HTTP, Hypertext Transfer Protocol, is the foundation of data communication for the World Wide Web. Day to day activity on the Internet extensively uses HTTP request codes, telling the user-client (ie. your browser) how to react to the information being sent. Usually this happens behind closed doors, but occasionally something goes wrong, door opens, and your confronted by the dreaded 404 - "Page Not Found".

Understanding what the codes mean is essential to moving forward with your website. HTTP request codes can be easily broken into 5 categories, based on the first digit of the error code.

Informational - 1XX
Successful - 2XX
Redirection - 3XX
Client Error - 4XX
Server Error - 5XX

Informational (1XX) and Successful (2XX) function behind the closed doors. They are simply saying everything is in working order, continue with what you are doing.

Server Error (5XX) codes are the opposite. This collection indicates something bad is happening with your server. If you receive these, contact your host provider immediately.

Redirection (3XX) and Client Error (4XX) is where the magic of SEO comes into play. Websites are always evolving, and reorganizing, causing links to break. This is detrimental to the health of your site's SEO if not handled properly.

Pages that no longer exist are handled differently, depending on the CMS (Content Management System), or lack thereof, your site is using. The common HTTP Request Codes assigned to these pages are:

302 - A status code of 302 tells a client that the resource they asked for has temporarily moved to a new location. While allowing the redirect, it blocks all SEO power that any links pointing to the old page would provide to the new page once redirected.

404 - The most common code displayed, 404 tells the user agent that the requested resource could not be found but may be available again in the future. This will throw an error page, as well as stopping the flow of link power. In addition, the search engines will eventually remove the page from the search index, albeit slower than the 410.

410 - A 410 indicates that the resource requested is no longer available and will not be available again. This should be used when a resource has been intentionally removed and the resource should be purged. Upon receiving a 410 status code, the client should not request the resource again in the future. Clients such as search engines will likely remove the resource from their indices, stopping the flow of link power.

With all of these choices, it should be easy to figure which code fits the scenario best, but when you are talking search rankings, you need to follow all of the angles.

Google has indicated that the 410 is treated as "more permanent" than a 404 and that it would be slightly better than a 404, but primarily in the sense that it will remove a 410 from the index faster than a 404. However, 301 is the ONLY redirect in existence that passes external link juice to a redirected page. As a result, while a 410 may make the Google servers slightly happier, because we indicate the page is gone instead of just an error, any of the links attached to the missing pages will not pass their link power to the site.

Using 301 on any page that was previously linked to is the only way to keep all of the link juice flowing to your site. While it may not be the code that best suits the situation, it will help keep your rankings high, and your old links actively bringing people to your site.


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