What Is A 301 Or 302 Redirect?

Both forms of redirect send site users from one URL to another.

There is a simple difference between a 301 and 302 redirect: a 301 redirect indicates that a page has been permanently moved to a new location while a 302 redirect says that the page has moved to a new location, but that it is only temporary.

In this blog post I will cover the differences between 301 and 302 redirects further, so you will know which redirect is the right choice for you!

What Is A 301 Redirect?

A 301 redirect is a status code that tells search engines and users the page has permanently moved, and makes sure that they are sent to the correct page. Since this is permanent, when a 301 redirect is used it signifies that the content on the page has been moved forever. Users are redirected to a new page, which has since replaced the old one. The redirect typically helps change the URL of the page when it shows up in search engine results. If you’ve invested in building a website, or starting an online store, pay close attention to the impact this has on your website.

You should think of a 301 redirect like a Change of Address form that you would have to fill out with the Postal Service if you were to move to a new home. Just like your mail being rerouted from your old address to your new address, your web traffic is sent from your old URL to the new URL. Thankfully, you won’t lose all of your hard work building up your old site in search engine result pages (SERPs). All of your existing SEO value and link equity for the old URL is transferred to your new URL.

What Is A 302 Redirect?

Whereas a 301 redirect is a permanent relocation of your URL, a 302 redirect is a temporary change that redirects both users and search engines to the desired new location for a limited amount of time, until the redirect is removed. This 302 redirect may be shown as a 302 found (HTTP 1.1), or moved temporarily (HTTP 1.0). A 302 redirect is much easier to do, as it can be one using a meta tag or in Javascript, rather than requiring the webmaster to access server files and spend additional time creating a 301 redirect.

Using a 302 redirect when you should have used a 301 redirect becomes an issue when search engines try to determine which page is of more importance. It is likely that the search engine will only list one version of the page in its search engine results, meaning the wrong page could wind up being the one that gets indexed. This problem will compound over time as a chain of redirects builds upon older sites.

When Should You Use A 301 Redirect?

Anytime a webmaster mistakenly uses a 302 redirect when they should have used a 301 redirect, it can cause issues for the website. Since search engines react to each redirect differently, you need to make sure you’ve setup the right one before hand. Otherwise, the search engine may determine that one is a mistake, and stop sending traffic to the wrong page. There are several instances when it is better to use a 301 redirect, which is permanent.

When To Use A 301 Redirect
1) When you want to transfer a domain.
2) When links to any outdated URLs need to be sent to a new page. For example: if you are merging two websites.
3) You use several different URLs to access your site. You should select a single URL to be your preferred destination and use your 301 redirects to send traffic to your new website.
4) You have launched your site in a new CMS and your URL structure has changed.
5) You’re converting your site from an http to an https.

When a 301 redirect is setup, your new page shows up in search engine results with a 301 redirect. The 301 code tells search engines that you have moved your site permanently and all traffic should be redirected from your old content to the new. The search engines can then direct search engine ranking and value signals toward the new URL because it will understand this location to be your new, permanent home. Despite this being the better choice in the majority of scenarios, there are certain times where it would be a better option to use a 302 redirect.

When Should You Use A 302 Redirect?

Despite the fact that a 302 redirect does not distribute SEO, there are a few scenarios where it actually makes more sense to use it. This is a less common scenario, simply because you wouldn’t often temporarily move a webpage, but there are situations where it is deemed appropriate. An example of such a time would be in an e-commerce setting.

For instance, if you have a product that is no longer available for sale, such as an out of stock item, you can create a 302 redirect and send users to the category page of your web store instead. Since they can’t order the product at that time, it makes sense to show them similar products that are currently available. The 302 tells search engines that the website is just offline temporarily, and the value of the page should remain intact rather than passed on to another URL. Another reason webmasters may use a 302 redirect over a 301 is to avoid the Google aging delay (more on that below) that is associated with a 301 redirect. However, this can become an issue for Google, because it eventually has to consider whether or not the webmaster actually meant to use a 301 redirect. Google tries to make these decisions, because it wants to improve the end users search engine experience. Google also knows that webmasters have often used a 302 redirect when a 301 redirect was the more appropriate choice. This strategy can cause issues in not only the search engine ranking but also the continued indexing of the old URL and link popularity being split up between the old and new URLs.

Another scenario for a 302 redirect would be appropriate if you are conducting A/B testing for a page to test its functionality or design. This is actually a good practice to soft launch your website to see which version is more desirable or provides a better user experience. By using a 302 redirect, you can get client and user feedback on your new page without impacting your website ranking.

The Google Aging Delay

When you move a page or entire website to a new location, you want users to still be able to find your site. You then want to use a redirect to tell the user’s web browser to automatically forward them from the old location to the new one. While you would hope that this would be an instant process, and that Google or other search engines would follow the redirects right away, this sometimes isn’t the case. Moving a website can sometimes trigger what is known as a Google aging delay. If this occurs, the site will drop out of the search rankings for several months, even up to a year, which can be rather catastrophic for certain companies.

In Conclusion

As you can see above, although it might not seem like there is much difference between a 301 and 302 redirect from an end user standpoint, the differences are substantial for search engines. Make sure you understand the differences between these two redirects before implementing them so you can properly redirect visitors to the correct pages while also letting Google know exactly what it is you are wanting to do with that traffic.