Basics on status codes

Hardly any website can do without HTTP redirects. Redirects are mainly used when the original URL no longer works. The use of redirects can have various reasons and one of the most common status messages is certainly the status code “404 page not found”, which is displayed to visitors if the link clicked on a website is broken and the corresponding content no longer exists. Every website operator should pay attention to the correct use of redirects. And not only to optimize the user experience of visitors. Defective links damage your online reputation and can have a negative effect on your ranking for your keywords in search results. In this expert tip, we present the most important redirects and give you tips for their optimal use.

Basics about HTTP status codes

Before we go into detail about forwarding, we would like to explain the functions of http status codes. HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. Every time a client – e.g. a browser – sends an HTTP request to a server, the server delivers a response in the form of an HTTP status code. This code is used to tell the client whether the request could be processed successfully or, if not, which error occurred. The three-digit status codes are divided into individual classes for structuring purposes. The first digit corresponds to the respective status class. The classes in detail are:

1xx – Information

The request is still being processed. For example, status code 100 is delivered when the server waits for further requests from the client (for example, browser) after a successfully received request.

2xx – successful operation

If the requested content is on the server and the server can send the information back to the client, a class 2xx status code is delivered. The request could therefore be processed without errors.

3xx – Redirection

This status class groups all codes that require further steps on the part of the client. These status codes of this class are of great importance for search engine optimization and will be discussed in more detail in this article.

4xx – Client error

Among other things, this status class contains the “404 page not found” status message mentioned at the beginning of this article. It is therefore up to the client if a request fails. We will also discuss this status class in more detail in this article, as it is important for optimizing user experiences.

5xx – Server error

Status codes from this class are delivered if the errors are due to the server. Error messages from this class have serious consequences and should be corrected as soon as possible.

9xx – Proprietary status codes

This class contains status codes that can occur under certain circumstances. This is the case if the error is caused by the network and not by the requesting client. It is recommended that the request be executed again.

So much for the short overview of the individual status classes. Further information is available from Wikipedia at Let’s now turn to the status codes that have an impact on your SEO.

The correct handling of redirections

The two best known http status codes of class 3xx are the 301 and 302 status message. The differences in detail are:

301 status code: The requested information is permanently available under a new address. The old address is no longer available and is no longer valid. The server sends the new address back to the client so that the client can retrieve the content under the new address.

302 Status code: The requested information is temporarily available at a new address while the original address remains unchanged. Although the server delivers the new address for retrieval, the Googlebot continues to check for changes to the old address. Therefore, this status code should not be used in case of a permanent redirection.

While the link strength is inherited with a 301 redirection, this is not the case with a 302 redirection.

For various reasons it is worthwhile to set up redirections under SEO aspects. These are among others:

Google always wants to deliver a good result to users. If your content is no longer available at the previous URL and you have not set up a redirect, a 404 page not found message will be delivered. For you, this can mean that your visitors leave your site immediately because they do not find the information they were expecting. For Google, short visit times and high bounce rates are again a signal that your website is not attractive. It can therefore happen that you lose visibility with your website and that the rankings for search terms deteriorate.

Google does not know exactly which contents are the most important if your website is displayed both with and without www. Also in this case it is worthwhile to create a permanent redirection. At the same time you avoid duplicate content.

To check if and which URLs of your website do not work, go to the Webmaster Tools, call the Crawling Error report in the Crawling section. Convenient: A summary of the report is displayed directly in the Webmaster Tools dashboard.

Click on the “Crawling error” button to access the report. In the overview you can see all links of your website which are currently not working. Check the individual links and – if available – enter a redirection to the new address.

If there is no new address, redirect to the home page and request the deletion of the old URL in the “Google Index” section under “Remove URLs”.

Creating a redirect

In our expert tip “Website Relaunch – 5 Tips, so that you can still be found tomorrow” we have briefly dealt with the creation of redirections. As already described there, creating redirections via the .htaccess file has immediate effects. Work on the .htaccess file should only be done if you know what you are doing. If this is not the case, it is better to use specially developed extensions provided by your CMS.

Why attractive 404 pages are an advantage

No matter how carefully you proceed, it can always happen that individual links on your website do not work. So you will not be able to avoid providing a 404 page on your website. By the way, a 404 page is less dramatic than if it were not there at all, because 404 pages are considered soft broken by Google. So it is definitely worthwhile to take a closer look at this page. Surely you have already come across one or the other creative “404 page not found” page on the net. This may even have resulted in a positive surprise and a longer stay on the website, but you have discovered interesting information. This is exactly the same for your visitors. Offer them an attractive 404 page. This TED video with Renny Gleeson shows that this is definitely worth it. Let the video inspire you and we wish you every success with the implementation!