Google’s John Mueller Clarifies 404 & 410 Confusion For SEO

A recent discussion on the r/SEO Reddit forum provided insights from Google’s Search Advocate, John Mueller, regarding website penalties and the use of HTTP status codes.

Mueller addressed questions raised by a website owner who had previously used AI to generate content for their videogame guide website.

After removing approximately 200 AI-generated pages due to concerns, the owner sought advice on recovery.

The conversation led to a discussion of the nuances of HTTP status codes 404 and 410, which indicate missing or permanently removed web pages.

Mueller’s responses clarified Google’s stance, emphasizing practical considerations over theoretical differences in SEO.

Website Owner Admits To AI Content Creation

The conversation began when a website owner admitted using AI technologies like GPT to generate content for older games on their long-standing game guide website.

The site owner confessed

“I did try to see if I could get GPT to write game guides for older games that I haven’t played, just to boost content on the site and take advantage of the authority the site had.”

After a brief period of success, concerns arose, prompting the removal of approximately 200 AI-generated pages.

As they grapple with the repercussions, they ask:

“I’m wondering if this has typically been enough for others to see some recovery?”

Addressing 404 Status Codes

One Reddit user suggested the site might be facing penalties due to 404 status codes, which indicate a webpage cannot be found.

However, Mueller swiftly clarified the situation:

“Google does not penalize for 404’s (those pages drop out of the index though).”

404 vs. 410 Status Codes

A follow-up question asked about the potential impact of using a 410 status code, indicating that a resource is permanently gone, versus a 404.

Mueller’s confirms the differences are negligible in terms of SEO:

“It doesn’t matter. The difference in processing of 404 vs 410 is so minimal that I can’t think of any time I’d prefer one over the other for SEO purposes.”

He acknowledged the theoretical correctness of using the appropriate status code but says practical considerations take priority.

See also: 404 vs. Soft 404 Errors: What’s The Difference & How To Fix Both

A Lighthearted Closing

Recognizing the widespread attention his comments would likely receive, Mueller concluded his response with a touch of humor:

“And I realize that writing this out now will trigger another cycle of needless attention – or is it really needless? Hi, mom. I would like to thank the academy for the honor of being here. Support the Women in Tech SEO group. Floss.”

Why SEJ Cares

With the March core update still rolling out, Mueller’s insights provide valuable guidance on navigating potential demotions and ensuring compliance with best practices.

Mueller’s comments on HTTP status codes offer a pragmatic approach to handling missing or removed web pages.

With this knowledge, SEO professionals can make more informed decisions.

How This Can Help You

Mueller’s advice provides a starting point for those facing similar situations.

By following best practices and addressing potential issues promptly, website owners can work towards regaining their search engine visibility.


How does Google view 404 and 410 HTTP status codes regarding SEO?

Google’s position on HTTP 404 and 410 status codes is that they are treated similarly with minimal differences in SEO impact.

These codes signal to Google that a page is missing (404) or permanently removed (410), and as such, the pages will be dropped from the index, but these responses do not result in penalties.

Understanding these distinctions allows SEO professionals to handle missing content appropriately without fear of negative SEO repercussions.

Are there negative ramifications for using AI to create content on websites?

While not inherently penalized, AI-generated content must meet quality guidelines, as low-quality content can negatively impact a site’s SEO.

Recovery from removing such content depends on various factors, including adherence to best practices and the quality of the remaining content.

Genuine and value-driven content tends to be favored in search ranking.

Can the removal of low-quality or non-compliant content lead to search ranking recovery?

Eliminating low-quality or non-compliant content is often a step towards recovery in search rankings because it aligns with Google’s emphasis on high-quality and relevant information.

However, the recovery process can also depend on factors like the creation of valuable content, overall site performance, and adherence to SEO best practices.

Featured Image: Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

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