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Technology Google Search

Google changes how it deals with redirects

By Stephen Kenwright | head of search

August 1, 2016 | 5 min read

The obvious place to start this week would have been how bullish I am on Facebook’s chances in search; but since Rebecca Stewart beat me to it – and most of what I want to add is conjecture – let’s go with something more immediate:

Google tops BrandZTM 2016

Google seemingly has completely changed how it deals with redirects.

30x redirects supposedly pass PageRank

Backing up a previous claim by frequently unreliable webmaster trends analyst John Mueller, generally reliable trends analyst Gary Illyes tweeted that “30x redirects don’t lose PageRank anymore” – something that certainly goes against conventional wisdom.

In a hangout on Google+ John Mueller was asked by Dawn Anderson whether the time it takes for Google to process redirects and pass signals like PageRank is why the SEO industry generally doesn’t believe these claims. Mueller responded:

“Any time you do a bigger change on your website, if you redirect a lot of URLs, if you go from one domain to another, if you change your site structure, then all of that does take time for things to settle down.”

There are several points to make about Illyes and Mueller’s claims.

Firstly, the “30x” in Illyes’ tweet is potentially confusing because maybe 301 (permanent) redirects pass PageRank and maybe they don’t. The general feeling is that they pass such a large percentage of the signals that going through a redirect is considered fine in the right circumstances.

302 (temporary) redirects do not pass PageRank and I’m yet to see any hard evidence to the contrary, even though I’ve seen a lot of issues caused by 302 redirects first hand.

In the chart below, for example, an e-commerce website has used a 302 redirect to move its homepage during September, causing a significant loss in visibility over a period of weeks (and therefore traffic and revenue). Changing the 302 redirect to a 301 meant the redirect was understood immediately and the site recovered overnight.

search metrics

…and the same thing happened in this example, where a brand put an entirely new version of its website live without redirects before uploading a new redirect map and recovering immediately. Tidying up broken redirects

search metrics 2

The second point on this is a general concern that businesses may feel that they are now able to migrate their website without due diligence and basically turn off their traffic overnight. Case in point would be Hulu’s high profile changes recently:

Regardless of what Google is saying right now, migrating to a new website – or changing URLs significantly (such as moving from HTTP to HTTPS) – without implementing 301 redirects is suicide. Google treats irrelevant redirects as soft 404s On the other end of the scale (in that it seems to be accurate) is a claim from John Mueller in a separate hangout that redirecting pages (such as expired and out of stock products on ecommerce websites) to other pages that aren’t relevant will cause these redirects to be considered soft 404s instead of redirects at all. This means that:

  • Redirecting anything to your homepage is almost never a good idea.
  • Redirecting expired products up a level to the category page may work as long as you have similar products.
  • Redirecting pages should always be done on a one-to-one basis if you can (but you knew that, see above).
  • You should check your Google Search Console profile for soft 404 errors.

Mueller’s claim was serendipitously backed up by Glenn Gabe a few days later and it leaves some brands with some big decisions to make when it comes to how they deal with out of stock products. Stephen Kenwright is director of search at Branded3. You can follow him on Twitter @stekenwright.

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