301 vs. 302 Redirects for SEO: the differences & when to use them?

301 vs 302 redirects

You’ve probably heard of HTTP redirects, but do you know the difference between 301 and 302 redirects?

Do you know when to use them and how they affect your SEO?

If not, you’re missing out on a crucial aspect of web development and optimization.

HTTP redirects are a way of telling web browsers and search engines that a web page has moved to a different location. They’re essential for web development and SEO because they help maintain the consistency and usability of a website, as well as its ranking and authority.

But how do you know which redirect to use and when? How do you implement them correctly and avoid common pitfalls? How do you measure their impact on your website performance and SEO?

In this article, we will answer all of these questions and more. We will explain the differences between 301 and 302 redirects in detail and show you how to use them effectively. We will also share some tips and best practices for using redirects wisely and avoiding common mistakes.

Let’s get started!

Why Do You Need HTTP Redirects?

HTTP redirects work by sending a response code and a new URL to the browser or search engine, which then follows the new URL to access the desired content. There are many scenarios where HTTP redirects are used, such as:

  • Moving to a new domain: If you change your website’s domain name, you can use redirects to point the old domain to the new one, so that visitors and search engines can find your website easily.
  • Changing the URL structure: If you redesign your website’s URL structure, you can use redirects to map the old URLs to the new ones, so that existing links and bookmarks don’t break.
  • Fixing broken links: If a web page is deleted or renamed, you can use redirects to direct visitors and search engines to an alternative page, such as a home page or a custom 404 page.
  • Implementing URL shortening or tracking: Redirects are useful for implementing URL shortening (or for tracking), because they allow you to use a shorter and more memorable URL which redirects to the original, longer URL. 

Two Major Redirect types

Not all redirects are created equal. There are two main types of HTTP redirects: 301 and 302. They have different meanings and implications for your website and SEO.

HTTP 301 Redirect

This is a permanent redirect that tells the browser and the search engine that the requested page has moved to a new location permanently. The browser and the search engine will update their records and cache to reflect the new URL.

This redirect is used when you want to change your domain name, URL structure, or web page content permanently. For example, if you want to move your site from example.com to example.net, you can use a 301 redirect to point all of the pages from the old domain to the new one.

HTTP 302 Redirect

A 302 redirect is a temporary redirect that signals that the original URL is still valid, but has been temporarily moved to a new location for some reason. A 302 redirect might result in a slightly slower user experience, as it requires an additional request for the server to retrieve the new page.

A 302 redirect also usually shows a notice or message to the user, informing them that they are being redirected to a different page. However, a 302 redirect also means that the user can still access the original URL later, which may be useful or desirable if they want to return to it, or compare it with the new page.

301 vs 302: The Impact on SEO

A 301 redirect passes the full link equity (ranking power) of the old URL to the new URL, which means that the new URL can benefit from the backlinks and authority of the old URL. A 301 redirect is recommended for SEO when you want to permanently change the URL of a page or site, such as when you:

  • Migrate to a new domain
  • Switch from HTTP to HTTPS
  • Fix non-www/www duplicate content issues

It’s essential to be mindful of the fact that whilst a 301 redirect will pass the link equity and page rank of the old page to the new one, this means that the old page will completely lose any ranking or link equity it had previously. If you’re only looking to update a web page, and to bring it back once you’ve done so, you don’t want to use a 301 redirect as you’ll permanently lose all ranking power that page previously gained.

On the other hand, A 302 redirect is a temporary redirect that tells search engines that the original URL is still valid, but has been temporarily moved to a new URL. A 302 redirect does not pass the full link equity of the old URL to the new URL, which means that the new URL doesn’t inherit the backlinks and authority of the old URL.

A 302 redirect also doesn’t tell search engines to update their records or index the new URL, which means that the old URL may still appear in the search results. A 302 redirect is recommended for SEO when you want to temporarily change the URL of a page or site, such as when you want to:

  • Redirect users to the right version of the site for them (based on location/language)
  • Perform A/B testing or load balancing
  • Run a promotion or campaign
  • Handle errors or broken links

Creating HTTP redirects on WordPress

There are different methods and tools for creating and managing redirects in WordPress, such as editing the .htaccess file, using plugins or modules, or using online services. Here are a few approaches.

Editing the .htaccess File

The .htaccess file is a configuration file that controls the behavior of your WordPress site at the server level. You can edit this file to add redirect rules using the RewriteEngine and RewriteRule directives.

For example, to redirect an old URL to a new one, you can add this code to your .htaccess file:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteRule ^oldurl$ /newurl [R=301,L]

This code will redirect any requests for oldurl to newurl with a 301 status code, which means a permanent redirection. (The L flag indicates that this is the last rule and no further rules should be processed.)

To edit the .htaccess file, you can use an FTP client such as FileZilla, or the File Manager in your hosting control panel. You can also use a plugin such as Yoast SEO or Rank Math to edit the .htaccess file from within your WordPress dashboard.

Using Plugins or Modules

There are many plugins and modules that can help you create and manage redirects in WordPress.

  • ClickWhale: This plugin is a great suite of tools for marketers – with everything from redirects and link shortening through to link pages. It’s quickly becoming the go-to way to manage links in WordPress.

Using Online Services

There are also some online services that can help you create and manage redirects for your WordPress site. Some of these include:

  • EasyRedir: This service allows you to create and manage redirects for your domain names. You can create simple or advanced redirects, monitor traffic and performance, and integrate with other services such as Google Analytics.
  • redirection.io: This service allows you to check the status and details of any redirect. You can enter the URL and see the redirect type, destination, response code, and headers.

Things to Keep in Mind

Moving redirects is a common task for webmasters who want to change their domain name, URL structure, or web page content. However, if done incorrectly, it can cause problems for both users and search engines, such as broken links, duplicate content, or loss of ranking.

Here are some things to consider before implementing 301 and 302 redirects:

  1. Plan your redirect strategy: Decide which pages you want to redirect, where you want to redirect them, and which type of redirect you want to use. You can use a spreadsheet to map out your old and new URLs and the redirect type (301 or 302).
  2. Back up your site: Before making any changes to your site, make sure you have a backup of your files and database. 
  3. Avoid redirect loops: These occur when one URL redirects to another URL that redirects back to the original URL. This will cause an infinite loop that will prevent users from accessing your site and will waste server resources.
  4. Avoid broken links: These occur when a URL redirects to a nonexistent or inaccessible page. This will cause a 404 error that will frustrate users and harm your SEO.
  5. Test your redirects before implementing them on your live site. You can use tools such as Redirect Checker or Chrome DevTools to verify that your redirects work as expected and don’t cause any errors or issues.

Don’t let your old links linger – use 301s when you should.

Using a 301 redirect when you should is essential to signal to both users and search engines when website content has permanently moved (or changed location).

Make sure to keep your redirects up-to-date to avoid building up a messy online presence and journey for users & website visitors over the years.