What are 301 and 302 Redirects?
A redirect is a code that tells web browsers and search engines to go to a URL that is different from what was originally requested.
You have more than likely experienced a redirect, but it happens almost instantly that it’s hardly noticeable. You can see that it happened when you check the URL of the page you’re on and compare it with the URL you typed or the link you clicked.
There are two types of redirects that are most widely used:
- 301 redirects — These are permanent redirects. Virtually all of the original URL’s link equity or “link juice” is moved on to the new permanent URL.
- 302 redirects — This is a temporary redirect. The original URL is still available but users and search engines are pointed to another URL for a short time.
Using Redirects Properly
In most cases where you are dealing with a 404 error, you will want to use a 301 redirect to present users a seamless experience when navigating your site. In SEO terms, you get to keep all the good link equity the original URL has built up over time and transfer it to the new URL. That way, the new URL doesn’t start from scratch in the search rankings.
The key point when redirecting from a 404 error is that the new URL contains the exact same content or is as similar as possible to the old content. Don’t confuse your visitors who click on a link expecting one thing and then get redirected to a different URL with content that isn’t related at all to what they were looking for.
There are also more specific situations when you should use 301 redirects apart from fixing 404 errors.
- Changing URLs
If a URL is a mess of characters that nobody can possibly remember, that typically means it’s not optimised for search and neither is your website structure. Changing URLs so that they are more organised is good SEO practice, and part of this process will inevitably involve using 301 redirects.
- Moving Site Domains
When you have to move your entire website to a new domain, you will need 301 redirects for all of the old content you are migrating. This is pretty straightforward if your site structure won’t change, but if it is, the 301 redirects to the new pages should make sense to users, even if it isn’t an exact fit.
- Recreating Content
Content that is outdated but got a lot of traction in the past can still prove useful, so recreating it is a viable tactic. Using a 301 redirect ensures all its link equity doesn’t go to waste when the new URL goes up.
- Accounting for all URL Configurations
Although there are URLs that look the same like https://superb.digital, superb.digital, and www.superb.digital, they are all different URLs that search engines consider as separate entities. 301 redirects make it so all the URLs and their link equity all get moved to one URL.
When Should You Use a 302 Redirect?
Although 301s are generally more advisable, there are two scenarios where you should use a temporary 302 redirect instead:
- When you are launching a site in phases, as certain pages are still under construction but will eventually go live.
- When you need to fix minor issues with a page, as it is under maintenance but will return soon.
Lastly, avoid using 301 redirects to redirect multiple 404 errors to your site’s Homepage. If Google sees you relying on that tactic, they’ll treat those 301s as 404s instead. Either redirect to a more relevant page or customise your 404 pages to acknowledge the gap and to show related links users can check out instead.
Smoothing Out Navigation Wrinkles
404s are to be expected as websites evolve. 301s help resolve site navigation problems 404s might present, as long as they are used methodically.