The how and why of 301-302 redirects. And why they're vital to your website's success

What are 301 and 302 redirects?

A redirect does exactly that, it acts as a traffic controller and pushes traffic from redundant pages to another page/URL. Or it's like getting a 'change of address' activated at your local post office, so your mail is redirected to a new location.

301 we've moved,  302 be right back

301 is used when the redirect is from a redundant page, to a permanent new page. 302 is used when the page redirect is only temporary. This is explained in more detail below.

Without a 301 or 302 redirect people will get a '404 page not found' message.

How to get the best results from 301 and 302 redirects.

This is the important part. It sounds easy to manage in theory, however there’s always underlying technical guidelines that need to be followed in order to achieve the best results with 301 and 302 redirects.

Technically a redirect can be done within the code of an old page if it still exists using

<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="5;URL=">. 

However it’s usually done via IIS rules on windows or the htaccess file on linux/apache hosting. Why? Because these methods/rules are more flexible and not dependant on the old page/URLs existence.

In addition unlike meta refresh and javascript redirects a 301 will pass most of the juice credit (ranking value) to the new page.

From a visitors perspective as long as they don’t encounter a dead end via a 404 page not found page, there is no visible difference between a 301 or 302 redirect.


So what’s the big deal, why is a redirect even necessary?

And what’s the difference?

Websites are filled with technical signals, invisible to humans, which search engines and social platforms detect and use to measure and engage with your site.

what happens with no redirect in place?

What a 302 redirect does

A 302 redirect is flagged as temporary – meaning that a search engine looking for the old page will be passed to the new page. It will then place the new page in its index however;
  • It will not remove the old page from its search results
  • It will not pass link juice credit (ranking value) from the old page onto the new one meaning the new page will not rank as well as the old page. Google and others who determine popularity ratings assume that the 302 link is going to be removed sooner or later, so the new page doesn't have any of the link popularity associated with the old page. It has to generate its own new popularity.

Common use of a 302 is;

  • Website or page maintenance/updates resulting in a temporary 302 redirect to a temporary notice page
  • A specific product page has been redirected because it's out of stock, temporarily, but will return
  • A specific promo URL is pushed to different squeeze/conversion or promo pages as needed, however the target page is never permanent
  • A particular page is temporarily redirected/passed to a page on another website.

What a 301 redirect does

Unlike its 302 cousin, a 301 redirect is flagged as a permanent move. We have moved in for good and are here to stay. Search engines like Google will follow the link and over time;
  • Replace the old link/page from its search results with the new redirected page
  •  Pass the link juice credit to the new page

Common use of a 301 is;

  • You rebrand your business and decide to move the website to a new domain name. You then create a redirect rule that passes all the old domain pages to the equivalent pages on the new domain
  • You rebuild or change your website structure
  • You've decided to merge 2 or more similar pages into one. The old pages are removed and one page takes their place

It's important to note

While a 301 redirect is the ideal method for permanent redirection, it will not pass 100% of the previous page/URL link juice credit (ranking value).

redirect bad practice

It’s estimated to pass 90%+ and this reduces with each extra step.

  • Avoid creating a chain of redirects, ensure your pointing from old to latest page/URL
  • Avoid creating accidental loops between redirecting pages
  • Always test and check your redirects ensuring they don’t go to a wrong or mistyped destination
  • Test and check in order to avoid taking 5 chain links/steps instead of 1 from oldest to newest page/URL. The more links in the chain the less link juice credit will be passed to the final destination
  • Less link juice credit equals less Google cred resulting in a less competitive page and lost exposure
  • Moving to a new domain name? If you received a Google penalty, you DO NOT want to use a redirect of any kind from the old site to the new one. No Google penalty? Refer to the next point
  • Moving the website to a new domain name, having your website redone or changing its structure? 
Make sure you map/redirect old pages to new pages so that Google and other search engines can relink its indexed pages to new ones – oh and don’t forget links from third party websites and people’s bookmarked pages
  • Never redirect all old pages to the homepage of the new website or category pages. Even worse never leave old pages, pdf’s and so on that are in Google’s index unlinked, resulting in 404 page not found
  • Remember no one likes a 404 not found.
If you would like some more information about getting the best from your website, or other content that could be harming your website’s exposure, then give us a call.

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