It has been found that server errors negatively impact the Google index and rankings. Every SEO professional recommends keeping the server errors to a minimum on his website. To update the website and implement some fixes, server down time is often necessary. But, make sure you provide a 503 response.
However, a 503 response should not be held for too long. The major question here is that how the server errors impact the website’s visibility and rankings.
So, to find the answers, let’s just look at the following case studies:
1. Intermittent Server Errors
Intermittent server errors mean that a URL sometimes shows 500 Internal Server Error and sometimes 200 Success, i.e. the server errors existed at irregular intervals. So, this had a negative impact on the rankings for the pages that showed internal error. Google would report such errors through GSC (Google Search Console) crawl errors report. Actually, what initiated this issue was the Single Page Application. Many crawl threads are used by Google to crawl. In case, thee threads requested for various different URLs, then servers fail intermittently.
It was observed that the rankings and the crawl stats were negatively impacted. The keywords that ranked on the top were adversely affected. However, Bing was not impacted.
2. Unavailable 503 Service
For certain page types, a domain returned 503 Service Unavailable responses. SPA framework was developed by the domain and when the SPA file could not support the requests to file variations, then the framework would time out.
The team that was researching on it, was able to reproduce the experience using crawling tools. The crawlers observed a number of connection timeouts and also the 503 responses.
It was noticed that nearly 1k keywords dropped in ranking and there was no improvement made to the pages. Thus, with time, the 503 errors had a negative and adverse impact on the rankings.
3. 500 Responses
500 error responses were occurring for about 18 hours. The crawl logs showed that the pages consistently returned to a 500 error. However, it is not clear that for how long the pages returned to the error.
For any keyword that the user is searching for, the domain would have dropped from the 5 to 100. It actually depends on, whether the website has a similar page that is relevant as per the user’s query. If the similar page existed, then the ranking would not decrease largely.
The final result showed that for every tracked query, there was a change in the ranking of pages that ranked at the top. 18 hour down time is a considerable time period to change the ranking reports for a week.
Conclusion for Your Website
The rankings and Google’s index are frequently updated these days. Thus, a 500 Internal Server Error can impact the website or page ranking immediately. The server errors significantly reduce the crawling of your website.
It seems that a fresh index has been introduced by Google on page-by-page basis.
This concept directly relates to the recent Mobile Algorithm Update.
In a nutshell, a 503 response is perilous for your website if it goes on for a longer period of time. Further, it is not advisable to have pages that respond 500 Internal Server Error, when they ideally should serve a peculiar header response.
When was this update observed?
It is not clear that since when this ‘fresh index’ has been observed. Researchers have data from 2014 summers that showed few instances of server errors. But, they didn’t have impact on page rankings.
In 2014, Google commented on crawl budget, but didn’t tell that what would be the impact of server errors on the index.
Whenever Google experiences server errors, it throttles the crawls rapidly.
How to Move Forward?
The engineering teams must take into account, the amount of load required by SPAs when Google requests for sub-files in the URL.
In case of a 500 Internal Server Error Google ranks and looks for a similar page hailing from the same domain. But, it is important that Google must locate that similar page.
It may happen that similar page gets a lower ranking, because, often it happens that the page is not what the user wishes to search for.