Aren’t 301s, 302s, and Canonicals All Basically the Same? – Best of Whiteboard Friday

They say historical past repeats itself. In the case of the nice 301 vs 302 vs rel=canonical debate, it repeats itself about each three months. And in the case of this Whiteboard Friday, it repeats as soon as each two years as we revisit a nonetheless-related subject in web optimization and re-launch an episode that is extremely in style to today. Join Dr. Pete as he explains how bots and people expertise pages otherwise relying on which resolution you employ, why it issues, and how every selection could also be handled by Google.

Aren't 301s, 302s, and canonicals all basically the same?

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Video Transcription

Hey, Moz followers, it is Dr. Pete, your pleasant neighborhood advertising scientist right here at Moz, and I wish to speak at this time about a problem that comes up most likely about each three months since the starting of web optimization historical past. It’s a query that appears one thing like this: Aren’t 301s, 302s, and canonicals all principally the identical?

So if you happen to’re busy and you want the quick reply, it is, “No, they’re not.” But it’s your decision the extra nuanced method. This popped up once more a couple of week [month] in the past, as a result of John Mueller on the Webmaster Team at Google had posted about redirection for safe websites, and in it somebody had mentioned, “Oh, wait, 302s don’t pass PageRank.”

John mentioned, “No. That’s a myth. It’s incorrect that 302s don’t pass PR,” which is a really quick reply to a really lengthy, technical query. So SEOs, of course, jumped on that, and it changed into, “301s and 302s are the same, cats are dogs, cakes are pie, up is down.” We all did our freakout that occurs 4 instances a yr.

So I wish to get into why this can be a tough query, why these items are essential, why they are completely different, and why they’re completely different not simply from a technical web optimization perspective, however from the intent and why that issues.

I’ve talked to John a little bit bit. I am not going to place phrases in his mouth, however I feel 95% of this shall be authorized, and if you wish to ask him, that is okay afterwards too.

Why is that this such a tough query?

So let’s speak a little bit bit about traditional 301, 302. So a 301 redirect state of affairs is what we name a everlasting redirect. What we’re attempting to perform is one thing like this. We have an previous URL, URL A, and to illustrate for instance a pair years in the past Moz moved our total website from to That was a everlasting change, and so we needed to inform Google two issues and all bots and browsers:

  1. First of all, ship the individuals to the new URL, and, second,
  2. move all the indicators. All these fairness, PR, rating indicators, no matter you wish to name them, authority, that ought to go to the new web page as nicely.

So individuals and bots ought to each find yourself on this new web page.

A traditional 302 state of affairs is one thing like a one-day sale. So what we’re saying is for some purpose we’ve got this fundamental web page with the product. We cannot put the sale data on that web page. We want a brand new URL. Maybe it is our CMS, possibly it is a political factor, does not matter. So we wish to do a 302, a short lived redirect that claims, “Hey, you know what? All the signals, all the ranking signals, the PR, for Google’s sake keep the old page. That’s the main one. But send people to this other page just for a couple of days, and then we’re going to take that away.”

So these do two various things. One of these tells the bots, “Hey, this is the new home,” and the different one tells it, “Hey, stick around here. This is going to come back, but we want people to see the new thing.”

So I feel generally Google interprets our that means and can change issues round, and we get pissed off as a result of we go, “Why are they doing that? Why don’t they just listen to our signals?”

Why are these differentiations essential?

The downside is that this. In the actual world, we find yourself with issues like this, we’ve got web page W that 301s to web page T that 302s to web page F and web page F rel=canonicals again to web page W, and Google reads this and says, “W, T, F.” What will we do?

We despatched unhealthy indicators. We’ve completed one thing that simply does not make sense, and Google is pressured to interpret us, and that is a really tough factor. We do rather a lot of unusual issues. We’ll arrange 302s as a result of that is what’s in our CMS, that is what’s straightforward in an Apache rewrite file. We overlook to alter it to a 301. Our devs do not know the distinction, and so we find yourself with rather a lot of ambiguous conditions, rather a lot of blended indicators, and Google is attempting to assist us. Sometimes they do not assist us very nicely, however they only run into these issues rather a lot.

In this case, the bots do not know the place to go. The persons are going to finish up on that final web page, however the bots are going to have to decide on, and they’re most likely going to decide on badly as a result of our intent is not clear.

How are 301s, 302s, and rel=canonical completely different?

So there are a pair conditions I wish to cowl, as a result of I feel they’re pretty frequent and I wish to present that that is advanced. Google can interpret, however there are some causes and there’s some rhyme or purpose.

1. Long-term 302s could also be handled as 301s.

So the first one is that lengthy-time period 302s are most likely going to be handled as 301s. They do not make any sense. If you arrange a 302 and you permit it for six months, Google goes to take a look at that and say, “You know what? I think you meant this to be permanent and you made a mistake. We’re going to pass ranking signals, and we’re going to send people to page B.” I feel that typically is smart.

Some sorts of 302s simply do not make sense in any respect. So if you happen to’re migrating from non-safe to safe, from HTTP to HTTPS and you arrange a 302, that is a sign that does not fairly make sense. Why would you quickly migrate? This might be a everlasting selection, and so in that case, and that is really what John was addressing on this submit initially, in that case Google might be going to take a look at that and say, “You know what? I think you meant 301s here,” and they will move indicators to the safe model. We know they like that anyway, so they will make that selection for you.

If you are confused about the place the indicators are going, then have a look at the web page that is rating, as a result of generally the web page that Google chooses to rank is the one which’s getting the rating indicators. It’s the one which’s getting the PR and the authority.

So when you have a case like this, a 302, and you permit it up completely and you begin to see that Page B is the one which’s being listed and rating, then Page B might be the one which’s getting the rating indicators. So Google has interpreted this as a 301. If you permit a 302 up for six months and you see that Google continues to be taking individuals to Page A, then Page A might be the place the rating indicators are going.

So that may give you an indicator of what their resolution is. It’s a little bit laborious to reverse that. But if you happen to’ve left a 302 in place for six months, then I feel you must ask your self, “What was my intent? What am I trying to accomplish here?”

Part of the downside with that is that once we ask this query, “Aren’t 302s, 301s, canonicals all basically the same?” what we’re actually implying is, “Aren’t they the same for SEO?” I feel this can be a official however very harmful query, as a result of, sure, we have to know the way the indicators are handed and, sure, Google might move rating indicators via any of these items. But for individuals they’re very completely different, and that is essential.

2. Rel=canonical is for bots, not individuals.

So I wish to discuss rel=canonical briefly as a result of rel=canonical is a bit completely different. We have Page A and Page B once more, and we’ll canonical from Page A to Page B. What we’re principally saying with that is, “Look, I need you, the bots, to think about Page B to be the fundamental web page. You know, for some purpose I’ve to have these close to duplicates. I’ve to have these different copies. But that is the fundamental one. This is what I wish to rank. But I need individuals to remain on Page A.”

So that is solely completely different from a 301 the place I need individuals and bots to go to Page B. That’s completely different from a 302, the place I will attempt to hold the bots the place they’re, however ship individuals over right here.

So take it from a consumer perspective. I’ve had in Q&A all the time individuals say, “Well, I’ve heard that rel=canonical passes ranking signals. Which should I choose? Should I choose that or 301? What’s better for SEO?”

That’s true. We do assume it typically passes rating indicators, however for web optimization is a nasty query, as a result of these are utterly completely different consumer experiences, and both you are going to need individuals to remain on Page A or you are going to need individuals to go to Page B.

Why this issues, each for bots and for individuals

So I simply need you to bear in mind, if you have a look at these three issues, it is true that 302s can move PR. But if you happen to’re in a state of affairs the place you need a everlasting redirect, you need individuals to go to Page B, you need bots to go to Page B, you need Page B to rank, use the proper sign. Don’t confuse Google. They might make unhealthy selections. Some of your 302s could also be handled as 301s. It does not make them the identical, and a rel=canonical is a really, very completely different state of affairs that basically leaves individuals behind and sends bots forward.

So take into accout what your use case really is, take into accout what your objectives are, and do not get over-targeted on the rating indicators themselves or the web optimization makes use of as a result of all off these three issues have completely different functions.

So I hope that is smart. If you’ve any questions or feedback otherwise you’ve seen something bizarre really occur on Google, please tell us and I will be pleased to handle that. And till then, we’ll see you subsequent week.

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