How many 301 redirects are too many?

When dealing with websites and preserving SEO, there may come a time where you may have to perform one of the following actions:

  • Migrate a website to a new platform
  • Redesign or re-brand a website
  • Change a website url or architecture
  • Migrate to a new domain name

Website 301 Redirects and Canonical IssuesFor any of the listed options mentioned above, each creates an opportunity for negative SEO impact that can lead to the following:

  • Losing existing page and domain authority
  • Losing any relevant link juice per page or website
  • Damaging or destroying search rankings

To guard against causing any sort of negative SEO impact, the use of 301 or 302 redirects becomes a very viable option for website owners.

Today, we’ll focus on the use of 301 redirects, but before we discuss 301 redirects, we’ll briefly discuss redirects in general and their use.  

First and foremost, the use of 301 redirects does not hurt SEO efforts and rankings when used in accordance with search engine policies.

Why 302 redirects are a temporary fix

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let’s discuss 302 redirects first.  302 redirects are temporary redirects.  302 redirects are used when you want to temporarily redirect website traffic to a page or domain.

Although there are corner case uses for when to use a 302 redirect, a good 302 example could be if you were having maintenance performed on your website and wanted to redirect users to a secondary website on a different domain until the primary domain was back online.  Again, this is a corner case use.

Another corner case for a 302 redirect would be using a shorter domain name to refer to a longer link.  Let’s say you hosted material or content on one website, but then used a 302 redirect for another domain name to be redirected to a longer link as shown below.

  • SummerBaseball.com redirecting to http://baseball.leaguecity.com/juniors/summer/page.php?123&q=form&sdid=7

Although this is a corner case, it could happen for those that use pay-per-click (PPC) ads or those wanting to use a short and memorable domain name for advertising purposes.

Again, this is a corner case for most website owners and is only seen as a temporary fix.

301 redirects are permanent and not temporary

Many have mistakenly confused both 301 and 302 redirects, and how and when to use either.

It’s best to keep in mind that if you are making permanent changes or handling website canonicalization issues, then it’s always best as a general rule of thumb to use 301 redirects.

301 redirects are popularly used to indicate to search engines that an old link can now be found at a new link.

For instance, you have a page at http://www.example.com/abc.html and you rename the link to http://www.example.com/training-services.html.

So that search ranking and link juice value possessed by abc.html is not lost, it’s best to generate a 301 redirect abc.html to inform search engines to use training-services.html as the permanent home of the new url.

By using a 301 redirect, SEO favor and link juice is passed from the old page to new page.  By not using a 301 redirect when changing an old url to a new url, then all search value and rankings associated with the old url are lost.

Too, not using a 301 redirect would spawn a 404 error for the old url when visited by those using the old url as a link.

In addition, the new url would start with no search value and have to build value over time.  All previous SEO efforts to build the old url’s search value is lost not using 301 redirects.

Why 301 redirects can be a slippery slope to negative SEO

Just because you can use 301 redirects does not mean for you to daisy chain 301 redirects together, hoping to boost search rankings in the short term.  You never want more than 4 consecutive 301 redirects used for any given website domain.

How might this happen and why would anyone want to do such a thing, right?  Well, inadvertently, I’ve experienced websites where 3 or 4 different generations of websites have been 301 redirected to the next.

There is typically no problem for search engines to follow and index 1 to 3 301 redirects.  But going beyond 4 can be confusing to search engines, and quite damaging to one’s short and long term SEO efforts.

I’ve experienced potential customers contacting me panicked because their website’s search rankings we’re destroyed, whether knowingly or unknowingly, by a spaghetti of 301 redirects meant to manipulate search engines.

Their 301 redirects were purposely meant to destroy search rankings, because their urls were stuffed with keywords and consecutively 301 redirected to the next until they achieve optimal search rankings.

In addition, I’ve seen people try to game search engines using 301 redirects for expired domain names with high search visibility, and great page and domain authority values.

Essentially, website owners purchase industry-specific expiring domain names with a substantial backlink profile and redirect the domains to their primary website.

It was previously thought that doing this would boost search engine rankings and SEO value because of the clout that the 301 redirected domain had built up over time.

However, today search engines have nixed and watch closely for those who abuse 301 redirects using expired domain names as a way to manipulate search rankings for websites.

In short, don’t think that using 301 redirects is the trick to boost search rankings both short and long term.  You will be sadly mistaken and pay a great penalty for such deceptive behavior.

A personal reflection on the use of 301 and 302 redirects

As it relates to the use of 301 redirects, I personally prefer to not changing urls when one doesn’t have too.

Typically, I use 301 redirects to change non search-friendly urls into search friendly urls, preserving the SEO value of the old and forwarding it to the new search-friendly url.

Too, I also recognize the SEO importance and need for effectively using 301 redirects when addressing unorganized and convoluted web architecture.

That said, it’s always best to keep the number of consecutive 301 redirects to a maximum of 3 when using them.

If you’re on an Apache web hosting using Unix or Linux, be sure to keep your .htaccess file limited in the use of consecutive 301 redirects.  Do same for Windows web hosting environments using the web.config file.

For more information on the use of .htaccess and web.config, and their role in 301 and 302 redirects, I invite you to read my book, A Practical Guide To Effective SEO.

In closing, I hope this post gives you insight for how to effectively use 301 and 302 redirects to preserve SEO rankings for your website.

Alvin Brown
Alvin is a serial entrepreneur and digital strategist with an avid love for domain name consulting. As the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of DNAdverts.com, his job is to make sure you don't suffer the consequences of common domain name pitfalls.

As a domain investor and business consultant, Alvin actively participates in daily domain auctions. Outside of auctions, he passionately shares his views, opinions, and vision for how businesses should and should not use domain names to generate greater customer growth and revenue.