Check your page statuses – page return codes for SEO

Every time a page is requested from your website it returns an ‘http status code’. http (or hypertext transfer protocol) is the core of the way the internet works (hence why all website addresses appear http://www.websanity.co.uk – but why do we need to put http:// on front of everything… because other protocols exists, such as ftp, or file transfer protocol).

This status code is an indication of what happened as a result of the page request. We can look at these page statuses to see how our website is performing in certain key situations. First let’s look at some of the possible numbers:

Code Meaning
200 A normal page, everything is OK
404 An error – the page you requested doesn’t exist
500 A server error – the server tried to do something with this page but got very confused about it (one for your developer to look at)
301 A permanent redirect – the page requested has been changed to another page
302 A temporary redirect – the page requested has been changed to another page temporarily

So what do these mean for your website?

  • Most of your pages should return a normal page code: 200. Google will consider such pages to add to its index and links to them will build their authority.
  • If people request a page that doesn’t exist they should get an error. e.g. www.websanity.co.uk/errrorrrrr returns code: 404. A decent developer can do something to spot when this happens and serve a ‘proper’ error page which apologises and offers links to home, back and to the main products or services that you offer. If your developer hasn’t done this then the visitor will just be shown a nasty default error page and will probably go elsewhere. Instead they might redirect all requests for pages that don’t exist to the home page – meaning you lose all ability to find error pages on your website using a handy free tool such as the xenu link checker.
  • 301 codes are an indication that a page has been permanently moved. Another page is shown instead of the original (which will return its own http status code). This technique is what we use to give memorable addresses to long web addresses, e.g. websanity.co.uk/seo becomes www.websanity.co.uk/search-engine-optimisation-seo/. Because these are permanent, any links to the original page address pass their authority onto the new page address – so you don’t lose authority through this, and in fact by carefully using these you can channel authority where is belongs, dealing with a situation called ‘url canonicalisation’ encountered on many poorly setup websites where the same web page can be accessed by multiple addresses.
  • Some developers use 302 codes to redirect old pages to new pages – however, because these are temporary redirect codes, this means that Google does not pass the authority of the old page to the new page, and eventually it will be lost. Look at a few pages on your website – there shouldn’t really be any that return 302.

So how can you tell what pages are return which codes? Use our new free http response code tool. Copy and paste some of your web page addresses into it and it will tell you what code a particular page is returning and what that means. If you’re not getting the codes you expect then seek help on how to put them right (from a developer who understands what these codes mean and what the implications of using them is).

Help and advice on SEO in CambridgeHuntingdon or Peterborough from WebSanity Internet Marketing.

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About Gerald Thulbourn

Gerald Thulbourn setup WebSanity in 2004. He has a 1st class honours MEng in Microelectronics & Software Engineering (i.e. he's a techy), 5 A grades at A level (i.e. he works hard) and loves to communicate (i.e. odd for a techy). He hates tech speak, sloppy/badly tested code, and technology for the sake of technology's sake. He loves helping people understand marketing concepts and seeing how their application makes a real difference to their business. In particular he loves training; SEO, Website Analysis, WordPress etc. Read more about us on Google+