301/302 Redirects and SEO
Inevitably every website owner finds that they have to change, remove, and even sometimes combine page URLs within their site. Redirecting pages is a big part of making sure visitors don’t get lost and that changes to a website don’t leave tons of dead ends.
Redirects are an important part of search optimization too, since they help preserve the ranking authority from deleted pages. 301/302 Redirects and SEO go together often for this exact reason.
Does redirecting a URL effect SEO? And in cases where redirects are necessary, what are the effects of 301 or 302 redirects in SEO rankings?
The reason redirects matter in search engine optimization is because of the way that search engine algorithms use URLs and links to determine rankings and relevancy. Google for example uses a core part of its algorithm called “PageRank” to help determine which page are important by the quality of the backlinks connected to them. These links make up “link neighborhoods” which can have a big effect on the SEO performance of a site.
Over time these links work as votes of approval that build up the “authority” of a URL. The more links that point to a page, the more it’s perceived as high-quality by search engines like Google and Bing, and the higher it will rank. But when a page is deleted or when the URL is changed it can have an impact on organic traffic.
Does redirecting a URL affect SEO?
Yes. But whether the effect is good or bad depends on multiple factors.
Redirects give both users and search engines direction to their destination – instead of just leaving them at a dead-end.
Whenever possible, keeping a link as-is is the best way of preserving the SEO rankings and the keyword association it has in the search index. Search indexes use the unique URLs that pages have to identify them, and if the URL for a page changes, then it becomes harder for them to identify the “canonical” location for the page’s content.
Websites that are ranking in search engines for valuable keywords will find that keeping URLs as 404s means they lose the rankings for those keywords – and even that the page will be removed from the index along with all of the traffic that came with it. When search engine bots crawl a redirected URL they will compare the content and subject matter of the destination page and determine its relevance to the original page’s keyword rankings. That’s why it’s best to redirect pages to the closest matching page as possible – so that keyword rankings and LSI association is preserved.
This is the main reason why redirects and SEO are so directly linked.
There are a few ways of doing the redirect, mainly with 302 or 301 redirects. In general using 301 redirects is best practice for permanent redirects that pass page authority most completely to the destination page.
302 Redirects in SEO?
The 302 HTTP response means through the HTTP/1.0 definition that the page has been “moved temporarily” and is how it’s interpreted by both the browser and search engine bots. That’s why it’s not the recommended method of redirecting pages that have been moved or deleted.
Of course if a page has been moved temporarily there’s no reason a temporary redirect can’t be used, but most of the time the redirect should reflect the changes if they are indeed permanent, since this will help indexing search engine bots understand which version of the page URL should actually be included in the search results page (SERP).
Do 302 redirects hurt SEO performance for site’s and pages? No. According to the public relations team at Google, the ultimate SEO impact between 301 and 302 redirects is small. Google’s John Mueller explains that the search engine will see the use of a 302 temporary redirect as a reason for Googlebot to come back and check the original page.
Here’s how Google has publicly described the difference between 301 and 302 redirects:
“What’s the difference between 301 and 302 redirects? Well both send users onwards, the difference is subtle but small. A 301 is a permanent redirect, so the destination is what we keep. A 302 is a temporary redirect, so we’ll come back to the start to double-check. They’re just different ways of redirecting. Use the right kind when you can but don’t worry about magical SEO dust. Both work fine.”
For redirects and SEO in most cases, businesses/webmasters might not get any value from having 302 redirects where the original URL is recrawled. It could mean that the new URL takes longer to gain SEO rankings, and in cases of bulk redirects on very large sites it could waste “crawl budget.”
301 Redirects in SEO
301 Redirects are considered best practice in SEO – even if the difference between the two styles of redirects is fairly minimal. For SEO, permanent redirects are usually the way to go.
301 HTTP responses tell the browser, and the users, that the original pages have been “moved permanently” to the destination URL.
But the truth is that there is very little difference between 301 and 302 redirects in SEO. In terms of PageRank, the Google ranking algorithm treats all 300-level redirects the same – as has been confirmed by Google – and SEO ranking authority is preserved in all cases (Google’s John Mueller confirms that it’s best to “use the right kind when you can but don’t worry about magical SEO dust. Both work fine”).
Google’s webmaster trends analysts have also publicly told businesses and SEOs in 2016 that there is no PageRank dilution when using 301 or 302 redirects (though this used to be the case). This means that 301 redirects do not harm SEO performance or reduce the “PageRank” metrics associate with a page URL – though they are not crucial to search rankings either. All 300-level server-side redirects pass PageRank to the destination page (including 301 redirects as well as 302s, and 307s).
30x redirects don’t lose PageRank anymore.— Gary 鯨理／경리 Illyes (@methode) July 26, 2016
The advantage of SEO permanent redirects using 301 HTTP codes really only lies in telling search indexing bots that the move is permanent and that there is no need to re-crawl the obsolete URL in the future.
For webmasters and businesses that have to change, update, or redesign sections of their site than they can follow guidance on changing pages using 301 redirects. Since these are a fundamental part of evolving a business online – updating content, selling/canceling products, updating navigation, etc. – it makes sense to use 301 redirects in SEO for properly channeling PageRank and keep search indexes up-to-date.
Permanent redirects are useful in circumstances like:
- When moving a site to a new domain, in order to make the transition seamless and to avoid losing click-through-rate from the SERP.
- When fixing broken anchor-text-links (ATLs) within a site.
- For collecting multiple URLs for the same page and sending them to one “canonical” versions (e.g. like with http://example.com/home, http://home.example.com, or http://www.example.com.)
- When removing or updating time-dependent content such as content relating to special events, breaking news, evolving areas of knowledge, etc.
SEO permanent redirects using 301 codes might have more value for Bing. Redirecting a URL with a 301 vs. a 302 does have an affect according to the Bing Webmaster Guidelines.
Bing represents a small segment of all search traffic (less than 10% of searches happen through Bing) but for businesses that care about Bing SEM, it’s good to note that the Microsoft based search engine recommends using a 301 redirect for “at least 3 months” in order to let the search algorithm learn the new content. According to Bing: “If the move is temporary, i.e. less than one day, use a 302 temporary redirect.”
The importance of 1-to-1 redirects
When implementing redirects it’s important to try and send the URL to whichever destination URL that most closely matches the original. In the world of redirects and SEO this is to best preserve the PageRank and the keyword/LSI association of the original page.
For example, a website has a page about “How to bake an apple pie” that they find is not relevant and that they want to delete. Instead of redirecting that page to the home URL, best-practice is to 301, permanent-redirect it to a page that is most similar in subject matter (e.g. to a page on “Tips for baking pie” or something related to pies/baking).
In these cases do URL redirects hurt SEO? In fact they can be beneficial, if the original URL appears in search results before the Google/Bing indexes update it, then users might be satisfied if they are redirected to a page that at least mostly matches what they are looking for. Doing this wherever possible can even reduce bounce-rates and site exits, and is a key to improving a Google intent marketing strategy.
Does a domain redirect affect SEO?
A domain redirect involves not just redirecting an individual site page – but perhaps the whole site. Domain redirects are often a core step in “site migrations” where business want to rebrand, change their website name, or just update their domain.
Google recommends using server-side, permanent 301 redirects in the case of a domain migration. SEO permanent redirects can preserve PageRank (like we mentioned above) and also signal to search engines that the page is permanent – meaning they can crawl/index new pages right away and rank them as soon as possible.
There is also no limit to the amount of 301 redirects that can be used on a domain – but “chain redirects” that are too long can hurt SEO performance and should be avoided.
Domain redirects and SEO can involve a couple situations:
- Moving a site without changing the URLs at all – including the back-end of the URLs or the URL structure. Like with a server change or when while switching to a different hosting provider while keeping www.example.com as the same root URL for your site.
- Moving a website with URL changes. For example:
- A protocol change — http://www.example.com to https://www.example.com
- A domain name change — example.com to example.net
- A URL path change — example.com/page.php?id=1 to example.com/widget
These kinds of migrations can have serious effects on search engine performance, so it’s best to follow best practices from Google.
Instances where redirects do hurt SEO include “sneaky redirects.” Google specifically recommends avoiding sneaky redirects or redirects that are intended to deceive users or search engines – like redirects that show different content to humans or indexing bots.
It’s a violation of Google’s rules to redirect a user to a different page with the intent to display content other than what was made available to the search engine crawler.
Bad 301 redirects or 302 redirects in SEO include instances where:
- Search engines are shown one version of content while users are redirected to something else.
- Desktop visitors receive a normal page, while mobile users are redirected to a different, spammy domain.
- A doorway page is set-up to rank for certain topics, but redirects users to a page with a different purpose.
Checking redirects and finding broken URLs
Some tools exist for checking and discovering broken links on your site.
Google’s free Search Console platform allows businesses to check the health and status of their website in the search index, and they can also get messages and warning about issues that could affect SEO performance.
The index coverage report in Search Console can give information about redirects or non-canonical URLs found on a website by Google’s crawlers. Webmasters and businesses owners can monitor for messages or statuses in this report that show “Page with redirect.”
An example that shows a page being 301 redirected to another status 200 URL
It’s also a good idea to monitor search console for any 404 URLs that could be on the site and that could be reducing SEO performance.
We have RaddBOT SEO technology for site analysis that is meant to mimic the way search engines crawl and view websites, including the way search engines observe changes to a site. This technology can help to understand a site structure, and to find/monitor both 301, 301, and 404 status codes on a site.
RaddBOT can help with:
- Crawling and tracking redirects and SEO health on a website.
- Finding broken links and 404-status URLs across a domain.
- Pull meta data, internal links, and meta-robots commands associate with internal links.
Contact Radd to get more information about redirects and SEO and to learn how redirecting URL effects SEO performance.
Our expert team can help businesses succeed with proven, strategic SEO strategies.