410 or a 404: Which do I use when?

In the world of Web development and SEO, HTTP status codes play a crucial role. Two of these status codes, 404 and 410, are of particular importance when it comes to managing nonexistent pages. While they may seem similar at first glance, each has unique implications for both user experience and SEO.

What is a 404 Status Code?

A 404 status code simply means “Not Found.” This code is used when a server cannot find a match for the requested URL. It is a standard response for missing pages and is an essential part of the Internet. A 404 error indicates to search engines and users that while the server is reachable, the specific page is not.

Implications of 404 for SEO

  • Temporary vs Permanent Removal: 404 is ideal for situations where content is temporarily missing or moved.
  • User experience: A well-designed 404 page can improve the user experience by providing alternative navigation options.
  • Crawling and Indexing: Search engines continue to check 404 pages with the expectation that they will eventually return.

What is a 410 Status Code?

A 410 status code is used to indicate that the page has been permanently deleted. This is a more explicit statement than a 404 and tells search engines that the page no longer exists and that there are no plans to bring it back.

Implications of 410 for SEO

  • Clear Communication: A 410 clearly tells search engines that a page has been permanently deleted.
  • Faster Removal from Index: Pages with a 410 status are removed from the search index faster than 404 pages.
  • Efficiency in Web crawling: It helps search engines manage their crawl budget more efficiently by making it clear which pages no longer need to be indexed.

When do you use 404 vs. 410?

The choice between 404 and 410 depends on the intent behind the missing page. Use a 404 status code if you think the page may return or if you are not sure if the page has been permanently removed. A 410 is appropriate when you are certain that the page is definitely gone and will not return.

Summary

Using 404 and 410 status codes correctly is essential for effective Web site management and SEO. Understanding the difference between the two can help provide search engines and visitors with accurate information, ultimately leading to a better user experience and search engine performance. The smart use of these status codes can have a significant impact on the overall health and visibility of a website in search engines.

Senior SEO-specialist

Ralf van Veen

Senior SEO-specialist
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This article was originally published on 20 December 2023. The last update of this article was on 28 December 2023. The content of this page was written and approved by Ralf van Veen. Learn more about the creation of my articles in my editorial guidelines.