It turns out Google doesn’t handle page redirects in quite the same way as SEOs believe. Or, more accurately, the search engine changed how it handles them at some point over the last year and didn’t bother to tell anyone.
Until this change, any URL redirect (301, 302, etc.) would result in a drop in PageRank. However, this is no longer the case – and that’s a pretty big deal from an SEO point of view. So let’s take a look at the new rules and what you need to know about them.
No more PageRank ‘penalty’ for redirects
There are many reasons you might need to permanently redirect a page:
- You’re migrating to HTTPS (like Google tells you to)
- You’re changing to descriptive URLs (like Google tells you to)
- Redirecting from 404s to new pages (like Google tells you to)
- Permanently moving or replacing a page
- Changing your domain name
- Directing traffic to the right domain (eg co.uk to www.yoursite.com/en)
As you can see, these are genuine reasons any business might have for permanently redirecting. Many of these are best practices recommended by Google but you still get slapped with a PageRank drop for your trouble – a whopping 15%.
Cheers for that, Google.
So we’ve had little choice but to avoid redirects at all cost, until they become so necessary we have no other choice. Which is pretty crazy when Google expects us all to migrate over to HTTPS with a whole bunch of 301 redirects.
However, Google has seen the light it seems. This is the year Google appears to have put a stop to reading 30x redirects as a PageRank killer.
30x redirects don’t lose PageRank anymore.
— Gary Illyes (@methode) July 26, 2016
Apparently, this has been the case for some time now – but it’s great to have confirmation. Not only does it remove one of the most frustrating barriers to HTTPS migration, this allows you to fix a number of technical SEO issues without getting bitten in the process.
The new rules of 30x redirects
There are three main types of “30x” redirects to know about:
- 301 redirects: For permanently moved pages.
- 302 redirects: For temporarily moved pages.
- 307 redirects: A newer version of 302 redirects for temporary moves, but rarely used.
So really, you only need to know 301 and 302 redirects at this stage and the difference is pretty simple. That’s never been the problem. Google chopping off a hefty chunk of PageRank has forced site owners to avoid using using 30x redirects – or put them off for as long as possible.
Things are very different now, though:
- First of all, John Mueller confirmed earlier this year that neither 301 or 302 redirects have a negative impact on PageRank.
- Now Gary Illyes is telling us no 30x redirects lose PageRank whatsoever.
- Illyes also recently said Google doesn’t care which 30x redirect you use anymore – it will figure out what you’re trying to do.
This is pretty huge. But it doesn’t mean you have a free pass to slap redirects all over your site.
Best practices for URL redirects
You’ve got a lot more freedom now to redirect pages without fear of losing PageRank, but this isn’t an invitation to go crazy with the 301s. Here are some guidelines:
- Only redirect to relevant pages: Ideally, exact/close copies of the original page – only the URL should change.
- Keep using 301s for permeant redirects: Google isn’t the only reason to use 301s and 302s correctly.
- Keep using 302s for temporary moves: This is a web standard for other search engines, social networks and users alike.
Also remember that PageRank is only one of many ranking signals you needs to qualify for. Every redirect still comes with various types of risk to consider. The good news is that redirecting for solid SEO reasons is far less risky now.
It also removes one of the biggest concerns with migrating from HTTP to HTTPS. But there are many other technical issues with crawling and indexing that make it complex. It simply fixes the PageRank issue and makes the small HTTPS ranking boost a little more worth while.
So there you have it: not exactly a free pass to go mad with 301s, but a drastic improvement all the same. For a while it seemed like Google was trolling website owners by giving us all these reasons to redirect, only to put a 15% dent in our PageRank. But, credit to the Google team, it has spent the last six months very slowly telling us this is no longer the case. So cheers for the update guys.