After working in the digital marketing space for a number of years, I have come to realize that every once in a while, certain debates come up and they’re never resolved. One of these debates revolves around this question “Are 301s, 302s and rel-canonicals basically the same?
The short answer is, “No, they are not.”
Read on for a longer more nuanced answer.
What are the differences between redirects and canonicals?
Despite being debated and explained almost every year since the advent of SEO, this question still remains relevant. To understand the differences between redirects and canonicals, you first need to understand that bots and humans experience web pages differently.
So what’s the difference between 301 and 302 redirects?
Let’s start with a brief explanation of 301 redirects. A 301 redirect situation is a permanent redirect. For instance, let’s say that one of my clients wants to change things up online and decides to move their site from one domain to another. This is a permanent change and they want to inform Google, all bots and browsers about a couple of things:
- To send all site visitors to the new URL
- To pass all signals- Page Ranking, etc. to the new page as well.
In this instance, both bots and people end up on the new page.
Now a 302 redirect is different. For starters, this is a temporary solution and is best compared to a one-day sale. Using my clients as an example, say one of them wants a different page created for sale information and for some reason, they don’t want the information on their main pages. So we create a new page and a 302 redirect to the new URL. This tells Google to still retain the old page but to send traffic, visitors, etc. to the new one for a short while.
Keep Search Engines In Mind, Make Their Life Easy
Trouble, however, comes in when we send bad signals and mess stuff up, forcing Google to interpret things for us. This might happen if developers don’t know the difference between 301s and 302s or if we leave a 302 redirect for a long time and forget to change it back to a 301. Google might try to help out in such situations but sometimes we end up with more problems as bots don’t know where to go or where to send traffic.
Also, remember that long-term 302s might eventually end up being treated as 301s as Google figures leaving them up for too long means you wanted them there permanently. Additionally, if you migrate from HTTP to HTTPS, setting up a 302 redirect makes no sense. This is most likely a permanent migration and search engines treat it as such.
In order to appreciate the difference between redirects, you should know what your goals are, i.e. what do you hope to accomplish, then use the correct one.
To know how to differentiate redirects and how to use the right ones on your site, reach out to me for a consultation and let’s work together to make your business successful.