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The SEO war of redirects: 301 vs 302 vs meta-refresh tag

With this post, let's discuss the much talked about 301 vs 302 vs Meta-refresh tags to understand which one in the most ideal one to use from the Search Engine Optimization point of view and in which situation? First, let's have a look oni this small cartoon I've made for a general idea about redirects, then we will go into details so that the whole information is easy for you to digest :)
301 Redirects 301 redirect is undoubtedly the safest way to redirect a website as all Search Engines treat a '301 redirect' in same way ie. They simply pass all the link value, juice, ranking etc to the redirected page. A 301 redirect tells a search engine that the requested page has permanently been shifted to a different location so search engines simply ignore the original URL and index the destination URL foreg. If we 301 redirect a website that is about watches (let's say - awesome-watches.com) which is ranking for keyword 'wrist watches' to another website – cool-watches.com, the search engines will simply ignore awesome-watches.com and will index and rank cool-watches.com for the keyword 'wrist watches'. 301 redirect is also the most handy tool to handle canonical URLs.

The most common cases when we use 301 redirects are:

  • If the page is deleted or permanently moved.

  • You want a new top level domain for your website without damaging your link value and rankings. To serve either of the version of www vs non-www. This is done with a combination of 301 redirect and mod-rewrite.

  • Content duplication. For example you may 301 redirect www.yoursite.com/index.htm to www.yourwebsite.com

    If you have many topically relevant but outdated websites which your are not willing to maintain anymore, you may slowly redirecting the outdated websites to the most current website. But beware, if there are many websites, redirect them one by one slowly as otherwise you might end up getting flagged for being a spammer. Please take a note that At SMX, all the engineers from all the search engines made a statement that 301 redirect will not carry the full effect if the content of the redirecting website is topically not the same. We should avoid redirecting our website to a site which is topically irrelevant to our website. For e.g. if you are planning to redirect (301) your website about cars, then you should not redirect it to a website selling watches. An inappropriate redirect will not lead to any benefit to your website.

302 Redirects 302 redirect, also known as temporary redirect tell search engines that the content of the requested URL is temporarily available at a different URL location but will be soon restore to the original URL. So in case of a 301 redirect, the search engines will index the original URL, but they will extract the content content from the 301 redirected URL. This is the the most dicey redirect that you can use on your website as all the search engines tend to treat a 302 redirect differently with lots of exceptions to what they claim. Here is a link for any budding 302 hijacker :) Mattcutts has explained here with simple examples, how Google, MSN and yahoo handle a 302 redirect. You may consider using a 302 redirect within your website pages (ie. Onsite redirect), when you want to serve search engines a simple version of a URL and the content from a different page with a complex URL, since simple and short URL's look more click-enticing in the Search Engine result pages for eg www.yourwebsite.com can be 302 redirected to www.yourwebsite.com/userdata?user=12xc2?id=crap However you must never try a cross domain 302-redirect. MSN treats a 302 redirect exactly how it treats a 301 permanent redirect, that is, it will always ignore the original URL and instead index the destination URL. Same is the case with Yahoo, but yahoo reserves the right to make exceptions to this declaration (which they do at many occasions). You must be very careful as 302 redirects are often the default redirect in host control panels and JavaScript. Many meta redirects produce the same 302 redirect effect.

Meta-refresh Redirects Actually a meta-refresh is not a redirect but it is s simple instruction to the browser to refresh the page after a certain period of time (content in seconds, with or with out a new supplied URL instead of the current one). It is situated in the head of the HTML page and looks something like this: <meta http-equiv="refresh" content="0;url=https://www.anotherdomain.com/category/shoes.htm"> All search engines understand a meta-redirect but again, tend to react differently depending on the content figure. If the content time is 0 or 1 second, most search engines take it as a permanent 301 redierct; anything more than 1 is normally considered a 302 redirect. Use meta-refresh only if you your current hosting provider doesn't allow a 301, primarily because the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (7.4) discourage the creation of auto-refreshing pages, since most web browsers do not allow the user to disable or control the refresh rate and secondly Spammers use a meta-refresh to refresh the page after every 5 seconds to save themselves from any type of ranking punishment. I am sure you don't want to look like a spammer. If you want get into details here are some really useful threads on meta-refresh tags Javascript Redirects Don't use Javascript redirect as search engines simply don't understand it or tend to confuse it as a 302 redirect.

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