How a 5xx Server Error Can Hurt Your Website’s Rankings
Following more recent Google updates throughout the years, server errors are increasingly detrimental for website rankings. If your website experiences any of these errors, it’s important for webmasters to take care of them before they become even worse issues. 404 page errors might be easily fixed with a custom 404 page or 301 redirect, but a 5xx server error is a different beast. There are two main server errors that people should look out for and fix.
5xx responses, particularly 500 Internal Server Errors and 503 Service Unavailable Errors, become bigger problems for websites in early 2015, as a fresh index came about. If Google comes across a website with a 500 response, the page will immediately stop ranking. However, there have to be multiple instances of 503 responses over a week or two before ranking stops and the page is removed from Google’s index.
Here are a few specific ways Google reacts to server errors and how to avoid these errors altogether, based on experiences that columnist Austin Blais and his team encountered and shared with Search Engine Land.
Intermittent 500 Internal Server Errors
Blais and his team found that one URL had a tendency to return 200 Success responses along with occasional 500 Internal Server Errors. This was because of an instable server, and crawl stats declined as a result. This server instability and the subsequent 500 errors caused the domain to drop in Google rankings.
500 Responses Resulting in Downtime
A specific type of page on the Blais’s team’s domain experienced 500 Internal Server Errors, which caught Google’s eye for around 18 hours. The amount of time each page returned this response is unclear, but the overall impact it had was bad enough.
The drop in keyword rankings was sporadic, resulting in drops of anywhere from five to 100 positions for all 239 tracked keywords. New rankings weren’t as low if Google could find other pages on the domain that were relevant to the search query. Blais’s team used BrightEdge to track the keywords and observe Google’s behavior throughout the 18-hour downtime.
The most interesting thing to note from this experience is that Google actually ranked pages that weren’t exactly what people would search for with certain queries, and Blais’s team couldn’t quite understand that behavior either.
Long Periods of 503 Service Unavailable Responses
What the developers learned from this experience was that Google is more likely to punish websites that have 503 errors over a longer stretch of time than those that experience them for shorter periods.
How to Avoid Keyword Ranking Drops Through a 5xx Server Error
While it may take a little while for 503 server errors to result in dropped rankings, 500 Internal Server Errors have an immediate negative effect. Websites should make sure that if they do experience 500 errors, they are able to fix them before Google can have a chance to negatively impact your site. If a 503 response occurs, there’s a better chance of websites avoiding negative ranking impact if they can take care of it before it goes on for too long. Thankfully, it doesn’t take too long for Google to restore website rankings once server issues are resolved.
It appears that there is a fresh index that works on a page-by-page basis, and it is directly associated with a recently released Mobile Algorithm Update. This is good for domains, as it helps to ensure that they don’t completely drop off in Google rankings as long as there are pages relevant to the keyword.
Engineers should consider the overall load that SPAs will be able to support before implementing them. If multiple server-side rewrites are inevitable, server errors may occur. Identifying and correcting a 5xx server error in time can also prevent major negative effects on rankings.
If you want to prevent this fresh index from hurting your website, you should have a team of developers who know how to effectively handle 5xx server errors along with other potential issues. If you can avoid server errors and other common development problems, coupled with good SEO and PPC practices, your website should perform well on Google across the board.
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Ben Graves is an online marketing associate at Clickx, performing various SEO tasks for clients in order to help improve their online exposure and traffic, and to help establish them as leaders in their industries. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.