Chained 301 redirects should be avoided for SEO, but Google will follow 2 or 3 stacked redirects

When a page moves it is recommended to use a 301 redirect from the old to new page to tell search engines to index the new result. This will also tell search engines to remove the old page from their index and pass any search value to the new URL (although this may not be all the old search value).

This post outlines what Google and Bing thinks about chained redirects. In some cases they can’t be avoided – so I’ve taken a look at what you should you do in this instance. Read Google’s moving your site Webmaster Tools Help guide for more general information.

For those with little time here is the takeaway from the post:

  • Remember that ideally you shouldn’t have any stacked redirects or even a single redirect if you can help it, but if required Google will follow chained redirects
  • But every additional redirect will make it more likely that Google won’t follow the redirects and pass PageRank
  • For Google keep it to two and at a maximum three redirects if you have to
  • Bing may not support chained redirects at all

Read on for more info.

What is a 301 redirect?
Like it’s cousin the 302 redirect, a 301 redirect is a 3xx redirect status code used to indicate that a page at a specific URL has moved. The image below courtesy of Elliance does a good job of explaining this further.

How many redirects I can chain together?
I’ve deeplinked into one of Matt Cutt’s Google Webmaster Central guides to the part where he discusses this exact question.

The key points were as follows:

  1. Best practice for 301 redirects is to only have one redirect (one hop)
  2. But Google does follow chained redirects (if absolutely necessary)
  3. That said, at some point Google will “get dizzy” and stop following the directs. The odds are close to zero that Google will follow four, five or more chained redirects
  4. Recommendation if you have to use chain redirects is have two redirects, maximum three

What about Bing?
Unfortunately it appears that Bing is not quite so fond of chained redirects. Below is a recent quote I found.

As a closing thought, be sure not to stack redirects.  Doing so almost ensures we won’t pass the value through to the end.

Source: Bing Webmaster Center Blog

Obviously this is not ideal, but I guess this doesn’t change the recommendation because I’m not saying chained redirects should be used, it’s only when you are forced to by a system such as a CMS that there isn’t an alternative.

Why would you have to have chained or multiple 301 redirects to get to a page?
Good question. Websites, blogs, content management systems etc. can be complicated. Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid chain redirects, for example what happens if you create a short URL for a page and that page subsequently changes. It’s not always possible to change the short URL redirect to the new URL, equalling a chained 301 redirect.

This is just another reason why the number 1 rule of good URL design is to not change a URL once it is created. But unfortunately as in life we have to be prepared for the unexpected.

301 redirects and site speed
It’s also worth noting that minimizing redirects can improve page speed. Every additional redirect adds additional waiting time for users so webmasters should always only use a chained 301 redirect when absolutely necessary (and still only two or maximum three). The same is true for a single 301 redirect, avoid them whenever you can and avoid causing them too. For example always use the correct URL when linking internally and not a redirecting URL.

In Summary
Don’t use stacked 301 redirects unless there is no other choice. When you have to work with whoever you have to work with to ensure that it’s only two and an absolute maximum of three chained redirects.

What do you think?

  • Have you run into problems with 301 redirects?
  • Does any one have any additional insight into how Bing handles multiple 301 redirects?
  • What about Yandex, Naver and Baaidu?
  • Any other tips when it comes to dealing with this problem?

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3 Responses to Chained 301 redirects should be avoided for SEO, but Google will follow 2 or 3 stacked redirects

  1. kevin blumer says:

    Ive just done a redirect i am Gunnar see how long it takes Google to catch up its a pain but i had to redirect it because i was renaming directory and it was getting very cluttered i have also done it for a bit of a test for my biggest blog since that has a page rank of 3 it will be quite painfull to lose that.

  2. Very interesting article! The main trouble with 301 redirects is that no one remembers or knows that the page they want to redirect already has a 301 or 302 redirect in place. Fortunately usually creating a 301 redirect for 302 redirect doesn’t work and it is easy to identify, but if the client wants a 301 redirect for a certain url we may create chained redirects by accident. Occasionally this is intentional, so thank you for the justifications to explain why it should be avoided!

  3. Dana Tan says:

    Great post James. I have a question. I work on a very large E-commerce site [14,000 plus pages]. Our IT director says that our 301-redirect file is a problem because it is too large and is affecting site speed. He thinks that when Google encounters a 301-redirect, it must crawl the entire re-direct file to find the appropriate corresponding URL and that the larger this file gets, the slower it’s going to go. Is this true? If so, what is the best way to handle a site that has thousands of 301 redirects?

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