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The HTTP Error 501 is actually not one of the more common status codes that internet users run across. So when you see it, there’s a good chance you will panic because it’s not like a 404 or 301 code they see more regularly. The important thing to recognize is that when receiving a 501 error, the user has done nothing wrong. It is entirely server-based, and therefore requires the attention of the websites hosting company and admin team.

What Is a HTTP Error 501?

When seeing the error, it will probably be labeled a Not Implemented Error. This is a little misleading for folks because it’s not a case of you requesting something that’s either not there or not reachable (as with a 404 error) or entirely gone with a 410. The Not Implemented error is not a case of the content having not been implemented, but rather the server not having the functionality to fulfill your request for that content. That is what has not been implemented.

So when you see it, the content you want might very well be there. Only it’s being walled off from you by something having gone wrong on the back-end of the website. Your get request has been denied because the server actually can’t perform it.

Or, in probably more common cases, the functionality that is not implemented is “being online.” That’s right: the HTTP 501 error is often given to users when the server hosting the website is completely offline and unavailable. The hosting service will return a 501 error because the server is legitimately unable to perform the requested function because, for one reason or another, the whole thing has crashed. In many cases, a crashed server will return a 500 error, but not always.

Keep in mind that anytime your server is down (or part of the functionality is offline), it can have a major effect on your search engine rankings. Google has a little grace on this front, meaning that if your server returns a 501 (or 500) error, it will be marked for revisitation. Generally, that’s enough to fix whatever happened. If not, however, Google may mark your website as being offline or inaccessible and de-index it.

If you value your SEO rankings (and of course you do), keeping on top of HTTP error 501 should be a priority.

One Small Thing

When you get the 501 error, it’s because the server is supposed to be able to fulfill the request you’ve made. If, for some reason, the server administrators have purposefully made the server unable to process it, you will get a 405 Not Allowed error. Which means there isn’t anything wrong, but they’re blocking that request on purpose. You can feel free to contact them, but be aware it’s not a mistake you can’t move forward.

What Can You Do About a 501 Error?

On the user’s end, you literally can’t fix the problem. In terms of rectifying the underlying cause and making the error go away for yourself or for others, you’re powerless. You can, however, try a few things to see if you can knock some sense back into the machines.

1. Reload The Page

You can always refresh the page. This should (generally) be the first thing you do when a website gives you an error of almost any kind. That way, if it was a fluke or a glitch, you are able to submit your request again. If the refresh doesn’t work, try pressing CTRL (or CMD) + SHIFT + R to reload it. Doing so will perform a hard reload that bypasses any cached files a typical reload might still use.

2. Clear Your Browser Cache

Clearing your browser’s cache is roughly the same as the age-old “have you turned it off and back on again?” By dumping the cache in your browser, you do more than even bypassing it with a hard refresh. Everything starts from a clean slate this way. So if there are files being held on your end that contribute to the server being unable to process your request and returning a 501, they’re totally gone upon retrying.

3. Check Your VPN and/or Proxy

If you use a VPN to access the internet (or go through a proxy server), there’s always a chance of tomfoolery happening. Check your VPN setting to make sure that everything is on the up-and-up. Go to other sites and make sure that you don’t get the same errors. Swap server locations and check. Verify that the routed traffic is making it to the end-point via traceroute.

And if you’re using a proxy server, stop. Disable it for a bit to see if the server is unable to perform the get request because of those settings. If you’re still seeing a 501 Not Implemented error, there’s just one more thing to do.

4. Reach Out

If none of the above solve your issue, reach out to the owner of the website. There’s a good chance they don’t know that something is amiss. They will then be able to either get into the server themselves or contact their host’s support who can. So if you ever run across the 501 Not Implemented error, finding the nearest contact form is the kind and neighborly thing to do.

What Causes a 501 Error?

Web admins know there are countless reasons for a server to go down and issue a 501. One of the primary culprits is malware. So the first thing any admin needs to do is make sure there are backups of the site available and run a virus scan to check and see if there are nefarious things going on behind the scenes. Make sure that if you’re on WordPress that you’re using something like Updraft Plus and WordFence or Sucuri. These security precautions are incredibly important.

Sometimes a 501 is returned when a server has an unprecedented amount of traffic. Maybe you got a link that made it to a popular community on Reddit, and your site is slammed from the bump. Perhaps you’re the target of a DDoS attack. You might have even run a fantastic promotion that had unforeseen success with users trying to access your site simultaneously. Any of these can cause the server to return a HTTP error 501. In many cases where this causes server errors, the only solution is discussing an upgrade with your hosting provider, either for more powerful hardware or more bandwidth allowance. Even if it’s only on a temporary basis for a single spike.

Which brings us to the real crux of a 501 error. It’s pretty hard to diagnose the cause, both as a user and an admin without root access to the server. So if a virus scan comes back safe, clearing the caches and rebooting things don’t help, and you aren’t having a massive surge in traffic, there’s only one thing left to do.

In the End, Contact Your Web Host

In reality, they’re the ones with the power in this situation. They have access to analytics and metrics that you don’t. Also server settings and diagnostics, and many times, the server hardware itself. Whether you’re with a managed host like Flywheel or Pressable, or another hosting platform, the tech support teams will know how to handle your concerns. You can fix some errors like 404 pretty easily. But a 501 is a little trickier than even a 500. So if the solutions we suggested above don’t fix it, pick up the phone or hit that Contact Us button and let them get you back online in no time.

What have your experiences with HTTP Error 501 been? Let us know in the comments how you were able to fix it!

Article featued image by Leremy / shutterstock.com