One of the biggest ranking factors that no one talks about

Before I get started, let’s be clear – content and links are still super important ranking factors, but there’s something even more important, that no one seems to talk about!

What is it?

Response codes! Yes, that’s right. When Google comes to crawl your website, they may get a 5xx response code.

If they try to crawl a page on your site and the server can’t cope, it returns a 5xx page.

Why is it important?

The first issue is that if it’s a new page Google is trying to crawl, it has no idea what the page is about.

Not good news for Search Engine rankings as pages need to be crawled to be in with a chance of ranking.

Successfully crawling the page, triggers all the other processes and signals which allows a page to rank.

So if the first stage fails then nothing else can happen.

It doesn’t matter how many links are pointing to the page, or how great the content is, if Goggle visits the page and it is down, then the page can not be ranked.

It’s that simple.

The other important point to mention is that if Google regularly sees 5xx response codes when it visits your page, it will get fed up and crawl your site less frequently, reducing your crawl budget.

This has been confirmed several times by Google.

The reason is that they simply don’t want to be responsible for slowing down your site, or worse, bring the whole thing down.

So if they repeatedly come across 5xx response codes, they will crawl your site less frequently, thus making it harder to rank new content as it will take longer to find the content.

We go into more depth on this topic in Crawl Budget – what is it and why is it important.

How to spot 5xx Issues

The easiest way and the only real way to monitor and check 5xx issues is to check your log files.

Actually, we think it’s that important of an issue, that we have dedicated a whole section to it in our server log analyser. Whether you use our tool or one of the other server log tools on the market, spotting the errors is key.

Server Performance Tab on the Server Log Dashboard

Causes of 5xx Issues

There are several causes but the main one is poor hosting. In fact, you can analyse how good your hosting is by checking the number of 5xx errors.

Shared hosting gets knocked quite a lot in the SEO community for negatively impacting on rankings, but it’s not always the hosting itself.

If someone else on your server is running a large process and causes the server to slow down or worse crash, then Google is likely to encounter server issues.

Other issues could arise during “slow periods” or when developers run scripts to update databases.

It’s worth bearing in mind, that during times when it’s quiet in terms of customers, Google could be trying to crawl your site.

What you can do?

Make sure your site is hosted by a quality host that sticks to promises on uptime. Anytime downtime will hurt.

Analysing your server logs, using a simple tool like ours, will allow you to spot trends and see when it’s likely to be an issue.

Issues could be caused by too many update scripts running at the same time.

If you have analysed your logs and realised you don’t have any 5xx issues, then it’s just a case of monitoring the situation to make sure no issues arise in the future.


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