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How Server Response Codes Can Help or Hinder Your SEO

Search Engine Optimization January 29th, 2009



server-response-codes You probably never thought that your web host or your server environment can have an impact on Search Engine Optimization, but guess what –  It can!

For the average user, hosting and all that technical criteria regarding their website is way beyond any kind of meaningful comprehension. It is important, however, to recognize certain technical attributes that can make the difference between average SEO and  great SEO!

Here are some very important server response codes that you may see when viewing websites online.

Server Response Codes

A server response code is a numbered code that is sent from the server to your web browser. There are several types of codes; however I will focus on the main ones you need to be concerned with.

200 — OK. The request has succeeded

The majority of all requests will end with this response. This server response code means the request was understood, accepted, and the page you have requested appears. So, basically any web page you are successfully viewing is a 200 code.  We like 200 codes. 🙂

301 — Moved Permanently

The requested web page has been assigned a new permanent URL and any future references to this resource should use one of the returned URLs. This type of code is commonly used for SEO when a Webmaster has moved or renamed a web page. When undertaking any rewrites of URLs, you should use 301 redirects to ensure that the SEO value of the existing URL is passed along to the new URL.

This is important as search engines value the 301 in determining that the old page should be de-indexed and the new URL indexed.  It helps reduce the amount of time it takes to spider a page, and also acts as a traffic director to the search engine in finding where the page has moved.

302 — Moved Temporarily

From a visitor’s point of view this code is similar to the 301, in that the user will be redirected to the new URL. However, be warned that search engines will not necessarily de-index the old page. A common 302 redirect is that which is used as forwarding from your domain registrar’s control panel forwarding one domain to another.

404 — Page Not Found

The web server has not found any web pages matching the requested URL. This type of code is often seen and despised the most. It's usually a blank page with minimal techno jargon displaying the URL page that is not loading.  No one likes 404 errors. 

Fixing and Diagnosing Server Codes

Any webmaster or search marketing professional should know the meaning of these server codes, how to find them and how to fix them.

Since most of the time, server codes are not visible, you can use the following server code tool, to find out what they are by entering the URL of the page.

Diagnosing a Forwarded Page (301 / 302)

When you are changing the URL of a page, and it is meant to be a permanent change, you should check to make sure it is NOT set as a 302 status code. Remember, a 302 page is a temporary forward, which means search engines may not de-index the old page, and could lead to duplicate content, if the new page is picked up and contains the same information.

Domain Forwarding

Be wary also of using the forward option where your domain is registered. Although it works well, it is also considered a 302 status code, and will be problematic if the domain has some history with search engines, even though the domain is not being used now.

How To Perform a 301 Redirect

Not all hosting providers allow you to perform a 301 redirect, whether it’s a setting with the Apache server configuration or it is the notorious Windows server that prohibits this action.

Setting a 301 on an Apache Server

If you are on an Apache server, it’s as simple as uploading an .htaccess file, and adding the line:

Redirect 301 /oldpage.html www.mysite.com/newpage.html

If this redirect does not work or gives you a page error, contact your web host.

Windows Server

Windows does not allow you to upload an .htaccess file for this simple method. There is however, a work-around available.  One involves a setting in the control panel of the server, by which you would either have to contact your host, or you could perform if on a dedicated server.

Another alternative is by writing a script to perform the 301 redirect. This, however, will not work if your web page extension is .htm or .html – It would work using a coding language like .asp or .cfm.

Diagnosing a 404 Error Page

Try typing in a page that you know does not exist on your web site, to see what kind of page is displayed. If you are on an Apache server, the best way to make 404 error pages work for you is by creating a custom page. A custom 404 page looks exactly like your website, with the branding and web links of all your regular pages. Thereby keeping visitors AND search engines on your web site.  This way if someone goes to a broken link they are not brought off of your page.

Hopefully your web host isn’t taking advantage of your lack of expertise, such as the one described below by HostGator a couple years ago.  They modified their server configuration, so that all 404 error requests to their client’s web sites that didn’t have a custom 404 error page would go to an advertised web page, allowing the host to make financial gain directly from your domain.


Post By Colin (20 Posts)

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Also known as NEO, Colin can be found walking around the neighborhood giving everyone SEO tips and tricks. When he can find the time to peel himself away from the team at TechWyse he often can feel compelled to bless us with his thoughts through the Rise To The Top blog.

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How Server Response Codes Can Help or Hinder Your SEO

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