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Is it time to rewrite SEO playbooks?
For what appears to be forever, SEOs have operated through a set of best practices that dictate how best to handle URL redirection. (This is the practice of pointing a URL to another. If you need a quick refresh, here is a handy guide on HTTP status codes.)
These proven rules of the old school included:
301 redirect resulting in about a 15% loss of PageRank. Matt Cutts confirmed this in 2013 when he explained that a 301 loses the exact same amount of PageRank as a link from one page to another.
302s do not pass PageRank. By definition, the 302 are temporary. So it makes sense that search engines treat them differently.
HTTPS migrations lose PageRank. This is because they usually involve a lot of redirections 301.
These represent great concerns for anyone who wants to change a URL, process an expired product page or move an entire website.
The risk of losing traffic may mean that no change becomes the least of two evils. Many SEOs delayed site migrations, kept their URLs ugly, and put off switching to HTTPS because of all the disadvantages of switching.
The new 3xx redirection rules
Perhaps because of the disadvantages of redirection – especially with HTTPS – Google has been working to chip away at these axioms over the past few months.
In February, John Mueller of Google announced that no PageRank is lost for 301 or 302 redirects from HTTP to HTTPS. This has been widely regarded as a Google effort to increase webmaster adoption of HTTPS.
Gary Illyes of Google told the SEO world that Google does not care which redirect method you use, whether it’s 301, 302 or 307. He explained Google will understand it and they all pass PageRank.
More recently, Gary Illyes announced cryptically on Twitter that 3xx (shortcut for all 300) redirects no longer lose PageRank at all.
Gary Illyes ᕕ (ᐛ) ᕗ ✔ @methode
30x redirects no longer lose PageRank.
18:29 – 26 Jul 2016 · Zurich, Switzerland
272 272 Retweets 249 249 Like
These surprising changes mean that everything is good and good now?
Yes and no.
While these changes are welcome from Google, there are always risks and considerations when moving URLs that go far beyond PageRank. We’ll cover them in a moment.
First, here is a diagram that attempts to explain the old concepts vs new Google ads.
Let’s look at some myths and misconceptions by answering common redirect questions.
Q: Can I now 301 redirect everything without risk of losing traffic?
All changes involve risks.
While it’s super awesome that Google is no longer “penalizing” 301 redirected by the loss of PageRank, keep in mind that PageRank is only a signal on hundreds that Google uses to categorize pages.
Ideally, if you redirect a page to an exact copy of that page, and the only thing that changes is the URL, then in theory you can expect no traffic loss with these new guidelines.
That said, the more mobile parts you introduce, the more things begin to get hairy. Do not expect that your redirects to irrelevant pages will carry much weight, if any. Redirecting your popular Taylor Swift fan page to your affiliate marketing page of protein powder is probably dead in the water.
In fact, Glenn Gabe recently discovered evidence that Google is dealing with redirects to irrelevant pages like 404 soft. In other words, it is a redirection that loses both the equity of the links and the relevance.
See: How to completely ruin (or save) your website with redirects
Q: Is it perfectly safe to use 302 for everything instead of 301?
A: Again, not
Some time ago we heard that the reason why Google started processing 302 (temporary) redirects like 301 (permanent) is that so many websites were implementing the wrong type (302s when they wanted Say 301s), that it has wreaked havoc on how Google ranked pages.
The problem is that while we now know that Google passes PageRank 302s, but we still have some problems. To know:
We do not know if 301s and 302s are equal in all directions. In the past, we