Does Google treat 404 and 410 status codes differently?


Today's question comes from Blind Five Year Old, who asks, "Does Google do anything differently when encountering a 404 versus a 410?" OK, so first off, let's back up and cover what is a 404 versus a 410? So 404 versus 410 refers to an HTTP status code. So whenever a browser or Googlebot asks for a page, the web server sends back a status code. 200 might mean everything went totally fine. 404 means the page was not found. 410 typically means gone, as in the page is not found, and we do not expect it to come back. So 410 has a little more of a connotation that this page is permanently gone. So the short answer is that we do sometimes treat 404s and 410s a little bit differently, but for the most part you shouldn't worry about it. If a page is gone and you think it's temporary, go ahead and use a 404. If a page is gone and you know no other page that should substitute for it, you don't have anywhere else that you should point to, and you know that that page is going to be gone and never come back, then go ahead and serve a 410. OK, so now let's talk about how the crawling system actually handles them differently. It turns out webmasters shoot themselves in the foot pretty often. Pages go missing. People misconfigure sites. Sites go down. People block Googlebot by accident. People block regular users by accident. So if you look at the entire web, the crawl team has to design to be robust against that. So with 404s, along with I think 401s and maybe 403s, if we see a page, and we get a 404, we are going to protect that page for 24 hours in the crawling system. So we sort of wait, and we say, well, maybe that was a transient 404. Maybe it wasn't really intended to be a page not found. And so in the crawling system, it'll be protected for 24 hours. If we see a 410, then the crawling system says, OK, we assume the webmaster knows  what they're doing, because they went off the beaten path to deliberately say that this page is gone. So they immediately convert that 410 to an error rather than protecting it for 24 hours. Now, don't take this too much the wrong way. We'll still go back and recheck and make sure are those pages really gone, or maybe the pages have come back alive again. And I wouldn't rely on the assumption that that behavior will always be exactly the same. In general, sometimes webmasters get a little too caught up in tiny little details. And so if a page is gone, it's fine to serve a 404. If you know it's gone for real, it's fine to serve a 410. But we'll design our crawling system to try to be robust, but if your site goes down, or if you get hacked or whatever, that we try to make sure that we can still find the good content whenever it's available. In general, those are the differences. They're relatively minor. I wouldn't worry about them that much, and they can change. But I wanted to go ahead and answer the question in detail. Thanks for asking.

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