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Google Search Console: Submitted URL return 403

What issue is this page dealing with?
403 server errors are frustrating but fortunately they don't have a negative impact on your SEO. In this page we will run through how these errors are triggered and how to fix and prevent these using WordPress, ensuring your website stays on track and error free.

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Send me an email with your URL and I’ll spin up a top level SEO audit, free of charge. If you want a slightly more advanced one; just add me to your Google Search Console (email is the same). 

What I cover here

What is a 403 error? 

A 403 error means that your page hasn’t been indexed because your server denied Google access to it. Not being able to index pages due to them returning a 403 status code can be quite frustrating but it’s worth noting that 403 errors do not harm your SEO.

This shouldn’t happen and is often an indicator of your site needing a technical audit to locate the issue. Most of the time, 403 errors will come up for password-protected pages or members-only pages. Whilst it’s right that your server is blocking Google bot from crawling these pages, you should take measures to stop Google from trying to crawl it in the first place as this is only wasting your crawl budget (a maximum number of pages Google will crawl on your site every day).

Common ways to trigger this errors

Whilst, most of the time, 403 errors are due to your server denying Google bot access to member-only pages or password-protected pages, there are various other ways to trigger a 403 error:

  1. It’s often the case that a 403 status code is returned when trying to display a folder instead of a page. This is normal because folders cannot be indexed as URLs.
  2. Another common occurrence is that the 403 error is caused by issues with a cached version of your page. 
  3. Errors in your .htaccess file may be responsible.
  4. Outdated WordPress plugins may also be the cause of your issues.

How to fix a 403 error?

Assuming that you already have a list of the affected URLs (if not, you can find them in the page indexing report on Google Search Console), the first step to fixing a submitted URL not found (403) error is to check your pages for any restrictions that shouldn’t have been there in the first place – whether that’s passwords or member-only restrictions.

Next, you need to decide whether you actually want those pages indexed or not, consider the following:

  • Do you want the information on that page to be public?
  • Do you want part of it hidden behind a paywall or is it free for everyone?

If you wish to keep your page off Google’s result pages, you may want to add a noindex tag to your pages. This is the most effective way to stop Google bot from crawling and indexing a specific page.

However, if you want Google to index your page but keep it password protected or members-only, you will need to grant Google bot access by changing your server’s settings. Note that you will essentially be telling Google to view your page differently than users would, which is frowned upon, so you will need to provide structured data that tells Google why you’re doing this.

If your .htaccess file is responsible for the 403 error, you’ll need to create a new version. If you use WordPress, this can be done by following these steps:

  1. Head to your WordPress dashboard 
  2. Find Settings on the left hand-side menu
  3. In the Settings sub-menu, click on Permalinks
  4. You’ll be able to create a new .htaccess file here
  5. Save your changes

If an outdated or incompatible plugin is the cause of your issues, try updating or removing the plugin to see if this resolves the issue.

Can’t quite figure out 403 errors?

If you’re not sure why you’re getting 403 errors and would like a comprehensive technical audit performed on your site, fill out the contact form on the technical audit service page to get a free quote.

Need CMS specific SEO support?  I’ve got extensive experience working with the below CMS – view each service page to learn more. I’ve also include some additional links which may be useful for that particular CMS.

Would you like a free SEO audit? 

Enter your details in the form here and I’ll run a top level audit of your website, it shouldn’t take long and will give you some basic information on your site’s health. 

In addition to getting a free audit, if you are stuck on a particular problem, do feel free to reach out to me – I’m always happy to help fellow SEO experts answer any questions.