What is A Redirect?
A redirect, in website terminology, is the process of forwarding, or otherwise pointing a URL and the associated page content to a different URL. There are quite a few methods of redirection, but these three are the most commonly used methods:
301 Redirect – “Moved Permanently”
302 Redirect – “Moved Temporarily” (Also called “Found Redirects” in later versions of HTTP)
Meta Refresh – Page-Level Redirect
We’ll be focusing on 301 redirects today, but it’s important to understand the differences between these methods.
302 Temporary Redirects, as the name implies, allows a site to temporarily point a URL to a different URL, commonly used in cases where a page may be under construction, or a category on an eCommerce page that has no currently active products. These redirects do not pass link juice, and are not intended to be permanent, so their use should be limited to specific use cases where a temporary page is necessary.
Meta Refresh Redirects are a different method of achieving a redirect, only the actual redirection process takes place at the page-level, not the server-level. You’ve likely encountered a meta refresh redirect if you’ve ever visited a site with a splash page with a message similar to “If you are not redirected in 10 seconds, click here.” – this page is performing a redirect after loading the original URL, instead of replacing it entirely. These do pass some link authority to the new page URL, but they are not recommended because of their poor user experience, and the fact that these redirects do not pass full authority in the same way as a 301 redirect does.
Now that we’ve covered the basic types of redirects, let’s take a closer look at 301 Redirects.
How Could a 301 Redirect Be a Bad Idea?
When you are making major structural changes to a website, ensuring that you’ve gracefully depreciated any old pages is absolutely essential. A lot of people will tell you that using 301 redirects on all removed URLs is the best way to stay on Google’s good side in terms of 301 redirect strategy. The SEO pros at Moz seem to agree:
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect which passes between 90-99% of link juice (ranking power) to the redirected page. 301 refers to the HTTP status code for this type of redirect. In most instances, the 301 redirect is the best method for implementing redirects on a website.
However, sometimes a permanent 301 redirect can be a less-than-ideal solution.
Not All Pages Deserve a 301 Redirect
Obviously, if you have a page with decent link juice behind it that’s receiving a decent amount of traffic from organic or garnering quality external links, it’s in your best interest to pass that link juice to a new corresponding page within your revised structure using a 301 redirect. But if we’re talking about rarely visited pages, or old pages that no longer serve a real function, it’s okay to let those pages 404 and drop from Google’s index.
Too Many 301 Redirects Can Hurt Your Website
Redirect looping and link hopping are known spam tactics, and as a result you run the risk of being penalized by Google for low quality page content if the proportion of redirects to indexed pages is too high. 301’s also dampen site performance, which can be detrimental to both user experience, and page rank. If you have an equivalent piece of content that matches the page you’re replacing well, then a 301 redirect is usually your best option. But in a case where the content may only tangentially relate to the new URL, such as top-level category pages for an eCommerce store, it may be best to let that page fall out of your index to allow search engines to find the new page organically, and rank you accordingly.
Sometimes, Letting Go is The Best 301 Redirect Strategy
Allowing old pages to drop out of index can afford you the opportunity to build an entirely new, better optimized replacement that is up-to-date and consistent with the latest Google algorithm changes and guidelines. So, next time you’re migrating a site structure or just cleaning house and removing old pages and content, think twice when building your 301 redirect strategy, and remember: Sometimes it’s okay to let go. Really. It’s okay.