Ultimate Guide to Understanding HTTP Status Codes
The HTTP protocol was first introduced in the early 1990s to create a connection between websites and browsers, forming a communication for web traffic that remains a standard thirty years later. While HTTP has been a foundational tool for internet browsing since before the internet became an at-home staple, let alone something users now carry around in their pockets, few have a true understanding of how it works.
Understanding HTTP codes isn’t just for developers and IT professionals; they play a significant role in SEO and driving web traffic to businesses. This guide will outline some of the more common HTTP status codes to improve one’s understanding.
404 Not Found
404 not found is perhaps the most common HTTP error that people encounter, and play a significant role in SEO. As such, it’s an important one to understand for both those who are experienced in computer science and the layman who is trying to bolster their business.
In essence, 404 not found indicates that the URL indicated can’t be found when crawling is taking place. This is captured in Google Search Console, which is a valued SEO tool. When a URL is not found, it can’t benefit from SEO and will not provide accurate insights.
404 not found usually indicates that there is a damaged link somewhere and is meant to be a temporary notification of a problem. For example, if a blogger attempted to link back to a relevant website to bolster their relevance on a specific topic but accidentally pasted in a space or punctuation that didn’t belong. If a site is deleted or moved, either a 410 gone or 301 redirect should show instead– if it was done properly.
301 redirects are another commonly occurring HTTP status code, and also play a significant role in SEO. At one time, migrating a website from one platform to another would result in the loss of recognition, relevance, and authority granted by Google during a search. As a result, a business that ranked well would end up starting at square one, even if all content remained the same.
301 redirects are a permanent redirect code that indicates to Google that a site should maintain its relevance despite being migrated. When the Googlebots crawl the website and see a 301, they’re able to pull the history of the site’s SEO.
In addition to the 301 redirect, other 300 HTTP status codes that play a role in SEO. 302 shows that a site or URL has been moved temporarily. This method is frequently used to redirect website visitors in various geographic locations to their country’s version of the site while still allowing them to change back to the previous version if so desired. 304 and 307 redirects, while less common, are also valuable tools to have in one’s arsenal.
503 Service Unavailable
People often run into 503 service unavailable messages while trying to look at a blog or small business website, often to discover that the error is gone a short time later. 503 service unavailable is a temporary notification that often shows if a website is down for maintenance. The purpose of this HTTP code is to slow down crawling and indicate to the Googlebots that a site is down temporarily so that their rankings won’t be penalized. However, if the site is left in this state for an extended period, the Googlebots will eventually override the 503 and treat it as a permanent issue.
On the other hand, whereas 503 is an intentional status code, 500 and 501 are unintentional, showing a larger server issue. For example, a site experiencing a data breach that shuts down may show a 500 internal server error message. This is crawled by the Googlebots and will show up in the analytics reports.
550 Permission Denied is another HTTP code that users often run into, and as the name suggests, indicates that someone is trying to access something they don’t have permission to view. Someone might see this if they click an organization’s intranet link from an outside computer.
200 OK is an HTTP code that users experience every day without being aware of the fact. Developers with knowledge of what’s happening behind the scenes, however, know that this is the HTTP code that indicates when everything is working as it should. So, while the common internet user might click onto their favorite website and experience no HTTP status code indication, the Google Bots are reading a 200.
Once a 200 response is received from a server, the data from the website is transferred to the browser. It’s this response that signals the release of the images, background coding, and various components of a website for the viewer to interact with.
Understanding HTTP status codes in simple terms provide everyone, from common internet users to developers, with insight as to what’s going wrong (or right) with a website. The HTTP protocol as a whole can also be important for SEO specialists, as it has an impact on how a search engine will index a particular web page. In order to test this and understand it, you will likely need a log analyzer for real time log analysis and other tools to make sure you aren’t missing something important.
This information is valuable for business owners, digital marketers, developers, and those who want to know how the world around them works.