I just encountered a nice little natural Google experiment concerning spam, 5XX errors, and rankings.
Turns out it takes about 5 days for Google to remove your page from the search results after you start returning a 5XX error. That's reassuring to know as it means that if you can correct server level errors quickly it should NOT impact your ability to rank.
And, interestingly enough, those pages returning 5XX errors won't necessarily impact similar content from ranking, at least in the short term.
Here's how we had our content removed from infringing websites and learned something about Google's handling of 5XX errors (in this particular case 520 and 502).
For the past year plus, we've been dealing with a spammer that copies all of our content on multiple sites and links 'em all together. Over that time the spammer has managed to out rank us somehow for terms I thought would be too competitive for this tactic to work.
And while not uncommon in the SEO industry, I've never personally dealt with this particular problem up to this point.
After a lot of sleuthing on builtwith.com and CuteState we were able to identify a WIDE set of spamming sites -- the network easily had more than 50 sites and about 10 of those had infringing content of ours.
Some shady stuff.
The fault in the spammer's plan was:
Because of that first point, we were able to write a standard content removal request to WPEngine and get the offending content taken down.
The infringing pages immediately began returning 520 and 502 errors.
And then, 5-7 days later we had some pretty fun graphs:
Now that we got the major pieces of infringing content down (those that were outranking us), we put our detective hats back on to see if we could find any more of our content on their network.
As it turned out, we found another dozen plus articles of infringing content which still managed to rank towards the bottom of page one of Google. Since we hadn't been focusing on content ranking below us, I imagine the articles ranked somewhere around there before we took down the major pieces.
So that indicates to me that Google will give you the benefit of the doubt if part of your site returns 5XX errors -- essentially localizing your ranking loss to those pages.
Hopefully we'll be able to find the actual person/team behind the spam, but this was an interesting take away from the situation thus far.
I helped co-found Zippia three years ago. We help college students and recent grads find jobs that fit them.
I also started HomeSnacks on the side to keep on top of Google and Facebook algorithm changes and learn how to code.
I was previously the Sr. Director of Marketing at Movoto and graduated from Pomona College.