What are Status Codes? & Why Should You Care?

what are status code? seo

Every time a web page is loaded up on one of your visitors’ computer or mobile device, a Status Code is sent behind the scenes as a response to the visitor’s computer request to load that page. These Status Codes give information about the page being requested.

Most common status codes

Status Code  
200SuccessfulRequest has been received, completed and successful.
301Permanent redirectUsed when a page has permanently moved to another URL.
302Temporary redirectUsed when a page is temporary moved and will be back online.
4XX (403, 404 etc)Client ErrorRequest couldn’t be completed or has bad syntax. Most common is the “404 Not Found” when a page cannot be found, other 4xx status codes still highlight that the page cannot be loaded.
5XX (500, 503 etc)Server Errorthe client’s request was made successfully (e.g. requesting for a page to load) but could not be fulfilled by the server (e.g. sending the page to the client)

You can see the entire Status Code list on Wikipedia.

How can the status of a page be detected?

There are several ways to see the status code of a page, via web browser, plugins, SEO tools or entering your page into an HTTPS code checker.

Browser – Developer Tools

On Google Chrome browser you can hit

  • “Command + Option + I” on a Mac or “Ctrl + Shift + I” on Windows. This brings up the Developer Tools as shown in the screenshot below.
  • Select the “Network” tab
  • Find the name of the page and click on it, in this example “www.nytimes.com”
  • Hit “Header” tab.

In the example below you can see that “200” comes up as a Status code. You’ll notice that there’s several files loading up after each other with their own Status Code. This is because each page is made up of multiple files, including images, styling scripts and more.

google developer tools status code

Status Code Checker Web App

As mentioned, you can also use a web app such as https://httpstatus.io/ (see screenshots below)

Check you page status code like this:

1) Enter page name

2) Hit “Check Status”

Yes, it’s that simple.

Why do we need to check Status Codes regularly? And How does it affect SEO?

Search engines such as Google and Bing have “crawlers” which are AI enhanced programs that scan web pages across the entire Internet. One of the ranking factors is site quality. Part of the site quality is taken from how “smoothly” the crawl goes and how many errors the crawler encounters along the way when compared to other domains in the same niche.

For example, if the crawler finds that your domain is full Redirect pages (301 or 302 status code) and Client Error pages (4xx status codes) it could be an indicator that your site is not well maintained and therefore of lower quality. This does not mean that every site that has few redirects and 404 pages is listed as a bad quality site, in fact some sites require these Status Codes such as Redirects to function and that is taken into account by the crawler.

As best practice site you need to keep 3xx, 4xx and 5xx status codes to a minimum. As these can hinder both the user’s experience and Search Engine’s crawling process.

What are redirect chains?

In some domains you can come across a redirect chain or a redirect loop. This happens when there multiple redirects pointing to each other.

Example:

User request (https://www.nytimes.com) ➡️ 301 (https://nytimes.com) ➡️ 301(https://nytimes.com/) ➡️ 200 (https://www.nytimes.com/)

As you can see from the example above the browser has to go through several pages until it reaches the correct destination. This effects the page speed (which is a main ranking factor for Google) loading time, and the number of requests needed.

Are 404 pages bad for SEO?

As John Mueller (Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google) highlights in one of his Tweets, if the page no longer exist and is now removed from the site it is perfectly acceptable to have a 404 as that’s what the 404 status codes are for after all. They help search engines remove pages that no longer exist from their index.

twitter john mueller 404 pages

In other words, if you purposely removed a page that no longer serves your company or site than it is okay to set it as a 404.

On the other hand, here are few scenarios where 404s are not good for your site:

  • If the page still serves a purpose and you unintentionally set it as a 404 maybe due to a coding or syntax error – this will need investigation either by an SEO or a developer to fix.
  • If you merged the page with another page, while still having the same content or same topic on the new page – you need to set a redirect 301 which takes the users from the previous page to the new one, this could in turn also save rankings.

How can an SEO Consultant help with Status codes?

An SEO specialist can make the life of a developer a bliss when it comes to status code fixes. Identifying the causes of the issues and producing clear reports (sheets) will help speed up the problem-solving process.

Here’s a list of tasks that an SEO can help you achieve:

  • Identifying Status Code issues in bulk (3xx, 4xx, 5xx)
  • Produce Monthly/Weekly Status Code Reports
  • Find the cause of recurring Status Code issues
  • Identify the severity and set priority of the Status Codes issues
  • Analyse Risks of not fixing Status Code issues (estimate traffic/leads loss over time)
  • Create a sheet with redirects for 4xx code pages that still have value
  • Produce Redirect Chains report with new URLs to fix the issues
  • Solving any Status Code issues highlighted in Google Search Console (Webmaster tools)

Status codes indicate the health of your website, make checks regularly, fix any errors and this will help outranking domains which neglect the tech side of their site. Keeping the site healthy also helps with User Experience as this will reduce the chances of running into any issues while using the site.

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Thomas Agius

Thomas Agius

SEO Consultant with a tech background. I'm also interested in Digital Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Project management and life long learning.

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