One of the most significant challenges of SEO marketing is the limited knowledge SEO experts have about the way search engines like Google and Bing work. This lack of knowledge is understandable since bad actors would attempt to take advantage of search engines if they knew exactly how the algorithms work. Unfortunately, this situation also means that a lot of SEO knowledge is based on theory and best guesses, which are sometimes wrong or outdated. Recent comments from Google had cast doubt on the usefulness of 301 redirects for building SEO.
To explain briefly, a 301 redirect is a website code that tells servers that a particular page on a website has been moved to a different location. Using this code has multiple benefits. Its primary advantage is that if someone visits the old link, they will automatically be redirected to the correct page. Similarly, it lets the search engine bots know when pages have been moved so that the search index can be updated.
Besides the benefits listed above, many experts believed that 301 redirects could be used in a variety of ways to give websites an SEO boost, to bypass a Google penalty or to immediately get a page to rank.
For an SEO boost, many believe that when you use a 301 redirect, the new URL gets all of the SEO benefits of the previous URL. This meant that if a webpage with millions of views were moved to a new URL, it wouldn’t be starting from scratch on the search engine. For getting around a Google penalty, some SEO marketers would move penalized content to a new link. It was thought this allowed the new URL to take all of the benefits of the old link but with none of the disadvantages. Some SEO experts assumed it was possible to instantly make a page rank better by creating a link with viral content, then replacing the redirecting those links to a product page once the campaign was over in an attempt to boost the SEO for that product page.
While all of these tactics sound believable, the truth is that Google doesn’t work that way. A recent discussion on Reddit suggests that Google was aware of these tactics and didn’t allow it to influence results. In the post, someone described a common 301 redirect SEO tactic and asked if it was a white hat or black hat SEO strategy, to which Google’s John Mueller replied, “The 301 basically makes the main site canonical, meaning the links go directly there — you might as well skip the detour, it’s just as obvious to the algorithms & spam team.”
To be fair, Mueller’s statement on Reddit isn’t Google gospel, so there’s a chance that 301 redirects do work as SEO experts have thought. The underlying point Mueller makes is hard to ignore. Google isn’t so stupid to not notice what people are doing with 301 redirects. Even if they don’t penalize sites that try to abuse redirects (yet), they are almost certainly taking efforts to prevent these tactics from influencing search results.
A good question to ask is, “Why have these beliefs about 301 redirects persisted?” The answer may be that people think it works and it doesn’t hurt anything in the process. It’s like when people tap on a can that’s been shaken before opening it. There’s no scientific reason why tapping the can will affect anything. However, it seems to help because in the time spent tapping or arguing with friends about the usefulness of the action gives the contents of the can time to settle. Similarly, any SEO benefits from 301 redirects were going to happen anyway.
This situation is a reminder to website owners that there are no shortcuts when it comes to devising a good SEO strategy. You will need to publish high-quality, engaging content about your subject matter if you want your site to rank well with Google.
For more information that can help you improve your digital marketing, read this article on new customization options for items on Google Shopping.