Google Now Differentiating HTML Status Codes

June 4th, 2012 07:17am CDT by Nathan Schaad

I can’t exactly pinpoint what the practical application for this will be, but Google has made a minor alteration in how it treats 404 (page not found) and 410 (gone) server header page status codes. A quick post at Search Engine Round Table discusses the change in the context which was given by Google: Which is to say, not much.

Google claimed that they are now treating 410 server header page statuses as “more permanent” than 404 errors. This is in response to the fact that most webmasters are using 410 as a signal that page has once existed at a certain URL, but has now been permanently removed. Not just moved to another location (that would be a 301 redirect), but truly “gone” as the name associated with the status would imply.

What does it mean, though, that Google is treating 410 as more permanent, as opposed to treating it identically to a 404? This is what I’m not as sure about. However, it could mean that Google is providing a way for people to, on a limited scale, “erase” bad content from their website completely, or to remove and de-index pages which are no longer relevant to the company.

It could also just be one of the many red herrings which Google now provides to SEOs under the guise of improved transparency, and that webmasters will not actually notice a benefit to using 410s over 404s. Depending on how paranoid we want to be, it may even be a trap: Google probably knows by now that the people who pay the most attention to their updates are all SEOs, and so will, in the future, target 410 status codes as somehow “over-optimization” and punish those who use it in the SERPs. Okay, maybe that’s a little bit too cynical.

We’ll see how this actually pans out, but 410s do not seem to be of particular use at this time, unless you are absolutely certain that a certain URL will never be used again by your website.





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