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Google Checks Status Codes Before Anything Else When Crawling Content

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Google’s John Mueller recently explained that HTTP status codes are the first thing Google checks when crawling content.

This topic came up during the Google Webmaster Central Hangout on October 18. Here is the question that was submitted:

“Wondering if Google checks status codes before anything else, like before rendering content?”

In response, Mueller confirmed that’s correct. Google does check the status codes before rendering or indexing content.

Specifically, Google will check for a ‘200’ status code before proceeding with crawling any further. A 200 status code indicates to Google that it’s crawling a valid page and there might be content worth indexing on it.

On the other hand, if Google encounters a 400 or 500 error, or a redirect, then it would not proceed with rendering the content for indexing.

Mueller specifically points out that Google does not see any 404 pages. So if you’re designing a fancy 404 page for your site keep in mind that only human visitors will end up seeing it.

By default, Google does not render anything unless it returns a 200 status code. Hear Mueller’s full response in the video below, starting at the 26:38 mark:

“Yes we do check the status codes before we index the content, or render the content. In particular, if it’s a status code 200 then that’s like a sign that there’s something here that we might be able to index. If it’s a 400 or 500 error, or a redirect, then obviously those are things we wouldn’t render.
So if you have a really nice 404 page, then that’s not something that we would see for indexing. Similarly, if your page returns 404 by default … well if it returns 404 then we just won’t render anything there anyway. So it should return 200.”

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5 Tips to Boost Your Holiday Search Strategy

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With the global economic downturn, inflation, ongoing supply chain challenges, and uncertainty due to the Ukraine war, this year’s holiday shopping season promises to be very challenging. Will people be in the mood to spend despite the gloom? Or will they rein in their enthusiasm and save for the year ahead?

With these issues in mind, here are five considerations to support your search engine optimization strategy this holiday shopping season:

1. Start early.

Rising prices are likely to mean shoppers will start researching their holiday spending earlier than ever to nab the best bargains. Therefore, retailers must roll out their holiday product and category pages — and launch any promotions — sooner to ensure their pages get crawled and indexed by search engines in good time.

Some e-commerce stores manage to get their pages ranking early by updating and reusing the same section of the website for holiday content and promotions, rotating between content for Christmas, Mother’s Day, Valentine gifts, Fourth of July sales, etc. This approach can help you retain the momentum, links and authority you build up with Google and get your holiday pages visible and ranking quickly.

2. Make research an even bigger priority.

With all the uncertainty this year, it’s vital to use SEO research to identify the trending seasonal keywords and search phrases in your retail vertical — and then optimize content accordingly.

With tools such as Google Trends you can extract helpful insights based on the types of searches people are making. For example, with many fashion retailers now charging for product returns, will prioritizing keywords such as “free returns” get more search traction? And with money being tighter, will consumers stick with brands they trust rather than anything new — meaning brand searches might be higher?

3. Make greater use of Google Shopping.

To get the most out of their holiday spending, consumers are more likely to turn to online marketplaces such as Google Shopping as they make it easier to compare products, features and prices, as well as to identify the best deals both online and in nearby stores.

Therefore, take a combined approach which includes listing in Google Shopping and at the same time optimizing product detail pages on your e-commerce site to ensure they’re unique and provide more value than competitors’ pages. Be precise with product names on Google Shopping (e.g., do the names contain the words people are searching for?); ensure you provide all the must-have information Google requires; and set a price that’s not too far from the competition. 

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4. Give other search sources the attention they deserve.

Earlier this year Google itself acknowledged that consumers — especially younger consumers — are starting to use TikTok, Instagram and other social media sites for search. In fact, research suggests 11 percent of product searches now start on TikTok and 15 percent on Instagram. Younger consumers in particular are more engaged by visual content, which may explain why they’re embracing visually focused social sites for search. So, as part of your search strategy, create and share content on popular social media sites that your target customers visit.

Similarly, with people starting their shopping searches on marketplaces such as Amazon.com, optimizing any listings you have on the site should be part of your strategy. And thankfully, the better optimized your product detail pages are for Amazon (with unique, useful content), the better they will rank on Google as well!

5. Hold paid budget for late opportunities.

The greater uncertainty and volatility this holiday season mean you must keep a close eye on shopper behavior and be ready to embrace opportunities that emerge later on. Getting high organic rankings for late promotions is always more challenging, so hold some paid search budget back to help drive traffic to those pages — via Google Ads, for example. Important keywords to include in late season search ad campaigns include “delivery before Christmas” and “same-day-delivery.” For locally targeted search ads, consider “pick up any time before Christmas.”

The prospect of a tough, unpredictable holiday shopping season means search teams must roll out seasonal SEO plans early, closely track shoppers’ behavior, and be ready to adapt as things change.

Marcus Pentzek is chief SEO consultant at Searchmetrics, the global provider of search data, software and consulting solutions.

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