The process of redirecting web pages has long been causing SEO pros and web dev’s a slight headache for as long as the internet has existed! With there being several options available when it comes to redirecting content- and some rather disturbing rumours in the SEO industry about the negative impacts the wrong redirect can have on a website, it can often feel like a minefield when it comes to choosing the right redirect.
Recently, the redirect debate was brought to light once more, this time by none other than Google’s John Mueller!
John started the debate by proposing a scenario in which he says people often ask him which redirect they should use when their CMS doesn’t offer 301 redirects as an option;
John’s choice of questions about whether or not 302’s are ‘problematic’ for SEO seemingly supported the notion that anything other than a 301 redirect would have a negative impact on the overall optimisation and ranking of a website. Coupled with his rather vague ‘use the correct redirect’, and it was clear that John was looking to provoke a reaction from SEO’s and webmasters everywhere, with people sharing their own experiences of using redirects and how it impacted their web traffic.
With so much contradictory experience, was John really trying to update some misinformation about redirects and how Google sees them? We explore the topic of redirects, how best to use them and discuss those insights that seemingly came directly from the Google office…
First, let’s cover some basics about redirects.
What is a Redirect
Much like when you move home and redirect post to a new address, implementing a redirect means diverting web traffic from an existing page to either another existing page or a new one.
A redirect refers to the HTTP status code, or to get really technical, the three digit number that is generated when a server responds to a browser request. For a webpage that hasn’t been temporarily redirected and isn’t broken, the code will be 201 and the webpage will load with no issues which is what most web users will experience. Sometimes, if the link is broken or the page has been removed without a redirect being put in place, the user will see a 404 error and other times when a website is either under maintenance or wants to temporarily move traffic from one page to another, there will be a 302.
The error with redirects typically occurs when it comes to the length of time the redirect is meant to last, as there are several options when it comes to pointing web traffic to a new destination.
Why Use A Redirect
Redirects are usually put in place when a page of content is no longer relevant or needed, and so the webmaster or SEO is instructed to point the URL to another page on the website. An example of a temporary redirect being put in place is for seasonal campaigns such as Black Friday, which only happens once a year or sporadically, and therefore doesn’t need to remain found all year round.
Redirects ensure that no link equity or organic exposure is lost when diverting users to another page on the website or when you want to remove the page completely from a website and you don’t want to lose any traffic. Using the right one in the right situation is essential to ensuring the website remains optimised and visible in search.
Let’s explore the types of redirects available and why they may have an impact on your website’s SEO.
Types Of Redirects
There are three main redirects that are used online;
- A 301 is a permanent redirect and can’t be undone. They ensure any link equity, and general SEO ranking factors continue to pass through a website
- A 302 found’- which is temporary and indicates to Google that the content has been moved temporarily but will return. The page will lose its optimisation or link equity temporarily
- And the 307 redirect which is a relatively new type of temporary redirect that also informs crawlers that it is a temporary redirect
Whilst there is an obvious difference between a 302 and 301redirect, in terms of permanence, according to industry leaders, Moz, it is impossible to know if Google can tell the difference between a 302 or 307– which doesn’t help to clear things up when it comes to using temporary redirects!
When To Use a 301 Redirect
So, when is the right time to use a permanent 301 redirect and why use a temporary 302 redirect if they’re?
In most circumstances, a 301 redirect is the best way to ensure old content is removed but your SEO equity and ranking remain the same. 301 redirects are used for whole site migration when moving domains and generally when old content is no longer needed and the page is simply pointed to another page within the website.
Ultimately it is down to the individual situation, but a good rule of thumb is deciding if the page is still relevant. If the page is seasonal, or needs to be updated but still has a place on the website then a temporary 302 redirect is fine but it is good to bear in mind they should only be in place for a limited amount of time. It is probably best to use the redirect function available on the individual website, as each CMS will have a different temporary redirect implementation.
The Importance Of Using The Correct Redirects
Historically, it has been widely understood in the SEO industry that search engine crawlers don’t count 302’s or any other temporary redirect as being important and therefore don’t pass through link equity or SEO ranking meaning these temporary redirects won’t pass ranking factors through. This has been supported by people’s own experiences of trial and error with redirects, but the most recent comment from John seems to suggest using either temporary redirect won’t have any long-lasting impact on the overall exposure of a website
Whilst Google’s John Mueller tweeted “there’s no value lost with a 302”, it is widely reported within the industry that when a temporary 302 redirect is put in place, many people have noticed a decrease in traffic and a general decline in search results.
From John’s mic-drop response, it would appear that it isn’t the redirect but the page itself, that has a negative impact on SEO. Reading between the rather obvious lines, it’s clear John is implying the URL, or page, may not have gained as much link equity as first thought or as much ranking authority in general, and therefore adding a temporary redirect from this underperforming page will of course then result in a dip in ranking or even organic traffic. The previous experience of many webmasters would have supported the notion of temporary redirects having a negative impact on the overall SEO of a website.
Whilst temporary redirects may not have the widely feared negative impact on SEO for a website, using the right one is important for the user journey and maintaining all-important traffic to the site. Whether you’re looking to temporarily move content or remove it altogether, the topic of redirects has remained rather controversial. Having a high-performing, well-exposed and optimised domain is the ultimate goal for any website and implementing the correct redirect can mean the difference between a website gaining or losing organic traffic. Indeed, carrying out redirects at scale on large websites can make or break a site.
So, next time you’re thinking about removing content on your site, think about the length of time you want the page to be hidden and whether it could be removed altogether!