410 vs 404 Response Codes in SEOWe are all most likely familiar with a 404 response code whether you’re a web creator, manager, or just user. But have you come across a 410 response code? It’s rare, but they have a very specific use that you can leverage to your advantage to manage your indexed pages. We’ll explain below.
What are 404 and 410 response codes
First, a response code is a type of response a server will send to a browser to indicate the status of the request. If everything goes well you’ll usually get a 200 response or an “OK” from the server. This means your request was successful and your content was delivered, like the web page loaded or the app did what you asked it to.
Sometimes a server will not be able to find the requested asset or webpage and will return a 404 response or “NOT FOUND” message. This means the request could not complete because the server couldn’t find what the request was for.
A 410 Gone response code is very similar to a 404 response in that they both tell the browser that the request failed because the server could not find what it was looking for.
What's the Difference
So, what’s the difference? Well, a 404 response is actually a temporary response to the server that tells the browser that the requested URL or asset could not be found temporarily. This suggests that the user or search bot should come back later when the request can be completed. It’s still there, the server just can’t find it right now.
A 410 Gone response on the other hand tells the browser that the requested page or asset is permanently gone and is not coming back.
John Mueller has stated that Google will treat both the 404 and 410 the same BUT that a 410 response might encourage GoogleBot to remove that content from its index quicker since it is a more intentional signal.
Here is John’s comments from 2018,
“From our point of view, in the mid term/long term, a 404 is the same as a 410 for us. So in both of these cases, we drop those URLs from our index. We generally reduce crawling a little bit of those URLs so that we don’t spend too much time crawling things that we know don’t exist. The subtle difference here is that a 410 will sometimes fall out a little bit faster than a 404. But usually, we’re talking on the order of a couple days or so.”
So, according to John both a 410 and 404 are okay to use.
So When Should You Use a 404 vs 410 Status Code? Which Should you use and when?
In most cases, a 404 response is the best option as servers are generally already configured to support it. 404s are recognized by all browsers, and a lot of times 404s are needed because that content might return-the error is temporary.
You might want to use a 410 response code if Google has indexed a 404 page that you are positive is not going to return and you want to remove it from the index more quickly. Google will eventually drop pages out of the index that return a 404 but a 410 sends a stronger, more clear signal to Google that this page is no longer available. Quick Tips on when to use a 404 vs 410:
If the page never existed in the first place
If your CMS or Server can’t accommodate a 410
When a page previously existed but was removed
In any type of content pruning initiative where content is being removed from the site in bulk
For a page that was 404’d but has taken too long to drop out of the index
Moving Forward with 404 and 410 Responses
If you have a particularly “sticky” or stubborn 404 URL that is indexed in Google, try using a 410 response instead of 404 to see if that encourages Google to remove the page quicker.
Otherwise, stick with 404 responses.
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