Debate: The Necessity of the 301

On my personal blog, I have a little section called “David’s Dilemma.” I thought I’d bring my dilemma to the SEO.com blog. It’s a pretty simple concept, I ask a question, and you leave an awesome comment. Remember this only works if you leave a comment.

Ask the question

photo by Marco Bellucci on Flickr

Back Story

Last week, I wrote a post about quick and easy ways to see if a page was optimized. My second point was about checking for the 301 redirects of the non-www version of the site. It’s simple and in most cases it is one of the first things that an SEO would do to optimize a site, right? However, I was a little surprised about some of the comments I got: “The 301 redirect from the non-www to the www is actually not necessary in most cases these days.”

Now I know the engines are getting smarter and don’t need the 301s in place. But really, are we not even recommending it anymore? Hence the dilemma:

The Debate

Are 301 redirects of the non-www version of the site needed, or still considered best practice? If not, what do you recommend?

Different Idea

One of the commenter’s gave this idea:

“We are working in a linking environment where 301’s have been noted to pass no anchor text and possibly less link juice than believed. If you take this into account, you might see that automatically 301ing www/non-www URLs could reduce a site’s link juice over time.”

Instead, they recommend leaving out the 301s and implement the canonicals.

Let the Debate Begin

Ok, so now is the time for you to respond, and leave your mark on history ;-). Next week, I’ll mull over all that you have to say, and give my fully educated opinion on the subject.

Thanks in advance,
David

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17 Comments

  1. says

    I think 301s are a requirement of SEO, even in the non-www to www (or vice-versa) example.

    Nobody can tell us whether the canonical tag provides a full 100% passage of link juice either but it’s irrelevant. Getting users & robots both to the proper URL is critical.

    Canonical tags are my backup plan for the reasons @Kris already pointed out above; it helps would-be links know which is the proper address to use when linking.

  2. Rick says

    I agree with both @kris and at @Ash. many people are looking for the easy way out of things and in so doing may find their way onto unstable ground. I have found no evidence that 310 redirects hurt a website’s ranking and certainly have had experiences that, to me, point to the fact that they help. I need solid reasons and evidence to stop a best practice before I stop and as of yet I have not had either in the case of 301 redirects.

  3. Matt Siltala says

    In all of my tests, I have never had any evidence of ANYTHING that would make me want to stop using the 301s….that’s just plain silly talk for most normal sites. If they want to debate it, they can debate and I will continue to out rank them :-)

  4. Andy says

    A tad off topic, but I’m currently trying to set up a 301 redirect from non-www to www for my website, which is hosted on a Windows server. However, I’ve found that this is much more difficult than doing so for a site on a Linux server! Would be extremely appreciative if anyone could offer suggestions on how to do this.

  5. Jill Whalen says

    My comment in the original post was that Google, in nearly all cases, understands that the non-www version is the same as the www-version. Which you can check by looking at the cache for the non-www URL and seeing if Google says you’re looking at the cache for the www-version.

    In nearly every site I’ve checked lately, Google has it right which is cool.

    Doesn’t mean the other engines get it right. And it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use best practices. It simply means that if a site is NOT redirecting their non-www it doesn’t automatically mean they’re doing something wrong or it’s bad. It’s more likely that they have more important things to do that actually make a difference.

    My problem with this sort of recommendation when it may or may not be necessary is that it can be used to scare clients into thinking something’s wrong when it’s not. And it can also be used as a way to make money by the SEO when no money really needs to be spent by the client.

    I’d prefer to see SEOs spending their time making recommendations for things that will have a positive return on investment, especially if resources are tight.

    That said, it’s an easy fix for most developers. So no harm in just doing it.

  6. David Leonhardt says

    This is not something I had considered before, perhaps because I have yet to find a need to use the canonical tag. I still recommend 301ing the non-www version to the www version, and yes – this is pretty much one of the first things I do, too.

    That being said, I am a lot less worried about this, as the search engines have gotten smarter and seem to usually notice that the two versions are the same…but not always. I have over the past year seen a couple instances where Toolbar PageRank was different, depending on whether the www was included or not.

  7. Jill Whalen says

    I absolutely agree that 301’s pass all their link juice (unlike what certain search engineers might want you to believe).

    And I highly recommend them for switching URLs when it’s necessary to do so.

    But that’s a different discussion (I thought) than the www non-www issue.

  8. Sam McRoberts says

    Just last month I took on a client who did not have a non-www to www 301 in place, and they had pages from both versions indexed in Google, Yahoo and Bing. I put up the 301, problem solved, and their rankings most certainly haven’t suffered for it :)

  9. Jacob Stoops says

    To piggy-back off what Jill said, I think 301’s are absolutely necessary when choosing between a www and non-www version of a site in order to pass all link juice to one or the other. without them, you could potentially have 4 versions of your index page alone (which can’t be a good thing).

    In addition, when switching to a new URL and new URL structures, if you’re not mapping out your 301-redirects ahead of time – you’re essentially risking that you’ll launch your new website and create 404’s for all your old site pages.

    A couple other methods to help with this issue would be canonical tags, as well as editing your DNS file.

    Nice debate and great post :-)

  10. Kelly Hammer says

    301’s may not be as important as they once were, but they are still a necessary safety net. As far as not passing along the link juice – I haven’t seen evidence of that. But think of it this way – even if you get less link juice by using a 301, you may get even less by NOT using a 301. If you’re trying to rank for a www URL but your links are pointing to the non www URL – you’re really just splitting your link juice anyway. Maybe I’m wrong , but I think 301’s are only going to help.

  11. Jill Whalen says

    Kelly, that’s the point of contention. You’d be splitting your link juice if you don’t redirect the non-www to the www IF the search engines didn’t already know they were one and the same. But if they do, then there’s no link popularity split.

  12. Bill French says

    I tend to look at this issue from a brand perspective. http://WWW.anything is really kind of senseless – it corrupts the simplicity and value of a brand name and it’s entirely a legacy issue that has no meaning or purpose [today].

    The importance of a unified brand address on the Internet trumps slight losses or gains in “link juice” which may or may not even exist depending on the search infrastructure in question. Aligning all market references to a single URL that is anchored at its core by the brand name, has profound online and offline marketing benefits.

    As such, I think 301 redirects to the non-www domain is a key strategic success factor.

    • says

      Hi Bill, from an IT perspective, not having the www version could be a nightmare if you’re using cookies: http://twitter.com/codinghorror/statuses/1637428313

      Without that “www” subdomain, cookies will be submitted to any subdomains on your site. Thus, the www version is not wholly “senseless.”

      Besides that little IT hurdle, and as a marketer, I agree with you in having a simple domain name that brings clarity to the brand.

  13. john andrews says

    Might be a good idea for commenters (e.g. @Jill) to clarify if they are addressing the root URL only, or all URLs on the site.

    The discussion might be different if we limit it to root URL, than if it covers all URLs on the site(s)

  14. Andrea Pilotti says

    I agree that 301’s pass all their link juice and I highly recommend them for switching URLs when it’s necessary to do so.

  15. McGarrell Reilly says

    301 redirection is very useful especially when you got error urls on google, you have to fix it before leading users to 404 not found page.

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