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301 Redirects and Marketing URLs

What a great Friday. First, it’s a three day weekend, which always makes it a great Friday. Second, I am about to watch the Chargers shock the world on Sunday and defeat the Evil Empire that is the New England Patriots. I predict 27 – 24 Chargers. and Third, I am going to the NAMM show up in Anaheim where I will get a chance to play the best guitars in the world from Gibson, Fender, Martin, Taylor and too many other names to mention. There is nothing else like the NAMM show. Special thanks to my friends at Guitar Trader / Music Power for making it happen for me and the guys in Dive Bomber.

I just got back from San Francisco and I had the opportunity to meet with a couple of our enterprise level clients. It’s always fun to get out of the office and travel a little. It’s also fun to get an opportunity to explain SEO to a receptive audience. One of the challenges that my clients face is managing their marketing URLs. They have a number of vanity domains that are product specific or are part of a marketing campaign. Up until now, the company has used 302 redirects to direct those URLs to the appropriate sub pages on their site. The benefit there is that the Marketing URL, or MUrl for short, is what gets displayed in the organic search results. However, if one really looks at the situation and the difference in the way search engines treat a 302 redirect and a 301 redirect, it becomes apparent that the 302 is not the answer.

The biggest issue with 302 redirects is that they do not pass link connectivity metrics because they are temporary by definition. And so therefore, if Page A is redirecting to Page B with a 302 redirect, the links that point to Page A WILL NOT be assigned to Page B and vice versa.

In this situation, what was happening was that people were using the MUrl to navigate to Page A which then redirected them to the long URL string of Page B. So many Webmasters who then wanted to link to the content, copied the URL string from the Web Browser (the Page B URL) and linked to it. But because the MUrl (Page A) is the page that Google is using for its search results, those viral links to Page B, were not being taken into consideration by Google when it ranked Page A. The solution was to convert the 302 redirects to 301 redirects so that the pages would be consolidated into a single page in Google’s view. The only drawback was that the URLs that Google is now going to be indexing will be the long URL strings.

Example Page A (MUrl):

Example Page B:

The company can still use the MUrls for their print media and Internet marketing campaigns, but the Page B URLs are what will be listed in Google. And although the marketing department would prefer the shorter URL for obvious reasons, the trade off of consolidating links (this company is huge and gets a TON of viral links) is going to produce a much greater ROI than any benefit that having the MUrl show up in the search engine results would provide.

Two other notes. Due to technical limitations of the caching system and load balancing for this company’s servers, it is technically impossible to 301 Page B to Page A or we would have done that. There are a ton of technical hurdles that have to be worked through based on the hosting environment of the company. But these are the kinds of challenges that make working with these large companies so fun.

The other note I wanted to make was that since the Big Daddy update by Google, Google has gotten a lot better at solving 302 issues like these. In the case of our client, there were a few examples where is seemed that Google did in fact assign link connectivity factors to the MUrl (Page A). But there were also examples of where it did not. And so because Google is so inconsistent (and the other engines like Yahoo and MSN are much worse at getting this stuff right), its better not to take chances and just use a 301.

So the important point of today’s post (other than my prediction of the Chargers beating the Patriots), is that if you have any MUrls, or vanity domains for that matter, use 301 redirects instead of 302 redirects. Go Chargers!