One of the benefits of working with a variety of clients who’s websites come through the door in a variety of states (of disarray) is that you get to see when the search engines do strange things. And by strange I mean really really obscure things that probably have a 1 in a trillion chance of happening while someone is actually monitor a website. Today is one of those days and it boils down to redirects.
Redirection issues are a very common problem faced by many websites. A redirect that returns a status code of 301 is the most search-friendly as it informs the crawlers of a permanent move of the pages. The other status code is a 302 redirect that is known as a temporary redirect and is not recognized as an optimal approach to handling redirection.
Google, for a long time, has said that it prefers the 301 redirect over the 302. However, today, I noticed Google finally “getting” a 302 redirect that a client had since March 2008 (like I said really obscure stuff). This 302 was setup well before our engagement had started with the client and getting the proper 301s in place has just not happened yet (even though advised, developer issues).
Currently, tracking of both the old and new URL was in place because the old URL was still in the SERPs. The appearance of the old URL is due to the fact that 302 temporary redirects are in place and not 301 permanent redirects.
In the most recent Google data the new URL had gained significant rankings for top keyphrases that it previously had not ranked for. Simultaneously, the old URL lost all of its top rankings for the same keyphrases that the new URL had just picked up. This was not a 1 to 1 swap there were 1 or 2 position differences in the rankings but it was clear as day that the new URL was ranking highly and the old URL had been dropped.
The 302s are still 302s and no other major architectural changes have taken place on the site. The only thing that has changed is time. It has been 22/23 months since the 302s had been setup. So, did Google upgrade the 302s to a faux 301 just because they have been around for so long?
Now, this isn’t the case that we start running around praising 302s as perfectly fine from an SEO standpoint. Stick with 301s as the quickest solution to informing the search engines of structural changes on a website (unless you don’t mind the nearly 2 year wait for you the proper URL to show up in the SERPs).