The Backstory – I never truly believed Google’s statements that 302 redirects no longer lose PageRank, a story that made quite the buzz back in the summer of 2016. Here is the tweet from Gary Illyes:
30x redirects don’t lose PageRank anymore.
— Gary “鯨理” Illyes (@methode) July 26, 2016
So, I decided to test it. What I discovered in the weeks ahead was not what I expected, nor what I was (secretly) hoping for.
Conducting the 302 Redirect Test
On August 31st, 2017, I decided to conduct a small experiment with my (mostly neglected) guitar gear blog, Six String Soul. Due to time constraints and monetization challenges, this site has become more of a “testing ground” in recent years. Years ago (2003) I created a directory of guitar gear manufacturers, and the directory already had a fair amount of organic search engine traffic coming to it.
All of the directory pages were nested under a single child page, so I could also change the URL structure rather easily (by simply changing the parent page slug) as well as implement a subdirectory-level 302 redirect in my .htaccess file. Thus, this test was easily feasible. It essentially launched in a matter of minutes.
What I didn’t realize (until the time of this writing) is that my redirect rule actually created a redirect chain.
# 302 SEO TEST RedirectMatch 302 /guitar-equipment/(.*)$ /guitar-gear/$1
One might think that this could lead to a decline in organic search traffic. Did it? Let’s find out.
Google Organic Search Traffic: 1 Week Before Implementing 302 Redirects
For perspective, exactly one week prior to launching the test, organic search traffic (from Google) to all URLs in the /guitar-equipment/ subdirectory was up ~15% over the previous week.
This growth was a bit higher than the entire month prior to the test’s launch. Organic search traffic from Google was up ~4% over the previous month.
Google Organic Search Traffic: 1 Week After Implementing 302 Redirects
We see that organic search traffic from Google continued increasing to URLs in the new /guitar-gear/ subdirectory. Organic search traffic increased another ~9% over the previous week.
Google Organic Search Traffic: 1 Month After Implementing 302 Redirects
Surprise! Organic search traffic from Google continued growing, and was now ~17% higher than the previous month (to URLs in the new /guitar-gear/ subdirectory). For clarity, I don’t think the 302 redirects were causing this growth, but they certainly didn’t appear to be causing a decline.
Google Organic Search Traffic: 3 Months After Implementing 302 Redirects
The growth slows, however, organic search traffic from Google was still up ~4% (to URLs in the new /guitar-gear/ subdirectory).
Indexation Trends with 302 Redirects
I took a screenshot of the new /guitar-gear/ subdirectory’s indexation in Google on September 8th. I wish that I would have done it sooner! Sorry. All 16 URLs in the new /guitar-gear/ subdirectory were indexed.
A little over three months later, the (old) /guitar-equipment/ subdirectory is out of Google’s search results (and out of the index from what I can tell). Again, I wish had taken a screenshot earlier, but I seem to remember this not taking very long. There was a time (perhaps for 1-2 weeks) when both subdirectories were indexed simultaneously, but the (old) /guitar-equipment/ subdirectory eventually fell out of Google’s search results (and likely, its index).
For full transparency, here are the omitted results. No real pages from the (old) /guitar-equipment/ subdirectory.
Common Questions & Takeaways
So what can we learn from this? Here are my takeaways in light of some common questions about 302 redirects.
- Can Google Index a 302 Redirect? Yes. Clearly, Google indexed all of the new destinations URLs resulting from the 302 redirect. This should be obvious in situations like my test, however, since Google can crawl and discover the new URLs on the site. What if the URLs had no internal or external links beyond the 302 redirect? That will require a new test.
- Does Google Penalize 302 Redirect? No, not that I’m aware of. Why would Google penalize a site for using a perfectly acceptable redirect directive?
- Should You Use 301 Redirect or 302 Redirect? I still suggest using 301 redirects for permanent redirects, and 302 redirects for redirects that are truly temporary.
- What About Redirect Chains? As mentioned, my test (unintentionally) included a redirect chain and there was no obvious loss in organic search traffic or indexation. This makes things a bit more interesting, as it also suggests that a single extra “hop” in a redirect sequence does not have a negative impact (at least not in the context of this test).
- Does a 302 Redirect pass PageRank as Google stated? See below.
The Verdict: Yes. 302 Redirects Pass PageRank
My conclusion is that what Gary Illyes and John Mueller stated (in the summer of 2016) is in-line with what I’m seeing. 302 redirects pass page rank. If they didn’t, then I would expect some level of (Google) organic search traffic decline (more as a result of external links than the site’s internal link graph, which did not change). The pages in the old /guitar-equipment/ subdirectory had built up links over the years, and Google had replaced this old subdirectory with the new /guitar-gear/ subdirectory in Google Search Console.
Does this not suggest that Google is applying the external link equity to the new subdirectory, regardless of the 302 redirect?
Change can be hard, and SEO consultants have been trained (over many years) that 302 redirects are “bad” and 301 redirects are “good” in situations where a URL address has permanently changed (such as in a site migration). Sometimes we see results in our SEO efforts that contradict what Google states, and are left wondering what to believe and what not to believe. But, in the case of 302 redirects passing PageRank, it seems apparent that Google’s statements are true.
What have you seen in your own tests and client scenarios?