number the server returns to the browser. It provides information about the outcome of your request for a specific page or resource.

For example, a 200 status code means a page is available and acting normally, while a 404 means it’s gone or otherwise unavailable.

Most Common HTTP Status Codes

While the HTTP protocol defines various status codes to represent various states and responses, only a subset of them are encountered in everyday browsing and development. Here are some of the most common status codes you’re likely to come across and what they typically signify:

  • 200 OK: This is the standard response for successful HTTP requests. It indicates that a webpage has loaded successfully or an API call retrieved the data as expected.
  • 301 Moved Permanently: This shows that the requested URL has been permanently moved to another location. It’s used for redirecting browsers to the new URL, which is essential for SEO when a URL structure changes.
  • 403 Forbidden: The requester has authenticated, but they don’t have the necessary permissions to access the resource.
  • 404 Not Found: The server can’t find the requested resource. This status is seen when content is deleted or moved.
  • 503 Service Unavailable: The server is temporarily unavailable due to overload or maintenance.

Knowing and understanding these common status codes can assist you significantly in web development and SEO troubleshooting.

HTTP Status Codes Cheat Sheet

For quick reference, here’s a concise cheat sheet on the primary HTTP status codes, grouped by their class. This can be particularly handy when you need a fast overview or want to understand the nature of a code you’ve encountered.

1xx – Informational Responses

  • 100 Continue: Server received the request headers and the client should proceed to send the request body.
  • 101 Switching Protocols: The requester asked the server to switch protocols.

2xx – Successful Responses

  • 200 OK: The request was successful, and the response contains the resulting data.
  • 201 Created: The request was successful, and a new resource was created.
  • 204 No Content: The request was successful, but there’s nothing to send in the response.

3xx – Redirection Messages

  • 301 Moved Permanently: The URL of the requested resource has changed permanently.
  • 302 Found: The resource has been temporarily moved to another URI.
  • 304 Not Modified: The resource has not been modified since the last request.

4xx – Client Errors

  • 400 Bad Request: The request is malformed or contains invalid data.
  • 401 Unauthorized: The client is not authorized to access the resource.
  • 403 Forbidden: The server refuses to allow the requested action.
  • 404 Not Found: The server can’t find the requested resource.
  • 429 Too Many Requests: The user has sent too many requests in a given time.

5xx – Server Errors

  • 500 Internal Server Error: An unexpected condition was encountered, and the server can’t fulfill the request.
  • 503 Service Unavailable: The server is temporarily unable to handle the request (usually due to overload or maintenance).

While this cheat sheet covers the basic and most common status codes, many more nuanced codes are in the HTTP specification. Always be prepared to consult detailed documentation when working deeply with these codes to ensure the best possible user experience.

How to Check HTTP Status Codes

Knowing how to check HTTP status codes is fundamental for webmasters, developers, and SEO professionals. Here’s how you can check HTTP status codes using different methods:

Online Checkers

Numerous online tools are designed to easily retrieve any URL’s HTTP status code.

Example Tools:

Simply input the URL you want to check, and the tool will display the HTTP status code.

cURL Command

cURL is a versatile command-line tool that can fetch and send data over various protocols, including HTTP.

Instructions:

  1. Copy a URL to your clipboard.
  2. Open your Terminal (Mac) or command prompt (PC).
  3. Type curl -I [URL] (replace [URL] with the desired website address).
  4. The status code will displayed in the output under ‘HTTP/1.1’ or a similar version number.

Extensions and Plugins

Various browser extensions and plugins show the HTTP status code of pages you visit.

  • Redirect Path: This Chrome extension displays the HTTP status code and shows the full redirect path if any redirects are in place.
  • Ahrefs SEO Toolbar: This provides the status code, as well as many other SEO features that can be handy when browsing the web.
  • MozBar: Another SEO tool that shows status codes at a quick glance, plus additional features like SERP overlay data.

CMS or Hosting Platform Tools

Many content management systems (like WordPress) and hosting platforms have built-in tools or plugins that let you see the status codes of your pages.

For instance, in WordPress, plugins like Redirection can monitor URLs and report their status. Other tools like Yoast SEO can help with redirects and page management.

When checking HTTP status codes, always be proactive. Regularly monitor the health of your URLs, especially after making significant changes to your website, to ensure users and search engines access your content without issues.

SEO Best Practices

HTTP status codes play a pivotal role in SEO. Search engines use crawlers to index the web, and these crawlers rely on HTTP status codes to understand the status of a webpage. These techniques will ensure search engines index your site accurately, providing a seamless experience for users and maintaining your site’s health.

  1. Properly Use 301 Redirects: When permanently moving a page to a new location, always use a 301 redirect. This tells search engines that the page has moved permanently, ensuring they transfer any accumulated page authority to the new URL.
  2. Implement 302 Redirects Sparingly: 302 redirects indicate a temporary move. If you’re merely testing a new page or undergoing brief maintenance, this might be appropriate. However, if the change becomes permanent, switch to a 301 redirect. Prolonged use of 302 can cause search engines to treat them as 301s, potentially leading to indexing confusion.
  3. Address 404 Errors: Regularly check for and fix 404 errors on your site. These indicate that a page is not found. While they don’t directly harm SEO, they can degrade user experience. Consider creating a customized 404 page with links to your homepage or other main pages to assist lost users.
  4. Utilize 503 Status for Maintenance: If your site is undergoing maintenance and you expect downtime, use a 503 status code. This tells search engines that the downtime is temporary, preventing them from de-indexing pages.
  5. Avoid Indexing 500 Status Codes: Pages with 500 status codes indicate server errors and shouldn’t be indexed. Address these errors immediately. Prolonged server errors can lead to decreased crawl rates by search engines.
  6. Monitor Crawl Budget with 300s and 400s: Excessive redirects (300s) and errors (particularly 400s) can consume your site’s crawl budget, meaning search engines may not crawl all your pages. Ensure you’re not wasting your crawl budget on unnecessary or broken pages.
  7. Regularly Audit Your Site’s Status Codes: Use SEO tools and server logs to monitor your website’s status codes. Auditing can help you spot and fix issues before they impact your SEO.
  8. Be Transparent with 403 Forbidden Codes: If users or crawlers encounter a 403 status code, ensure it’s clear why access is forbidden, especially if it’s a page that was previously accessible.

Search engines rely on clear signals to index the web accurately and understand websites. Using these techniques should enhance the clarity of your site and ensure your pages are displayed as desired.

Bottom Line

HTTP status codes play a crucial role in web development and SEO. By understanding their significance, ensuring proper usage, and regularly monitoring your site, you can provide a seamless user experience and ensure optimal visibility in search engines. ?

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