301 Redirect vs 302 Redirects
This articles about 301 redirects vs 302 redirects. This is a very important question – especially when it comes to Google, and how link juice is passed, or not passed, depending on the type of redirect selected.
Here’s a good post by Matt Cutts from 2006, that sort of sets the basic idea of what a 302 redirect does, and so forth. 302 redirects, as Matt points out, can be either on-domain, or off-domain. 302 is simply the http status code which is returned to your browser when a page is requested. 404 errors are referred to as such, because a status code of 404 is returned – which means the page is not found. 301 vs 302, is where major questions arise.
301 is a state code used to designate a permanent move in the location of the page. 302, traditionally, has meant there is a change – but it’s temporary. There are some very specific usage cases for both 301 and 302 redirects.
When to use a 301 redirect
301 redirects are used all the time. Because they are permanent, SEO juice flows from the origination site to the destination domain. Below are some cases where a 301 redirect is the best to use.
Your changing your companies name: When Odesk merged with Elance, to make Upwork, both companies domains were 301 redirected to the new name. 301 redirects were implemented from the original sites to the destination domains. Consequently, the new domain was able to take over the rankings of the previous domains.
If you’re changing your business name, or have bought a more desirable domain name – then you need to do a 301 redirect. When doing 301 redirects, make sure not to 301 redirect them all to the homepage of the new domain. Make sure to 301 redirect individual subpages to their most appropriate counterpart. In a Google hangout session done by John Mueller from Google, in October 2016, he mentions that 301 redirects all pointing to the homepage can be seen by Google as soft 404 errors. Here’s the video below, so you can listen to the Google hangout session.
It’s around the 4 minute, 50 second mark.
It’s hard to say definitively what happens when you redirect all of the pages to the homepage. It could be that initially the redirects are looked at as soft 404 errors, but if Google recrawls the pages again – it will realize these are in fact permanent redirects and let the SEO juice pass through to the homepage. Regardless, from a user experience stand point, it’s always best to 301 redirect users to the most appropriate counterpart. Any time you change a domain name, due to company name changes, etc, you need to do a 301 redirect.
You’ve changed the permalink slug for a page: This doesn’t often happen – but say you’ve changed your pages name from https://www.domain.com/seo-company to https://www.domain.com/seo —- then this change should be done via a 301 redirect. Any SEO value that’s accrued on the original page, will cease to exist if you simply change the name of the page without creating a 301 redirect to inform search engines of the new page.
You’re deleting an older page: Say you don’t offer a service or product anymore and you delete the page. This is something which you can do – but now you’ll lose the SEO credit you built up on that page. The safest option, is to redirect the page to a counterpart page that could provide a possible better user experience for people who visit the deleted page. If in doubt, 301 redirect the page to the homepage — but first try to find a page that is a good alternative. Not only will you provide a better user experience – you might even increase the SEO rankings of the other page.
When to use a 302 redirect
In our opinion, the biggest issue with 302 redirects is when they remain for an extended period of time. 302 redirects are meant to be temporary, and so if you leave them in for a long period of time – we’ve seen instances where Google starts treating them as permanent redirects. Google’s goal is to improve the overall user experience, and that can mean disregarding your intentions/request, and doing what’s best for users. If Google ignores the 302 redirect parameter, this can create huge SEO implications which will manifest shortly after Google treats the 302, as a 301.
A/B testing a webpage: This is a classic use of a 302 redirect. Many popular tools, like Visual Web Optimizer, create variation of a page you’re testing, and then distribute traffic to them. They do so with a 302 redirect, in order to allow you to test it out, without causing SEO changes.
Under maintenance pages: In some cases, we’ve seen websites show a 302 under maintenance page, in order to prevent Google from harming their rankings while they undergo technical maintenance. Sometimes, when new websites are pushed live, under maintenance pages are pushed live with a 302 redirect.
301 vs 302 redirect when switching from a penalized domain
I hate to say it, but this is one of the most common questions we hear — especially from companies that are brands, and feel they have to switch domains in order to start over. The question is, what to do? Many of these brands aren’t concerned with their SEO rankings transferring over — they just want to transfer over potential clients/visitors who search for their brand/company directly.
If you 301 redirect a penalized domain to a newer domain, all the SEO juice and link credit comes through. This can obviously cause issues on the new domain. If you use a 302 redirect, in the short term it can accomplish your goals of sending visitors, without actually sending over SEO juice – but if the redirect domains in place long enough, Google can change how it treats it to a 301 redirect.
So, neither redirect seems to really help. In 2014, though, John M. from Google was posed the same question and he gave an answer that could be a solution. I’ve embedded the video below.
Essentially, what you do is 301 redirect all of your pages to another domain name. On that domain name, you use the robots.txt file to block access to the domain. This blocks Google from crawling that new domain – which makes it so that Google is unable to see the redirect from that domain, to the final destination which is your “NEW” domain name.
Original domain ——> Proxy domain ——> New domain
The original domain 301 redirects to the proxy domain, which is redirected to the new domain. Because the “proxy,” domain has robots.txt disabled, Google is unable to crawl the domain and see it’s 301 redirect, which means users can “flow through,” without SEO juice flowing through.
What’s your objective?
In summary, it looks like your usage case, and objective, have a lot to do with the type of redirect you’re going to employ. Complicated situations like avoiding SEO penalties, are tricky. We definitely don’t think using redirects to get around penalties is a safe idea. If your goal is to redirect visitors without passing SEO credit, then the work around will probably require a bit more thought and effort.
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