500 internal server error: How it affects page ranking

Dibbyyan Nath
11 Min Read

Running a website is a lot of work, especially a successful one. There are a lot of parameters that you have to work on and a lot of care goes into every aspect of it. Getting keywords ranked on Google searches is the ultimate goal, and if anything messes it up, all the hard work comes undone. Getting one’s ranking down due to the “500 internal server down” issue is like horror stories of website development and SEO space.

Just like ghosts are unseen forces that latch onto you and make your existence unbearable, the 500 internal server error is a very hard to detect issue that can bring down your website without you even knowing about it. Now, considering the degree of impact that such an issue could cause, let us first understand the matter in greater detail and then go into identifying ways in which it actually affects the website and how it can be remedied.

What is the 500 internal server error?

The technical definition of 500 internal server error is “a status code that indicates that the server encountered an unexpected condition that prevented it from fulfilling the request.” But what does this mean? Basically, whenever a person or a bot visits a website, a request is sent to the server hosting the website. The server, in turn, processes the request and sends back the HTML, CSS, PHP and other resources along with a HTTP header which contains a status code. While depending on the server, there could be a variety of codes that can be sent back (See our FAQs), but for ease of understanding, there are one of two types of code. A response of code 200 would suggest that the status is okay whereas a response code 500 would suggest that there has been some error in processing the request sent by the browser or bot.

How does the 500 internal server error affect page ranking?

When you need to understand more about medicine, you ask a doctor when you want to know how an appliance was designed, you ask an engineer and similarly, if you want to know something about how things work on Google, ask someone who helped designed the very thing. It is always better to get the answers straight from the horse’s mouth. The information presented here in this article are straight from the statements and explanations provided by John Mueller, the Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google who understands the process, probably better than everyone else.

According to John Mueller, there are several scenarios where the 500 internal server error can be benign and have no effect on a page’s ranking while in others it might cause the page to be de-indexed. So, what happens is when the Googlebot crawls (See our FAQs) through your website, if it gets a 500 code error, it tries to establish contact again. Now if this is a one time thing, then it does not affect the indexing of the page at all. However, if the Googlebot receives the error repeatedly, it slows down the frequency of crawling which could be detrimental to page growth. If the Googlebot continues to get these errors for an extended period of time, then eventually it “drop(s) those URLs from the index,” meaning they are no longer ranked on the Google results and Googlebot does not crawl to those pages again. So, a sustained return of this error can be very disastrous to the website.

What can cause a 500 Internal Server Error?

There are several things that can go wrong and result in some pages of the website or the whole website returning this error. One of the most common reasons for this would be problems with PHP memory limits. There are a lot of crawlers and bots on the internet and there are a lot of users as well and in case your server cannot handle the traffic that is coming into your pages, it might run out of memory and send the error code. A corrupted file or database could also cause the problem. Changes in or incorrect file permission settings or database server problems can also lead to 500 level errors. It has also been seen in many cases, that applying a certain theme or installing a specific plugin could also cause the 500 Internal Server Error. So, there is a need to be extra vigilant in this matter.

What can we do for troubleshooting 500 Internal Server Error?

The first step to solving any problem is to know that there is a problem. In this case, constant vigilance is the key and there’s no way around it. Either you do it manually (in case of smaller websites) or you have dedicated tools installed to do it for you (recommended for most websites) you will have the check the health of your pages continuously. There are several apps available in the market for that including Apache, Kinsta, Nginx, etc.

Once you identify that there are these errors in some of your pages, then you can go about troubleshooting to rectify these issues. The first step is to recognise if it is a local problem or a global one. It means that you should learn if the 500 Internal Server Error is occurring only for you or for everyone. One tool that can be used for this purpose is http://downforeveryoneorjustme.com/ which tells you if the page is down for only you or globally. If it is just a problem for you, then you can try a few things and see if it resolves the issue. Try clearing your cache, deleting the browser history, and refreshing the page (in that order). If it is a local problem, then the issues should be resolved.

In some cases, the problem is also caused by some temporary maintenance or updating issues with the server or the hosting site. In most such cases the problem would be resolved in a few seconds or minutes and simply refreshing the website would tell you that the page is working again.

However, if the problem is not local and you cannot determine the actual fault from the above steps, more comprehensive diagnosis might be required. The issue could be errors in database connection, new theme application, new plug-in installation, problems with WordPress Core, Low PHP memory limit or a multitude of other issues. In such cases, you will have to take the trail and error route. You’ll have to check each of these factors individually and then finally isolate the reason for the issue.

If you are still unable to fix the issue on your own, the problem might be on the server side and you’ll have to contact the domain host to see if the problem is on their side and work on resolving it.

Our recommendation

If you are managing a small blogging site, then it is quite possible to diagnose such issues and even remedy them. But for a website of any substantial size, identifying and remedying these problems at scale require specialist intervention. We would recommend hiring a dedicated website development and management service, like Inteliqo Research and Services, that can take care of your entire website backend and you can focus on your core competency.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the different types of 500 internal server errors?

There are several different codes within the 500 level codes and depending on the nature of the error could be 501, 502, 503, etc. also, depending on how the server has been programmed, error codes could also be more specific like: 500.11: Application is shutting down on the web server, 500.12: Application is busy restarting on the web server, 500.13: Web server is too busy, 500.15: Direct requests for global.asax are not allowed, etc.

What is Crawling?

Crawling is a process through which a search engine sends out web crawlers (which could be in the form of bots or spiders) to visit webpages and discover links to discover new pages. In simple terms, crawling is the process through which a search engine discovers new and updated web pages.

Can 500 internal server error be shown in some other way?

Yes, depending on the server, this error can be shown in a variety of different ways. Some of the most common ones have been mentioned below.
500 Internal Server Error
HTTP 500 – Internal Server Error
HTTP Error 500
500 Error
500 – Internal Server Error
The website cannot display the page – HTTP 500
Internal Server Error
Some severs are also programmed to send out custom messages with additional links in cases where this error occurs. However, in some cases, especially when using other browsers like Safari, the request might return a simple blank page and no error code.

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Dibbyyan Nath is a well-known entrepreneur, philanthropist, and the Chief Creative Officer of Inteliqo Research and Services. Mr. Nath, over the past two decades, has donned a lot of hats, while writing has remained his first love. Now he aims to express his experiences, as the head of a digital marketing, content creating, and website development company, through his love for writing. To keep up with the young entrepreneur and his thoughts
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