What Is a 410 Status Code?
HTTP status codes are messages that a server sends to the browser, telling it whether or not its request can be fulfilled. In other words, they tell the browser if a page is available or not, and where.
If a page is missing, the status code returned will be a 404. But what about the 410? Is it very similar to the page missing 404 error code, or does it signal something different?
Let’s examine the 410 status code, what it does and when you should be using it.
What Is a 410 Status Code?
A 410 Gone status code is returned when the requested resource is no longer available at that specific address. It indicates that it once used to exist right there, but that it has now been permanently removed.
A visitor will see a 410 like they would a 404: the page is gone and they can’t access it. They won’t be told why.
Search engines on the other hand will be able to tell the difference between 404s (which may be temporary) and 410s which are permanent, and act accordingly.
What Causes a 410 Error Status Code?
Most 410 status codes are created deliberately, when you want to tell search engines that a page has been permanently removed and ask them to deindex it quicker.
However, the error code can also be caused by:
- A user accidentally typing in a URL that you have turned into a 410 while looking for another page
- Plugins and website updates that have made changes to your database and ended up causing a 410 error
- Incorrect server configuration
410s vs 404s: What Is The Difference?
The main difference between the 404 and the 410 status code is in the way search engines treat them.
Website visitors will be told by their browser that the page they are trying to access is not available. They will not be able to determine whether the page is temporarily down, whether the server is down, or whether the page has been removed permanently.
On the other hand, search engines will treat these two status codes differently.
When a crawler comes across a 404 page, it will typically wait 24 hours before removing it from the index. It understands that the error may be temporary. For example, the server the page is hosted on could be temporarily down, so it will come back to check.
On the other hand, when that same crawler finds a 410 status code page, it can, and usually will, instantly remove it from the index, as it understands the page has been permanently removed.
When To Use a 410 Status Code
You should use a 410 status code when you want to permanently delete the page in question. If you know you won’t need it in the future and it’s not seeing any traffic, it’s okay to make it a 410.
On the other hand, if the page is seeing traffic, you will want to redirect it instead of getting rid of it. The same rule applies if the page in question has a lot of backlinks. You don’t want to let any of that reputation go to waste, so make sure you redirect the resource before getting rid of it.
Here’s what Google’s own Matt Cutts said about using 410s:
“If a page is gone and you think it’s temporary, go ahead and use a 404. If the 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.”
How To Implement a 410 Status Code
You can implement a 410 status code by editing your .htaccess file and adding this command to all the pages you want to get rid of:
RewriteRule ^contact/ – [L,R=410]
RewriteRule ^about/ – [L,R=410]
This specific line of code will turn your Contact and About pages into 410s. Just replace that section of code with the page you need deleted.
You can also use a plugin for the purpose. Ultimate 410 Gone Status Code is a good one to try.
Do You Need To Fix a 410 Error?
You only need to fix a 410 error if you have not removed the page yourself. Otherwise, you should keep it as a 410.
In fact, you are encouraged to turn pages into 410s instead of 404s when you want to permanently delete them, as this will tell search engines you are staying on top of your website and are trying to help them crawl and index it better.
How Do 410s Impact SEO?
410s are not bad for SEO per se. If you use them correctly, when intending to get rid of a page permanently, they can actually be beneficial. Search engines tend to remove a 410 page from their index as soon as they crawl it, as opposed to 404s, which are usually re-crawled and kept in the index for at least 24 hours.
As we said before, make sure that the page you are making a 410 does not have any incoming backlinks that transfer valuable link equity to it. If it has a couple of low-value backlinks, you can safely get rid of it, as the loss won’t be significant. But if there is valuable link juice coming in or if the page is seeing lots of traffic, make sure to redirect it before you delete it.
When making a page a 410, also make sure to remove any internal links that point to it, as you don’t want visitors to hit a dead end while browsing your website.
You can use Link Whisper to find all incoming internal links to this page and remove them. While you are at it, make sure to check which internal links the soon-to-be 410 page is pointing to. Try to make up for the deletion of this page by adding more internal links to these targets from other pages.
Keep Track Of Your 410 Pages
Make sure to stay on top of your 410 pages to ensure that they are not being created by server or plugin error. When you create them yourself, make sure to enter all the right commands, or use a plugin to help you.