Moving, renaming, and deleting URLs is a pretty regular part of our jobs as SEOs, which means that redirects are too. If you’re new to SEO, or just need a refresher, redirects tell search engines like Google that a page has moved to a new location. Redirects also help ensure that visitors find the page they’re looking for, rather than a “404 not found” page.
There are different kinds of redirects, but the most common is the 301 redirect, used to indicate that a page has moved permanently.
Redirects are important for a few reasons, including:
- They help prevent ranking and traffic loss to a page when you move it
- They prevent the poor user experience caused by hitting a dead page
- They transfer equity from the old page to the new page
As with most things in SEO, redirects can prompt a lot of questions. This list is by no means exhaustive, but we decided to compile some of the most common questions that we hear and provide our answers. Have other questions about redirects? Let us know by dropping them in the comments or Tweeting your question to @Botify!
1. Can you have too many 301 redirects?
Yes! If you’re talking about redirecting a single URL multiple times, there is such a thing as “too many” 301 redirects.
In their guide to preparing URL mappings, Google instructs us to avoid chaining redirects.
“While Googlebot and browsers can follow a ‘chain’ of multiple redirects (e.g., Page 1 > Page 2 > Page 3), we advise redirecting to the final destination. If this is not possible, keep the number of redirects in the chain low, ideally no more than 3 and fewer than 5. Chaining redirects adds latency for users, and not all browsers support long redirect chains.”
If you’re a Botify customer, you can find URLs with redirect chains by navigating to the HTTP Status Codes report and clicking on “URLs in Redirect Chain.”
But this “too many” question could also refer to the number of total redirects on a website. For example, if you were undertaking a site migration and part of that migration involved changing your site’s URL structure, you would end up with as many redirects as you have pages, since Google recommends 1:1 redirects.
If you’re implementing many redirects on your website at the same time, such as with a site migration, it’s expected for crawl activity to increase, as well as crawls of pages with a 301 status code. Over time, if everything was implemented properly, Google will start crawling the 301 status code pages less and start going directly to the new pages.
You can monitor this using the Botify Log Analyzer. Learn more in Successful Website Migrations with Botify Log Analyzer!
2. Do redirects hurt crawl budget?
Redirects can hurt crawl budget on large sites with hundreds of thousands or millions of URLs. Because search engines like Google don’t have infinite time and resources, you want to use their time wisely. One way to do that is by using the live destination URLs in your sitemap and throughout your internal linking.
You can use a tool like Botify to audit your sitemap file to check for things like redirected URLs, or see where you might be linking to redirected URLs in your navigations and body content. Updating those hyperlinks to link to the live/current URL is a great way to ensure that you’re making the best use of Google’s time.
For more information on factors that waste crawl budget, check out Crawl Budget Is a Finite Resource: Spend It Wisely.
3. What are redirect loops?
A redirect loop occurs when a URL redirects to a different URL, which then redirects back to the original URL. The end result looks like this:
URL A → URL B → URL A
The browser gets stuck in a “loop” because the server is instructing it to keep returning to a redirected URL, forever.
Not only is this a waste of Googlebot’s resources, but it’s also incredibly frustrating for people trying to access the page on your site.
To find redirect loops on your website, navigate to the “HTTP Codes” report in Botify and view “URL is Part of Redirect Loop.”
4. When does Google treat 301s as “soft 404s”?
According to Google’s John Mueller, 301 redirecting a page to a destination with content that isn’t very similar to the original could be counted as a “soft 404.” You should reserve redirects for URLs that are moving but the content is staying mostly the same (if not exactly the same).
However, Google largely trusts redirects, saying at a recent Google Webmaster Conference that “they are almost perfectly predictive of duplicate content.”
5. Can you undo/remove a 301 redirect?
Yes, it is possible to remove a redirect. For example, if URL A redirects to URL B, you could remove the 301 and URL A would no longer redirect to URL B. If you redirected URL A because it now only exists at URL B, any remaining links to URL A would likely return a 404 “not found” error.
If you redirected URL A to URL B and Google indexed the latter, but you wanted to “undo” the redirect, you’d have to remove the redirect and then add another from URL B to URL A, provided your URL A is live and contains all the original content.
6. What’s the difference between a 301 and 302 redirect? Does Google treat them the same?
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect while a 302 is a temporary redirect. Google says they support several types of redirects, but “recommend you use HTTP 301 redirects if possible.”
Many SEOs will want to know whether 302s are as good as 301s at passing equity/PageRank. According to Google’s Gary Illyes, there’s no type of redirect that will cause a loss or dampening of PageRank anymore — they “pass the same PageRank.”
302s that you leave in place for long periods of time may eventually be treated by search engines as 301 permanent redirects.
As always, we recommend validating statements like these by checking your own site’s data.
7. How long should you keep 301 redirects?
Google has said that it’s a good idea to keep your 301 redirects active for over a year, but since 301s are permanent, theoretically you can keep them forever.
If you’re undergoing a site migration, for example, you’ll want to monitor your log files to see when Google stops visiting your 301 status code pages and starts going directly to your new destination URLs. If you had to get rid of 301 redirects, doing so after Google has seemed to stop crawling them for some time seems like a safe place to start.
However, if another site is linking to your old URL or someone has bookmarked it, undoing the redirect will mean that those visitors hit a 404 “not found” page, unless they update the link to the new destination themselves.
8. How long does it take Google to recognize a 301 redirect?
In the past, Google’s John Mueller has suggested submitting temporary sitemaps to Google that contain 404d or noindexed URLs as that might help speed up Google’s removal of those pages from the index. Using that same logic, you could experiment by doing the same with 301d URLs.
The best way to see how Google is finding and recognizing your 301s is to monitor your log files using a tool like the Botify Log Analyzer.
9. What is a wildcard redirect and are they bad for SEO?
A wildcard redirect (sometimes called a “catch-all redirect”) allows you to redirect multiple pages at a time based on patterns. While this can save time and be appropriate in certain scenarios, just keep in mind Google’s recommendation for 1:1 redirects — only redirect a URL to a new destination if the content is the same on the new destination, otherwise, Google may treat it as a soft 404.
10. Are redirects bad for SEO?
If you work on the web, redirects come with the territory. As needs change, pages on our websites need to change with it, which is why redirects exist! Google understands this, and won’t penalize you for moving your URLs. That being said, be sure to follow best practices like the ones mentioned in this article to ensure a smooth transition to your new destinations.
Have questions about how Botify could help you with redirects? Drop us a line! We’d love to show you around.