The “Server error (5xx)” is a Google Search Console status indicating why some of your pages remain unindexed. “Server error (5xx)” means that:
- Googlebot requested to visit and crawl those pages,
- Your server wasn’t able to fulfill the request due to an error,
- As a result, Googlebot didn’t access the content of the pages, and Google didn’t index them.
“Server error (5xx)” is a problem worth addressing for two essential reasons. First, it may block your valuable pages from appearing and ranking on Search. Second, it shows that your server struggles with growing problems that can make it difficult for users to access your website in the future.
What is the cause for the “Server error (5xx)” in Google Search Console?
Google Search Console displays the “Server error 5xx” status for URLs that Googlebot couldn’t access because your server communicated a malfunction. Without access to your content, Google won’t initiate the indexing process.
Being indexed by Google is an absolute condition for your pages to appear in the search results and attract traffic to your business. By indexing a page, Google decides to keep its URL and information about its content in an enormous database called Google Index. The indexing is preceded by two steps:
- Discovery – when thanks to your sitemap or links, Google finds out about the existence of the URL,
- Crawling – when Google learns the URL content to assess its quality and assign it to relevant queries,
As you can see, Google will not index a URL without knowing its content, and that’s why the crawling stage is so important. Group 5xx server error severely disrupts this process. It means that your server error is preventing Googlebot from crawling the page.
As a result, Googlebot excludes the URL from indexing and is likely to leave your server alone to prevent causing additional overload.
Let me explain how it works.
What is a 5xx server error?
Server error from the 5xx group is a status code communicating that the request to visit the site fails because the server encounters a problem while processing the requested resource. In this brief message, your server informs a third party of its technical difficulties causing unavailability.
Every time you browse a website, you owe it to successful communication between the server and your browser. To standardize this communication, the HTTP protocol was created.
The HTTP protocol provides three-digit codes that servers use to inform crawlers and browsers whether a page is available to them and, if not, what went wrong.
Servers always return status codes after receiving a request. Sometimes the failure of communication is due to a faulty request, but sometimes it’s the server that is unable to fulfill its task. The second scenario is the situation described by the group of server errors starting with the digit 5.
Examples of 5xx server response codes and what causes them
The 5xx errors are caused by your server’s technical issues, like misconfiguration or overload.
Google Search Console doesn’t differentiate between different errors in the 5xx group because for Google, they all represent the same issue. On top of that, your server’s accuracy in returning specific 5xx status codes depends only on its settings, which makes it difficult to get reliable information when looking at 5xx error codes served by different servers.
It’s helpful, however, to know the most common responses from this group and understand their causes.
|Status Code||The cause|
|500 – Internal Server Error||This is the most generic response of the group. It means that your server can’t fulfill the request due to unexpected conditions.|
|502 – Bad Gateway||This error is most commonly associated with mistakes in proxy server configuration, but it can also result from poor IP communication between backend computers or firewall malfunction.|
|503 – Service Unavailable||This response occurs when the server is temporarily overloaded by a large number of requests or temporarily closed for maintenance.|
How do 5xx server errors affect your SEO performance?
A messy server configuration is an enemy of organic traffic. Frequent 5xx server errors may significantly worsen your SEO performance in the following ways:
Bad user experience
The unavailability of your pages translates into a poor user experience. Users usually don’t have the patience to browse your site in search of a page that actually works.
Also, Google may not want to surface pages that will likely give users a bad experience.
Decreased crawl budget
Google has limited resources, so it deliberately refrains from crawling all content it discovers. For each website, it estimates the crawl budget. It determines how often Googlebot will visit a given domain and how many URLs it will crawl during that time.
Pages returning 5xx status codes are a strong signal for Google to scale back the crawling to avoid overwhelming your server. This way, Googlebot’s interest in your site will decrease, which affects both your existing and new content.
If Google crawls your website less frequently, your fresh content may be discovered with a significant delay when it’s no longer relevant for users.
The updates to your old content will also go unnoticed, which has the following consequences:
- Google users will still see the old search snippets and stay unaware that your articles contain the latest information,
- Google will rank your website based on the old content, disregarding any recent SEO improvements made.
Would you like to speed up the discovery of your content? Contact us for crawl budget optimization.
As stated before, Google won’t index a page it can’t crawl. That’s why you see the “Server error (5xx)” status in your GSC, and your pages aren’t visible on Search.
Where can I find 5xx server errors?
The 5xx server errors are problematic but fixable! Before talking about the best ways to address them, let’s discuss where to identify affected URLs.
Google Search Console’s Page Indexing report
The first place is Google Search Console’s Page Indexing report which probably raised your attention to the problem. The “Server error (5xx)” status is one of many listed in this report.
By clicking on it and expanding it, you can view the list of affected URLs and a chart showing how their number was changing in time.
You can get additional information about each of them by running the URL Inspection Tool, as shown in the screenshot.
The list of URLs can be exported, which will certainly help you organize your work.
It’s a good idea to filter the pages so that you only see those that simultaneously return code 5xx status and are included in your sitemap (which means you care about them being indexed).
This way, you will quickly identify the URLs for which the problem is the most pressing.
Google Search Console’s Crawl Stats report
Another place that will help you quickly identify pages that return a 5xx response is Google Search Console’s Crawl Stats. To find them, scroll to the bottom of the left navigation bar and select “Settings.”
Then open the Crawl stats report.
Scroll down a bit to see the crawl requests breakdown and focus your attention on the report concerning server responses.
Just like in the Page Indexing report, you can select the status code you are interested in, expand it and view the list of URLs that return Googlebot such a response.
Your server’s log files record information on all requests performed by users’ browsers or search engine crawlers. By inspecting the file, you can learn:
- Who, how often, and at what times of the day visited your website,
- Which parts of your website get the most interest,
- How often, and to whom individual parts of your site return 5xx server errors.
A server log file is where you will find the most valuable information about your server’s struggles. If you care about quickly finding the causes of the problem, use Onely’s comprehensive server log analysis.
How to fix “Server error (5xx)”?
In the section above, I told you how to get a list of “Server error (5xx)” URLs. Now, let’s focus on troubleshooting them.
The first step you should take is effortless. Open the pages in your browser and see if the problem persists. To ensure you have an up-to-date overview of the situation, clear the cookies and cache files from your browser.
Google reports 5xx error, but the site works fine for me! What should I do?
If the pages are available to you, Googlebot is most likely facing a temporary 503 error. This means that your server is overloaded easily and cannot cope with a large number of requests.
This situation puts your indexing and user experience at risk, so you may need to upgrade your server.
Switching to a more efficient server may be a short-term solution if your site is cluttered with uncompressed files. Contact Onely for web performance optimization to boost your SEO long-term.
5xx Server Error persists – What should I do?
If pages remain unavailable during your check, you may be dealing with some deeper problems. You can try fixing it with the following methods:
Disable faulty WordPress plugins
Sometimes, users and crawlers requesting your pages see a 5xx response due to outdated plugins in your Content Management System, e.g., WordPress.
If you can, try disabling your plugins one by one and checking if it solves the problem. Crawl your pages with a Googlebot user agent to see your website from its perspective and make sure the problem disappears.
Undo the recent server update
It’s possible that your last server update caused some configuration issues and conflicts. Try going back to the previous software version to see if the issue is resolved.
Fix errors in your .htaccess file
The .htaccess file provides configuration changes to your server. Typically, your Content Management System creates it automatically.
If you suspect errors in this file, you can deactivate the old .htaccess file and create a new one with a few clicks.
Contact your hosting provider
In shared hosting environments, there is a great possibility that the “Server error (5xx)” status appeared because of your service provider’s oversight. Contact the provider to resolve the situation.
“Server error (5xx)” is a Google Search Console status describing URLs that are unindexed due to their unavailability for Google’s crawler. The reason for this unavailability lies on the side of your server, which can be overloaded or poorly configured.
You can troubleshoot the “Server error (5xx)” pages by upgrading your server, looking for bugs in your Content Management System, and contacting your hosting provider. To make sure that indexing issues won’t bother you in the near future, contact Onely for a technical SEO audit.