Sometimes it’s tricky to know whether your site’s situation is calling for a 301 redirect or 302, but let us tell you right here and now that this is not an uncommon question, and there’s a lot of technicalities that go into it. So in this article, we’re covering what you need to know about your permanent redirect, when it’s a good time to use them and how it affects your search engine rankings.
BUT FIRST, WHAT IS A REDIRECT?
Think of it as a way to send users and search engines to a specific URL from the original one they intended on visiting. You might need to point them away from your old URL to a new one for a variety of reasons, such as:
• The URL isn’t working as intended;
• You have a new page or website;
• You’re trying to fix an old page and want to send someone to a temporary one while it’s under construction.
Using 301 or a 302 redirect has a big impact on the way your website functions, and whether a certain URL is utilised in the navigation of your pages. Search engines use these as ways to crawl your website’s structure, so they need to work in conjunction with your intentions, and not hinder user experience.
So how do you know when to use one and whether it’s working the way it should?
USING A 301 REDIRECT
When you’re adopting the approach of redirecting through a 301 vs 302 redirects, the status code lets search engines know that a particular page or website has permanently moved to a new URL. When you employ this kind of tactic, you need to assess why users are landing on the old URL in the first place. For example, a traffic source could be pointing towards another page and not your new URL.
Tip: We always recommend assessing your list of traffic and who is responsible for sending them to particular URLs before they get to the new page (the correct one). This lets you correct any navigation that’s causing issues in the flow of your users, and rectifies any confusion from search engines.
The most appropriate time to use a 301 redirect is when purchasing a domain that you want to send to your main one. This is also a highly common practice. For example, you might snatch up a highly relevant URL that you want to utilise, but keep your primary one as your main website because of its higher domain authority. You would then use a 301 as your status code to let search engines know which one is the “right” one and ensures users get what they need out of their query in the first place.
Did you know: It’s only natural for a lot of users to drop the ‘www’ when searching for a website in their URL bar (e.g. edgemarketing.com.au), but this is obviously not what the primary URL actually is (it’s www.edgemarketing.com.au). Therefore, we’d utilise a 301 redirect to point the user heading to edgemarketing.com.au towards landing on www.edgemarketing.com.au. Okay, that’s a mouthful, but you get the point (hopefully). All of this also needs to take into account the HTTP status.
Another circumstance for 301 redirects is if you’re merging two websites into one page. You’d either use one of the URLs as your main and the other becomes a 301 redirect, or you’d purchase a whole other domain name and both URLs use a 301 to the new URL. Sorry about all the technical jargon, but it’s kind of the nitty-gritty stuff you need to know about this aspect of website structuring.
USING A 302 REDIRECT
Now that’ you’re s somewhat an expert on using 301 redirects, let’s look at how a 302 redirect is used. In the simplest explanation, a 302 redirect sends users to a new page for a limited amount of time. This could be because you’re constructing or redesigning a certain URL and need to point them away from it while you complete the work.
However, 302 redirects should only be used if you’re planning on removing it at some point and bringing your original, page back.
You could also use 302 redirects as a way to test if a new page does well and gets good feedback from users, without harming the rankings on your original page.
Are 301 redirects bad for SEO?
Using a 301 redirect vs. 302 redirects means that Google will remove the original URL from their indexing and the highest amount of value (e.g. the value of links you’ve built) will transfer over to the new destination.
However, it’s important to understand that when you label that your site has moved permanently (or temporarily moved) from one location to another, it will take some time for a search engine to crawl and recognise the change, no matter if you use a 302 redirect or 301. This will mean there’s a delay in your ranking alterations, and you’ll need to consider all of this when assessing the performance of your website.
But, most importantly – if you use a 302 redirect correctly, it will not hinder or hurt your SEO efforts. When utilising 302 redirects, a search engine like Google won’t remove the original URL from the records/indexes and therefore will not transfer the value to your new (temporary) page either.
These traits are one of the main factors to consider when choosing between 302 redirects or 301s.
How do you implement a 301 or 302 redirect?
Google directs webmasters to use these redirecting tactics by getting access to the server’s .htaccess file if it’s running Apache. This is something that your tech-heads will know, if they’re responsible for building and maintaining the structure of your website, so speak to them about how to sort this part out.
However, if there’s no one in your team with redirect knowledge handy, there are some online resources you can use to amend this, such as Apache’s official ‘URL Rewriting Guide’.
If you use WordPress, you can also use the available plugins to amend certain records for redirect matters. These include:
Enough about 301 redirects vs. 302 – what about 404 errors?
Lastly, it’s important to quickly discuss how a 404 code can come into the equation. In a nutshell, a 404 isn’t a redirect. It’s actually a code that tells the user and a search engine that a specific URL wasn’t found at all. And this is NOT a good thing when it comes to rankings on search engines overall.
A 404 error occurs when a page has been deleted from the site completely, as well as the server, but the links are still active. A 301 or 302 has not been set up to redirect the user to where they should be, and instead, the link is broken, delivering a 404 error.
Beyond how your site performances on a search engine, a 404 is frustrating for a user to see and is a big cause for them to bounce away from your website altogether. Because of this, it’s important for your SEO team to assess redirects and whether your 301 and 302 redirects are acting as they should be – or if they even exist at all.
Once a browser is redirected to the correct address, you eliminate the risk of them straying away from your page out of frustration. Ensuring 404s aren’t present goes a long way to your performance and rankings, and will keep users happy.
A final note
We know we’ve gone through a lot of technical redirect aspects in this article, but when it comes to establishing effective marketing for your brand or a client, 301 and 302 redirects play a big role in your overall strategy. Utilising a redirect correctly can make or break the navigation of your site, and affects how a search engine chooses to index your business in its archives from start to finish.
Abandoning or procrastinating about how a user is redirected from one page to another across your site can cause you more harm than good, so instead of avoiding this task, jump to it and keep all parties smiling.
However, if all of this seems a little overwhelming and you feel you could use some support about how to continue with the redirect process, our experts can assess what types of redirects and data is supporting your content and whether we can offer a solution to resolve any changes needed.
Consider us your redirect gurus.