Whenever you move a page, you have two options: a 301 or a 302 redirect.
(Okay, yes, there are 303 and 307 redirects, but they're rarely used in practice since not all browsers understand them.)
So, the question is, which one do you use?
The answer is typically pretty straightforward. You should almost always use a 301 redirect. A 302 redirect does not pass any link authority to the new page (at least not reliably); it's all lost on the defunct page.
But is there ever a case where a 302 is actually the right choice?
That's what I'm going to talk about today.
But First, What if a 301 isn't an Option to Begin With?
Sometimes a 301 redirect isn't possible, because, for whatever reason, you don't have access to the .htaccess file. If this is the case, and there's no convenient way around it, a 302 is your only practical option.
Under those circumstances, is there anything you can do to preserve the SEO value of the page?
For starters, you can understand that, according to Matt Cutts, a 301 redirect is treated exactly like a link by Google, at least when it comes to PageRank.
So, if you want to preserve as much of your SEO value as possible, you should make three important changes to the content on your site.
- Don't just set up a 302 from the old page to the new page. Set up a link as well.
- Remove all other links on the page (since the number of links on the page reduces their individual value).
- Make sure that any internal links that pointed to the old page now point to the new page.
This way, Google will either crawl the link, which will pass the same amount of authority as a 301 redirect, or it will understand that you are using a 302 in place of a 301, and treat it as a 301 redirect. Either way, the results should be close to identical.
When You Should Use a 302 Redirect
So, it turns out you can use a 302 and get the same results as you would with a 301, as long as you approach it correctly. That doesn't mean you should.
However, there actually are some cases where a 302 is the right choice. Here's why.
The intended purpose of a 302 redirect is to say that a page has been temporarily moved. And there are some circumstances where you might want to temporarily move a page:
- There is some kind of time sensitive event related to the content of the page, and the page needs a total (but temporary) revamp coinciding with that event.
- You might want to pull an April Fools joke.
- Perhaps you want to completely revamp a page for the Holidays, but you plan to change it back afterward.
Whatever the reason, you want to make a big change to a page, and you want to do it temporarily. The problem with just changing the content on the page itself is that sudden changes like these can actually hurt your rankings. It happens all the time.
Instead of making a dramatic change to your content that could hurt your rankings, you can use a 302 redirect.
But be careful.
If Google misinterprets your 302, and believes that you actually intend to do a permanent redirect, then the old page won't rank anymore, and the new one will take it's place (only with less authority and ranking potential). Removing the redirect should resolve this issue, but not necessarily as quickly as you might hope, and their could be residual effects even after the redirect is removed.
In order to prevent this from happening, be sure to take these steps:
- Do not use a 301 redirect. Use a 302.
- Don't link from the main page to the temporary page. Just redirect it.
- Point a rel=canonical tag from the temporary page to the main page.
<link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/the-main-page.html" />
- Use the meta robots content="noindex" tag to tell search engines not to index the temporary page:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex">
This should encourage the search engines to continue to index and rank the main page, not the temporary one. Users who visit the main page will be redirected to the temporary one for as long as the 302 redirect is in place.
Image credit: xerezh