At a Google Webmaster Tools hangout with Google’s John Mueller over the summer, we learned of some changes to how Google handles page redirects. This affects recommended SEO best practices for redirection … read on to learn the latest!
For many years, one of the strongest and most consistent recommendations we’ve made is to create a server-side, 301 redirect from old URLs to appropriate new URLs any time a page location changes. This often occurs during site redesigns, but may also be a recommended tactic to handle discontinued products or other removed content. With a 301 redirect in place, Google and other search engines would follow the redirect and replace the old URL with the new URL in its index.
This recommendation continues to hold true for one-to-one redirects from an old URL to the new URL. However, redirecting en masse from multiple old URLs to a single destination page may no longer carry the same authority transfer.
In a Google Webmaster Tools Hangout, webmaster evangelist & Googler John Mueller informed the participants that Google will now detect mass redirects and consider them a soft-404 instead of a 301 redirect. This effectively means Google will not transfer power from the old URLs to the destination URL. Although the desired effect is no longer accomplished by masse redirects, this action will not lead to any penalties on the site.
We recently had an experience of this when a client was unable to create one-for-one redirects to roughly a thousand pages when switching to a new CMS. Our “plan B” recommendation was to redirect these pages to a main category page so users could easily find the new page without much hassle.
Not long after our client implemented the mass redirects, we saw a warning from Google Webmaster Tools saying it had detected an “Increase in soft 404 errors.” When digging into the soft 404 Crawl Errors section in GWT, we could see these URLs listed which all had a 301 redirect to a single category page.
Note that Google suggests that this “creates a poor experience for searchers and search engines.” This may be the case for some instances of doing mass 301 redirects, but in our case, we considered it to be the best available option for the user experience. Since there is no penalty for mass redirects, they continue to be an option, on a case-by-case basis. However, passing SEO authority from a set of multiple URLs to a single destination page is no longer an option – at least on Google.