If you’ve faced the dilemma of changing domain names, removing pages, updating permalinks or you’re simply curious about what 301 and 302 redirects are, you’ve come to the right place.
More than just a random sequence of numbers, they are powerful signals used to notify Google when pages have moved permanently or temporarily without entirely killing your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).
Knowing which redirect to use is dependent on your situation, given they both serve different purposes.
In simple terms, redirects are a signal used to indicate to users and web crawlers that there is now another, different URL of this page as opposed to the one that was initially requested.
Here’s everything you’ll learn about redirects in this Endpoint Digital article.
What Is A 301 Redirect?
301 redirects are referred to as ‘permanent redirects’, indicating that the page originally requested has moved to a different URL.
Permanent means permanent from experience so you should aim to keep any 301 redirects active for at least one year to ensure rankings stay consistent.
Understanding the purpose behind 301 redirect signals is made simpler with a real-life scenario, such as the one below.
When To Use 301 Redirects
Let’s say that you created a page for Black Friday sales, and your URL was: https://example.com/black-friday-sale-2020/.
For pages like this, they have an expiration date. The permalink clearly states the year for these sales is 2020, so these discounts won’t be relevant in 2020 and as such, users shouldn’t be sent to this URL if they are trying to find Black Friday deals when 2021 rolls around.
Since this will be a permanent change, you want to use a 301 redirect from your 2020 Black Friday deals page to your new 2021 discounts page (when the time comes) which indicates to users and search engines that this is a permanent change.
A Quick Side Note About Why Deleting Pages Aren’t Always Ideal
You might be asking, isn’t it worth deleting this 2020 page? The answer is, perhaps – but it’s more complicated than that for several reasons:
- You may have a wide range of internal links to this page
- You may have several inbound links to this page
- Deleting this page results in a 404 error
Rather than making the situation more convoluted, a simple 301 redirect would ensure that you won’t have to worry about these things.
Regarding the latter, 404 errors work in conjunction with the use of 301 and 302 redirects very well because of how they operate.
404 errors signify to users and search engines that ‘this page doesn’t exist’ anymore. If you remove your Black Friday deals page and a user tries to visit that URL, they’ll get hit with a 404 error.
These 404 errors can be catastrophic for a few reasons, such as increasing your bounce rate, lowering dwell time (how long users spend on your website) and sends signals to Google that they should consider removing this page from their index if not rectified quickly enough.
According to Google’s John Mueller, the best practice is to 301 redirect your old pages to your new ones if conducting a website restructure of any sort.
You can check out his full response about 404’s in this video:
Now, onto 302 redirects.
What Is A 302 Redirect?
302 redirects are known as ‘temporary redirects’. These types of redirects are used to inform users and search engines that the current page is being moved to another URL for some time but will be back.
It ensures that search engines won’t remove the current URL from its index and the new link keeps getting traffic and rankings remain consistent.
For further clarification, we’ll also provide a real-life scenario of where 302 redirects may be useful.
When To Use 302 Redirects
302 redirects are great for A/B variate testing or if you’re completing a website revamp.
Given these are only temporary changes, using 302 redirects make the most sense given these URL’s will be back.
A/B testing is a marketing concept used by companies who may be running deals or want to test the performance of one page vs another.
For example, let’s say you have a separate version of your homepage that you’re testing for design purposes that has an entirely different URL.
To ensure the best results, you’ll want to use a 302 (temporary) redirect from your alternative landing page to the original URL – your home page.
Just as a side note, you’ll also want to use the ‘rel=canonical’ attribute on all of your alternative URL’s when using 302 redirects.
What this means is, you’ll want to tell search engines that your original URL is the preferred version of this page, to avoid duplicate content and indexing issues.
For more information about canonicals, check out this resource by Ahrefs.
How Do These Redirects Affect My SEO?
There has long been debate about how Google handles 301 and 302 redirects.
In the early days of Matt Cutts, he revealed that there isn’t necessarily a limit on how many redirects a website can have, but did mention that the fewer redirects you have, the higher chance the Googlebot and users will reach their destination page.
Pretty obvious stuff really, but at the same time, unnecessary redirect chains were more than likely a larger issue in 2013 (when Cutts mentioned this) than they are today.
Redirect chains aren’t bad for SEO, but they are bad for user experience and crawling. Too many redirects draw out loading times and can discourage Google crawlers from doing their work consistently.
To know the impact of redirects has on your SEO, it’s important to understand how Google treats them in 2020 – but first, a quick history lesson.
The Concept of PageRank and Redirects
PageRank is an algorithm introduced by Google to measure the importance of a web page.
It was named after one of the founders, Larry Page and sought to rank websites in their search results on several metrics such as the number and quality of links to a particular page.
Gary Illyes of Google eluded to the fact in 2017 that Google may still be using PageRank in this tweet.
However, according to Wikipedia, PageRank and its associated patents are no longer applicable as of 2019, but understanding its relevance to redirects in the past is still important.
However, John Mueller mentioned in 2020 that Google uses PageRank internally among ‘many other signals’, so it’s a very confusing time to be an SEO when there is a lot of differing opinions.
There is further evidence that PageRank is being used by Google, as discussed in a whitepaper that Google released in 2019.
The thesis of the whitepaper was to “fight disinformation” and touched on the fact that the authority factor or the “A” in their “E-A-T” (expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness) signal relies heavily on the concept of PageRank.
Websites of high authority that link to your website influence PageRank and continues to push the envelope of “great content” that Google is continually looking for.
Curating backlinks from these highly authoritative sites is a difficult task but is made easier if you’re creating the type of content they’re looking to link to.
Google relies on machine learning to determine the weight amongst their ranking signals and authority has always been a huge ranking signal, so make sure you’re creating backlinks on authoritative websites (think CNN, Forbes, HubSpot).
How Both Redirects Impact SEO In 2020
Despite the fact there isn’t a lot of new information about whether or not Google uses PageRank other than the word of John Mueller, we are working on the notion that Google does indeed still use PageRank.
When using a 301 redirect, Google removes the old page from their index and passes all of the ‘link juice’ (PageRank) to the new URL if the new page closely matches the old page.
Similar to how canonical URL’s work, it is a suggestion rather than a directive but this is good news since it wasn’t this way back when Matt Cutts was around in 2013.
How do we know it passes 100% PageRank? Well, again, we have John Mueller’s word for it so long as the pages are contextually related.
You also need to take into account that when you use a 301 redirect, it takes time for Google to understand and notice these changes.
This means that you may experience a temporary drop in rankings or traffic until the new change is understood by search engines.
Between both redirects, 301’s will impact your SEO the most given they are a permanent change.
When used correctly, 302 redirects shouldn’t impact your SEO whatsoever given they only indicate a temporary change.
To summarise, here’s a helpful list of how 301 redirects can impact your SEO:
- 301 redirects pass ‘link juice’ and in 2020, pass all of it.
- 301 redirects that are set up correctly help decrease bounce rate
- 301 redirects can reduce the loss of traffic coming to a page
- 301 redirects reduce 404 errors which is a good thing
- 301 redirects will temporarily impact your rankings & traffic
Conversely, here’s how 302 redirects may impact your SEO:
- Search engines will keep the original URL in their index
- 302 redirects don’t pass link juice
- 302 redirects are considered temporary
- 302 redirects are often not crawled
Essentially, 302 redirects don’t impact your SEO but 301 redirects will and they must be implemented correctly, which leads us to our next point.
How To Implement 301 & 302 Redirects Correctly
There are a few different ways in which you can implement 301 redirects or 302 redirects, but the most common way to do so is through your .htaccess file.
The .htaccess file is an important file that resides on any web hosting platform that uses Apache/LiteSpeed.
If your website operates on Nginx or Windows/IIS, then this won’t apply to you.
Depending on what your website does, your .htaccess file will look vastly different compared to other websites.
Creating a 301 redirect through your .htaccess file
Luckily, you don’t need to be super techy to implement 301 redirections through your .htaccess file but, generally, you would use this code below to perform an entire permanent redirect from your old URL to your new URL.
RewriteEngine on RewriteCond %HTTP_HOST ^oldsite.com [NC,OR] RewriteCond %HTTP_HOST ^www.oldsite.com [NC] RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://newsite.com/$1 [L,R=301,NC]
If you want to do this for a specific URL, simply include the old URL to the new URL.
It’s also helpful to understand how www and non-www and HTTP to HTTPS redirects work, so check out this post by Ahrefs on how to perform those.
Creating a 301 redirect through a WordPress plugin
We figure a majority of our readers also use WordPress like us, so it makes sense to include a section about using a plugin to do the hard work for you.
The Redirection plugin may be a great choice for those who haven’t made these changes before or are worried about making a mistake.
Creating a 302 redirect through your .htaccess file
Nothing really changes here, except a small change regarding the attribute, so you would just use the code below.
RewriteEngine on RewriteCond %HTTP_HOST ^oldsite.com [NC,OR] RewriteCond %HTTP_HOST ^www.oldsite.com [NC] RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://newsite.com/$1 [L,R=302,NC
Creating a 302 redirect through a WordPress plugin
Essentially, the exact same process as creating a 301 redirect in WordPress but slightly different.
Just remember that after your use for the 302 redirect has passed, you’ll want to double check and remove it yourself – don’t always rely on the plugin to do it for you.
301 Redirect vs 302 Redirect: Which One to Use?
By now, you should have a pretty good idea on which redirects make sense for which situation.
301 redirects are great because they aim to eradicate any issues you have with deleted pages or pages that have been permanently moved to a new URL.
They help preserve organic traffic, aim to keep rankings sustainable and improve user experience (so long as there is no unnecessary redirect chain).
302 redirects are also great because they have zero impact on your SEO when implemented correctly.
They are a flexible option, allowing you to test variations of pages and gather feedback without any adverse consequences on your traffic or rankings.
Remember, 302 temporary redirects are best used for a short period i.e. less than six months and remove them when they are not needed any more.
The most important thing to note is that there is no ‘superior’ answer. Their use is dependent on their situation and what you’re intending to do.
We’ve reached the end of a very tiring read, congratulations!
By now, you should be an expert on 301 redirects, as well as 302 redirects and when to use them.
There are plenty of scenarios to use either a 301 redirect or a 302 redirect – but make sure you apply them correctly to avoid consequences.
(Also John if you’re reading, we’re sorry that we mentioned you so many times).
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