Using 301 redirects to tell search engines when a webpage has permanently moved to a new location is definitely an SEO best practice.
But can 301 redirects affect your organic search rankings?
Read on to learn whether there is any connection between 301 redirects and improved Google rankings.
The Claim: 301 Redirects are a Ranking Factor
What are 301 redirects?
A 301 redirect is a server-side redirection for a URL that has permanently changed.
You would use a 301 redirect for the following scenarios:
- You are going from HTTP to HTTPS.
- You are moving from an old domain to a new one.
- You are optimizing URL slugs for existing posts and pages.
- You are moving to a new website platform and your pages will change from https://domain.com/page.html to https://domain.com/page/.
Most of the discussion surrounding 301 redirects focuses on whether PageRank would transfer from the old URL to the new URL.
Or, if inbound links existed for the old URL, would they automatically be applied to the new URL?
The Evidence Against 301 Redirects as a Ranking Factor
Not much is officially said about 301 redirects as a ranking factor.
In 2012, Matt Cutts, then the head of Google’s Webspam Team, said that Google would follow an unlimited number of redirects from one page to another.
Google will even make multiple hops if a page is redirected to another page, and then redirected again and again. He noted that the Googlebot may stop following redirects after four to five hops.
In 2013, Cutts confirmed that a small percentage of PageRank is lost in 301 redirects. While some SEO professionals quote a loss of 15%, Cutts doesn’t say there is a specific percentage.
In 2016, Google’s John Mueller answered the question of whether 301 redirects pass PageRank in a post about moving from HTTP to HTTPS.
He reassured webmasters that:
“Fluctuations can happen with any bigger site change. We can’t make any guarantees, but our systems are usually good with HTTP -> HTTPS moves.”
“…for 301 or 30.2 redirects from HTTP to HTTPS, no PageRank is lost.”
In 2019, John further confirmed that HTTPS is a lightweight ranking factor when discussing how SSL affects a website’s search rankings. The redirection of a website from HTTP to HTTPS is the closest way 301 redirects are linked to ranking factors.
In 2020, Mueller discussed possible SEO implications of stringing multiple 301 redirects together. Redirects can negatively impact speed. Also of note: Google will only crawl up to five “hops” in a redirect chain.
And in 2021, Google updated its guide to redirects and Google Search in its Advanced SEO documentation. It confirmed that of all redirect types, 301 redirects are most likely to be crawled correctly.
Specifically, Google noted:
“…a server side redirect has the highest chance of being interpreted correctly by Google.”
Temporary HTTP and meta refreshes have the least chance of being processed correctly by Googlebots.
301 Redirects as a Ranking Factor: Our Verdict
The only time you may experience a boost as a result of using 301 redirects is when you go from HTTP to HTTPS.
In the case above it was HTTPS, not the 301 redirects, that was confirmed as a lightweight ranking factor.
When used properly, 301 redirects should have no impact on your website’s search rankings.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to Andy Beard for surfacing this 2016 tweet from Gary Illyes:
30x redirects don’t lose PageRank anymore.
— Gary 鯨理／경리 Illyes (@methode) July 26, 2016
And there you have it — 301 redirects don’t lose PageRank and aren’t a dampening factor, either. It doesn’t get any clearer than that.
Featured image: Paolo Bobita/Search Engine Journal