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Robots.txt 324(Empty Response) killed my ranking

     
6:44 pm on Jul 13, 2011 (gmt 0)

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My site has been ranked #1 for years and suddenly dropped off. After a lot of panicking and looking for black-hat attacks I found nothing. I started checking server responses for every file on my site and after checking all the HTML, PDF, JPG, etc, I started checking text files. That's when I found that I was getting a 324(EMPTY RESPONSE) for my robots.txt file. Txt files were the only files with a problem. It seems to have started on the day my firewall software was updated. Something went wrong with the way my filters were scanning txt files in transit. When Google received this error they started reporting that every page on my site was unreachable.

You'd think that Google handle a 324 for a robots.txt file like a 404 and just go about their business of indexing the site. They didn't. In the time it took me to figure out the problem my site lost ranking completely.

Please Google - treat a 324 for a robots.txt like a 404!
7:10 pm on July 13, 2011 (gmt 0)

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324 is not an http status as far as I know. It's a browser error code that I think is specific to Chrome. Do you know what googlebot actually saw as a response?
7:23 pm on July 13, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Sorry - you're right Tedster - it's a browser error. Google was getting an empty, presumably 0 byte response.
7:23 pm on July 13, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Use the Live HTTP Headers extension for Firefox to confirm what header the server actually sent.

It could be the firewall sending back that response. I've not seen one of those before.