Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Short Case Study on Redirects: 301s vs. 302s

SkyHi @ Thursday, April 15, 2010

When I moved to this site a couple of months ago and redirected the old blog to this one, I experienced the joys and sorrows that we all do when we move sites. I was redirecting at several levels. From the .htaccess file of the old site, I was doing a site-wide redirect. From the .htaccess file of the new site, I was redirecting from the old URL pattern to the new one (and from the non-www version to the www version). Wordpress itself was also redirecting, for instance, from the version of the URL without the slash to the version with it. Within .htaccess, some redirects use RedirectMatch, others use Redirect, and others are really URL rewrites using mod_rewrite.

I also redirected my feed using .htaccess and Feedburner, and am still sorting out how (and if you really can) redirect and consolidate (even if you’re using MyBrand).

There’s a lot going on and I intentionally unleashed it using all kinds of variations to see what would happen. For you. Surely someone will send me a cookie.

The difference between 301s and 302s

I have a whole set of notes that I’m writing up on all the different redirection options and what the pitfalls are, but for now, I wanted to illustrate the difference between a 301 and a 302. I am asked this a lot (“does it really make a difference?). It can get confusing, because although search engines say to use a 301 when moving a site (or page), server software tends to use a 302 as the default when you implement a generic redirect (without specifying if it should be a 301 or 302).

Some of the redirects for my site move were initially implemented as 302s and others as 301s, so I could see how things worked in real time.

A 302 is a “temporary” redirect

Search engines tend to interpret a 302 as an instruction to index the old URL but the new content. It keeps the old URL because the server has said that the new one is only “temporary”. You can see that here with a Google search for my name. As you can see, the URL is for the old site, but the title and description in the search result are from the new one.

A 301 is a “permanent” redirect

Search engines interpret a 301as an instruction to replace the old URL with the new one. As you can see, once I changed the redirect to 301, the new URL showed up in the place of the old one.

The new URL is ranking in the same location for the query [vanessa] as the old URL was, which implies that the links and anchor text that pointed to the old URL are now being transferred to the new URL. In addition, you might notice that the URL I’m redirecting my old home page to ( has a toolbar PageRank of 6, while the home page of this site ( has a toolbar PageRank of 4, so at least in terms of visible toolbar PageRank, that credit is passed via the 301 as well.

Should you use a 301 or 302?

As you can see, for a permanent site (or page) move (and to consolidate duplicate pages), a 301 is the way to go, and you should check with the details of your implementation to make sure that your redirect really is happening via 301.