301 Redirects – Are They A Ranking Factor?
Using 301 redirects is always a great SEO practice as this response code informs search engines like Google when pages have permanently moved to new SEO links or URLs. However, many online businesses and site owners wonder if 301 redirects can significantly affect their SEO, particularly their organic search rankings.
Many claim that there is a connection between 301 redirects and higher rankings in Google’s search results. But first, one should learn why SEOs use these HTTP response codes in the first place.
A 301 redirect is a server-side redirection for SEO links that have permanently changed their location. Here are some of the scenarios in which an online business or site owner would use 301 redirects:
- They are moving from HTTP to HTTPS.
- They are optimising URL slugs for existing posts and pages.
- They are migrating from an old domain to a new one.
- They are moving to a new site platform, and their pages will change from “https://domain.com/page.html” to “https://domain.com/page/”.
Some of the most famous topics surrounding 301 redirects are whether or not PageRank would transfer from the old link to the new link, or if it would automatically apply to the new link if inbound links existed for the old URL.
Google has yet to make official announcements or statements to confirm that 301 redirects are indeed a ranking factor.
In 2012, the head of Google’s Webspam Team at the time, Matt Cutts, said that Google would follow an unlimited amount of 301 redirects from one page to another. The search engine would even make multiple hops if a web page is redirected to another page multiple times. He also stated that Googlebot might stop following these HTTP response codes after four to five hops.
In 2013, Cutts said that a small per cent of PageRank is lost in 301 redirects. Some online businesses experienced a loss of 15 per cent, but he said it does not limit itself to a specific percentage.
In 2016, John Mueller gave insights on whether 301 redirects pass PageRank when discussing the migration from HTTP to HTTPS. He said that fluctuations can always occur when there are huge changes on a website.
Nevertheless, Mueller reassures everyone that Google’s systems usually handle HTTP to HTTPS migrations very well. He also said that no PageRank is lost for 301 or 302 redirects from HTTP to HTTPS.
In 2019, Mueller confirmed that HTTPS is a lightweight ranking factor. Because 301 response codes can redirect a website from HTTP to HTTPS, it can slightly affect a site’s search rankings.
In 2020, Google made changes to their Advanced SEO documentation, particularly the part regarding Google Search and redirects. The search engine company confirmed that out of all redirect types, Google crawls 301 redirects most correctly.
The company noted that a server-side redirect, like 301 redirects, has the best chance of being interpreted correctly by their search engine. Meanwhile, HTTP and meta refreshes have the lowest chance of being accurately crawled by Googlebots.
301 Redirects As A Ranking Factor
One can conclude that the only time online businesses and site owners may experience a significant effect on their rankings when using 301 redirects is when they move from HTTP to HTTPS.
Moreover, it was stated above that it was HTTPS that was confirmed as a lightweight ranking factor – not the 301 redirects. And even when SEOs use 301 redirects properly, these would have little to no impact on a site’s search rankings.
PageRank As A Ranking Factor
Many SEO experts consider the connection of 301 redirects and PageRank, which is the formula that Google made to measure the “value of a page” based on the quality and quantity of the links. PageRank is not the only ranking factor, but it is commonly believed that it equates to higher rankings.
One evidence that could support this is Google’s confirmation about PageRank being a ranking signal. Google’s Gary Illyes posted on his Twitter in 2017 that the search engine company uses “PageRank (and 100s of other signals)” to rank web pages.
301 redirects relate to PageRank because there was a time when using 301 redirects to redirect one page to another resulted in the loss of PageRank – just as stated above. But all of this changed come 2016 when Google announced that 301 redirects do not lose PageRank anymore.
So, if an online business redirects “domain.com/page1” to “domain.com/page2”, the redirected page will have just as much “power” as its original page, which is a big deal.
PageRank is just one of the many ranking factors that Google uses to rank a website in the search results. Using 301 redirects is still a great SEO practice – especially if a website has made the switch to HTTPS. Nevertheless, one should see if they have existing 301 redirect issues that need to be fixed.
Below are some helpful tips that could fix one’s 301 redirect issues:
- Ensure the site’s HTTP version redirects to HTTPS. All websites should switch to HTTPS because it is a ranking signal. Therefore, site owners should ensure that their visitors are being redirected to the HTTPS version of their website.
- Remove pages with 301 status codes from sitemaps. Google looks at the sitemap to distinguish the pages that it needs to crawl and index. However, pages with 301 status codes no longer exist technically. So, if these status codes still remain in the sitemap, Google will still revisit them every time it re-crawls the site, wasting precious crawl budget.
- Fix redirect chains. Redirect chains happen when there are two or more redirects between the original link and the new link (e.g., Page 1 > Page 2 > Page 3). Google recommends that SEOs redirect straight to the final link.
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