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When managing a website, it is crucial to assign the correct status code to every page.

For any newly published and available page, you should assign a 200 status code. If you need to redirect a page, you will use a 3XX status code (301, 302…308), depending on whether the redirect is permanent or temporary, and whether you want to pass authority from the old page to the new one.

As we all know, a 404 status code is given to any unavailable or deleted page on your website. These status codes help search engines like Google and Bing understand and enhance the visibility of your website in their ranking results.

But what happens if these status codes are misassigned? What if a page sends a different signal to the search engines than intended?

404 Publishing Case Study

In this case, a large website with hundreds of thousands of articles, all properly assigned a 200 status code, suddenly experienced a drastic drop in organic traffic, nearly reaching zero.

SEO 404 pages effect


Upon analyzing the issue, we discovered the following:

Due to an administrative error, all the articles on the website—despite having content and being accessible to users—were assigned a 404 status code.
New pages being published were also assigned a 404 status code, as if continuously publishing unavailable pages, even though the content was present.
Google’s Search Console reported an increase of 866,000 pages with a 404 status code.



The Outcome on The Ranking State

Publishing pages with a 404 status code in such a large volume negatively impacted the website’s crawl budget and disrupted its indexation. This led to a significant drop in impressions and rankings, resulting in a huge decline in organic traffic and average position.


Since the most visited pages appeared broken from Google’s perspective, Google deemed the website unworthy of its previous ranking, severely harming the site’s organic traffic.

Crawling & Indexing Solution

The solution was straightforward: there was no need to redirect the vast number of pages, as they were not truly broken. Instead, we needed to revert the 404 status codes assigned during the period when the traffic drop started and change them back to a 200 status code. Once this correction was made, Google began to recognize the changes within a few days, and the website’s traffic returned to its normal state.


In conclusion, the correct assignment of status codes is essential for maintaining a website’s SEO health. This case study highlights the severe impact that misassigned 404 status codes can have on organic traffic and search engine rankings. By ensuring that all accessible pages are correctly marked with a 200 status code and only unavailable pages receive a 404, you can prevent disruptions in indexing and preserve your site’s visibility. Timely identification and correction of these errors can quickly restore your website’s performance, as demonstrated by the rapid recovery in this scenario. Proper status code management is crucial for sustaining and enhancing your site’s presence on search engines.


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