Google’s John Mueller says, in some cases, it’s possible to forward ranking signals from an old URL to a new URL without a 301 redirect.
This is mentioned during Mueller’s weekly Google SEO hangout recorded on June 4.
A site owner submits a question, noting that they’re working on a site that’s changed a number of URLs without adding 301 redirects right away.
They ask if there’s a time limit for implementing a 301 redirect before the absence of one starts to impact rankings.
When changing the URL of an existing page, it’s an SEO best practice to set up a redirect from the old URL to the new one so the ranking signals carry over.
This can help a page maintain its position in the SERPs with its new URL.
It turns out that site owners are not completely out of luck if they don’t set up redirects immediately, as Google is capable of forwarding signals on its own.
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Here’s Mueller’s full response.
Google’s John Mueller on Forwarding Ranking Signals
Mueller tells the site owner that Google can forward ranking signals without the assistance of a 301 redirect.
But, of course, it depends.
“It’s tricky because there is no specific time for this, especially because there are different variations of this kind of problem situation that you have here.
In particular if the old content still exists, and you’ve created a copy of that on a new URL, then in a case like that we will treat those two URLs as being part of the same cluster. And we’ll try to pick a canonical URL between those two URLs.
And it can happen that we switch over to your new URL for that. And if that’s the case, then essentially we will forward all of the signals from the old URL to the new URL automatically even without a redirect in place.
In that scenario, probably you will not see a big difference if, at some point later on, you add a redirect. The main difference you would see is that it would be a lot clearer for us that you want the new URLs to be indexed and not the old URLs.
So in that setup, probably you wouldn’t see a ranking change but probably you would see that we would switch over to the new URLs a little bit more consistently.”
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That may be reassuring to hear if you find yourself in a similar situation with your site, but there are a couple of ‘ifs’ to whether signals will be forwarded.
Based on Mueller’s response, it sounds like these conditions need to be met:
- If a URL is changed, but the content stays the same, then Google can forward the signals.
- If Google recognizes the new URL as the canonical version, then it can forward the signals.
On the other hand, if page’s content changes along with the URL, then it sounds less likely that Google will be able to forward the signals.
In addition, there’s always the chance that Google will see the old URL as canonical, in which case signals won’t be forwarded.
Always aim for setting up manual redirects rather than depending on Google. If they’re not set up right away, then it’s good to know Google may be able to forward signals on its own.
What if the old page is deleted? Can Google still forward signals?
Google can’t forward ranking signals if the source of those signals is removed from the web.
If you delete a page and republish the same content on a new URL, then you will have lost all its signals.
“In a situation where you delete the old URLs and just add the same content somewhere else on your website, then that’s something where we would essentially, in a first step, lose all of the information we would have about this page because suddenly it’s a 404.
And we would treat the new page as being something new and we would essentially say well there’s a new page here, and we would not have any connection between the old page and the new page.
That’s something where, at some point, we will drop the old page from our index and lose all of those signals. And if you wait too long and add a redirect much later, then those signals are already gone and that redirect is not going to forward anything anymore.
In that situation where you delete things and just move it somewhere else then probably after a certain period of time — I don’t know how long that would be, it depends on the website — you would not see any improvement from adding redirects.
And in a case like that it would, from my point of view, make sense to start adding redirects there just so that you’re sure that if there is any small value still associated with those URLs then at least that is still forwarded over.”
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Hear Mueller’s full response in the video below: