Gavin Hirst - Thursday 4th August 2016


301 redirects rules have changed – what is the SEO impact?

Officially or unofficially, Google announced last week that the way 3xx redirects are handled by Google has changed. There have been rumblings for a while that it may no longer be seen as a negative thing to have 301 and 302 redirects in place across your site.

In the old school SEO playbook, we have always been wary of using too many redirects on our sites because of the loss of PageRank. It was widely believed that using a 301 (permanent) redirect would result in around a 15% loss in PageRank  – the exact same amount as a link from one page to another. However, it now seems that Google will no longer be treating any 3xx redirects this way and there will be no loss of PageRank when you add any form of 3xx redirect.

Whilst this sound like a huge plus for SEOs, there may be more to this than meets the eye so don’t just leap in there without first thinking more about the potential consequences.

What are 301 and 302 redirects?

Let’s just backtrack a little and explain a little bit more about the old rules associated with 301 and 302 redirects. For those that are not sure, whenever a page is moved on a website (maybe you wanted to change the URL or something moved to a new category), then you should add a 301 permanent redirect to indicate to Google that the content no longer sits at a specific URL but has moved. Sometimes it may also be appropriate to add a 301 redirect when you completely remove a page on your site and there is a page that meets the needs of the user in a similar way on the site.

A 302 redirect is a temporary solution and is often used when there is perhaps a flash sale or maybe even a homepage takeover. This indicates to Google that the content has moved temporarily but will be returned at some point.

Previously, this is how Google dealt with each redirect in terms of how they pass PageRank:

  • 301 redirects would result in approximately a 15% loss in PageRank. This meant that if you had a page that had built up a good amount of PageRank over time that you wanted to move somewhere, you had a tough call to make as you would lose a considerable amount of PageRank in the process.
  • 302 redirects would not pass any PageRank at all. By definition, a 302 redirect is temporary so it made little sense for Google to pass this PageRank to a page that was only going to sit on your site for a limited period of time.
  • HTTP to HTTPS migrations lose all PageRank. As Google encouraged webmasters to move over to secure HTTPS, this would typically involve a lot of 301 redirects from the old HTTP versions of the page and was definitely seen as a stumbling block for those thinking of moving sites over to HTTPS.

The result of the above rules have led to a number of things happening that go against Google’s recommendations for optimising a site, namely people holding off migrating to secure HTTPS and also sites keeping ugly URLs that are not well optimised.

The new rules of 3xx redirection

So, what’s changing and what does this mean for SEOs. Well, back in February, Google’s John Mueller announced that no PageRank is lost for 301 or 302 redirects from HTTP to HTTPS. This was a clear statement from Google that encouraged those who had been holding off from migrating to HTTPS because of the loss of PageRank to go ahead and make the move with no need to worry about loss of PageRank.

Then, Gary Illyes told the SEO community that Google really doesn’t care which type of 3xx redirect you use which seemed to suggest that they treat 301 and 302 redirects (plus more obscure 307 redirects) the same. This implied that a 302 would lose the same 15% PageRank as 301 redirects at the time he made the announcement.

Just last week however, Gary came out on Twitter to state the following:

This small Tweet obviously sent the SEO world into a bit of a frenzy with SEOs scrambling to make those changes they have been hanging back on for years. Whilst this all seems like great news for SEOs and for redirections, the news comes with a few words of warning before you start blanket 301ing pages across your site.

New 301 Rule – words of warning

We definitely think this is a huge positive moving forward. We have a number of URLs that we want to re-write for clients but have been holding back because of the potential loss in PageRank so we can crack on with these changes and improve the optimisation as well as understanding for users of what those pages are about. However, there are a few things to consider:

  • Not everyone uses Google to search for things. Whilst Google is the preferred search engine for most of the world, there are still users who prefer to use alternative search engines to perform their internet searches including Bing, Duck Duck Go and perhaps most importantly Baidu. Just because Google chooses to treat 3xx redirects this way doesn’t mean these other search engines will follow suit so if you rely on traffic from these sites, then think carefully if you are planning any drastic 3xx redirecting.
  • We don’t know exactly how Google will treat 301 and 302 redirects in terms of how they will pass PageRank. Behind their reason to treat 301 and 302 redirects the same was the fact that many people simply don’t use the correct redirect and this was causing havoc for Google and their understanding of site’s content. Just because they both pass PageRank now however doesn’t necessarily mean they do it in the same way. You still need to be aware of which is the most appropriate redirect to use for your specific circumstance and implement the redirect correctly.

Moz have recently published a very detailed post on the new rules surrounding 3xx redirects and the comments section is definitely worth a read where they go into more depth about the potential implications.

Our biggest takeaway

Proceed with caution! In our opinion, this is a positive move, however as always, we should look to follow all best practice guidelines when it comes to the implementation of 3xx redirects. Don’t use redirects to try and pass PageRank between non-related pages. Don’t use a 302 redirect when the page is permanently moving. Do make sure you consider the implications of implementing a redirect, especially on high performing pages.

You can check the Moz blog for a more detailed checklist but overall, we think this is a good thing!

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