Have you ever looked up a keyword on Google, clicked on a link, and gotten an error?
As a user, this can be a very frustrating experience. And for companies, it’s a disaster.
Not only does it keep people from viewing the content they want to see, but it also makes it seem like the website is down entirely.
But that isn’t the only issue this error can cause.
Search engine bots view HTTP status codes and use them as a factor in how well a page ranks.
If they’re repeatedly getting certain codes when crawling your page, this could have a significant impairment on your technical SEO.
In this guide, we will cover HTTP status codes and what an HTTP 304 Not Modified code means.
Plus, we’ll offer a few tips on how to fix the issue.
What Are HTTP Status Codes?
Let’s say for a minute that you’re on your laptop computer and you use Google to look for information on a particular topic.
You click on the first link and it takes you to that website.
In the short period of time that the page is loading, there are several things happening.
➤ First, the web browser you’re using asks the website server for numerous documents associated with the website you’re trying to access.
This can be HTML, graphics, files, or whatever else necessary to make the page render as the website designer intended it to.
➤ Then the server responds and the page shows up on your screen.
The language they use back and forth is called an HTTP protocol.
Sometimes, there is a problem between the request and what the server provides, which triggers what’s called an HTTP Status Code.
This is essentially a status update of whether everything went correctly with the request or not.
There are actually dozens of status codes. They signify everything from a page that loaded fine to one that is no longer active.
In most cases, the end-user won’t even see the status code if there isn’t an issue.
However, search engine bots do, which gives them additional information on whether a page is currently working or up-to-date.
What is HTTP 304 Not Modified?
An HTTP 304 Not Modified status code is a very specific response that states the page has not changed since the last time it was accessed by the browser.
Generally, if you are the one looking at the website on your favorite browser, this isn’t a big deal.
It just means that the browser grabs the files it cached the last time you visited the website and displays those to save time and space.
It’s important to note that seeing a 304 Not Modified code in the browser is super rare.
Usually, this means there’s a problem with your specific browser or you’ve got malware on your device.
But when it comes to search engine bots seeing this type of code, this is a problem for your SEO.
An HTTP 304 redirect tells the search engine that your website hasn’t been updated since the last time it was crawled and there’s no new information.
If you’ve truly made an update, such as adding new content or links, it can cause the page to not achieve a search ranking that reflects these changes.
This is why it is important for website owners to pay attention when HTTP 304 Not Modified status codes appear, as it could be greatly reducing their chances of achieving better organic traffic.
What Are the Causes of an HTTP 304 Not Modified?
There are varying causes of a 304 Not Modified status code, most of which are on the client side of things and not on your website.
If a user is seeing this issue in their browser, then the problem is most certainly on their end.
Virus or malware
Sometimes a computer with virus or malware will inexplicably show this error for certain websites or links.
This seems to be more common for websites that a person visits frequently. Usually, running a virus protection scan can reduce the problem.
Certain browser extensions seem to cause more issues with HTTP status codes than others.
Often, just disabling these extensions temporarily while accessing the page can cause certain ones to trigger.
Full browser history
Sometimes the problem is simply a cache that is too full.
Cleaning browser history is a good way to reset everything and ensure the current version of the page is viewable.
This means the browser will work to pull that new information instead of relying on the cached version that’s already saved in the history.
How to Fix an HTTP 304 Not Modified Server Side
Now, we also need to address what marketers can do when they’re seeing numerous HTTP 304 Not Modified status codes showing up in the access logs.
This means that it isn’t just one or two people having this issue with their browsers, but a bigger problem overall.
To fix this issue, you can use certain header tags like If-Modified-Since or Last-Modified.
While this requires a bit of technical knowledge and understanding, the basics behind it are that they tell browsers and search bots the last time a page was truly changed instead of leaving it to guess.
So, let’s use an example of Last-Modified: Mon, 2 Aug 2021 03:24:15 GMT.
The browser or bot then checks the current date to see if this is after that time.
If there’s really no update, then the bot will receive that 304 Not Modified code and stick with the cached information it has.
This improves page speed and reduces the overall load on resources.
But if it is after the time given, then the browser or bot will access a new copy of the website to achieve this updated information.
If-Modified-Since or Last-Modified coding typically goes in the header of the page, which means accessing the HTML coding files of your website.
For most novice website developers, this could require working with an experienced team to implement or finding a third-party plugin that does it for you.
What this can do for your technical SEO
Technical SEO is just as important as the keywords and content you use on your website.
Let’s put it in simple terms.
There are only so many pages Google can crawl on your website within a given amount of time.
Instead of giving up one of those slots to an evergreen page that rarely changes — like an About or Contact page — it is better to let it go to a new one that’s recently been added or modified.
HTTP 304 Not Modified codes tell Google to skip that one and look for something else.
And the If-Modified-Since or Last-Modified coding offers a way to trigger 304 Not Modified status codes in an efficient manner.
The end result?
Google bots are able to scan more of your website to find the important data that’s changed first, versus using those resources on a section that doesn’t regularly get new information.
Wrap Up: Fixing 304 Not Modified Status Codes for SEO
As you can tell, 304 Not Modified status codes have a solid reason for being part of a website’s technical structure.
But when you’re optimizing your page for better organic traffic, it is important to manage the process a bit more efficiently.
What if you’re not sure that your team is technical enough to handle these types of issues?
That’s where Stage can help.
Let our WordPress experts dive into your website and handle all those coding tasks on your behalf while keeping things like access logs and HTTP status codes in mind.