How to Know if a 301 Redirect Counts

Question: You recently mentioned 301 redirecting one of your sites. How do you tell if 301 redirects count?

Answer: This is very similar to testing if a link pointing at your website is passing link juice. Before 301 redirecting your site, find at least one navigational type search query that can be created out of the inbound anchor text of the site you are redirecting, which you would still expect to rank for even if you had no page content.

When the new site ranks well for that query you know the search engine is following your 301 redirect, though it might take a bit longer for the trust to propagate through the new website and get your contents fully indexed. As time passes you will see the new site replace the old site for more and more search queries. If it ever stops ranking you know there is a technical error with the redirect (such as accidentally writing over your .htaccess file) or they are no longer trusting or following the redirect.

If you are a large corporation or large Google advertiser then Google will go out of their way to work with you to ensure the redirect counts and the transfer is smooth. Here is an example post Matt Cutts made about helping migrate Microsoft Live Spaces:

By the way, it looks like the primary issue with the Windows Live Writer blog was the large-scale migration from to about a month ago. We saw so many urls suddenly showing up on that it triggered a flag in our system which requires more trust in individual urls in order for them to rank (this is despite the crawl guys trying to increase our hostload thresholds and taking similar measures to make the migration go smoothly for Spaces). We cleared that flag, and things look much better now.

If you are an SEO working on a smaller mom and pop type website and rank better than search engines feel you deserve to they may manually penalize your site. Some search engineers might decide to kill the redirect because they generally think of SEOs as being manipulative scum (even if they are unwilling to admit that publicly).

Having seen friends move many sites, the only 301 redirect penalties I have come across have been manual ones. From my experimentation Google is not very good at algorithmically detecting search relevancy manipulation based on 301 redirects, but they may flag and review some of the higher authority cross site 301 redirects.

If the site you are redirecting has anything shady going on with it, or if you are a well known SEO, make sure you do not discuss the redirect publicly or register your sites with Google Webmaster Central, otherwise Google might kill the redirect out of their distaste and hatred for the field of SEO. A better way to use the old trusted site might be just to try to make it look legitimate and use it as a link source for your more profitable websites.

If you are a smaller webmaster and still want to risk redirecting your site you want to have press pages, an about us page, and give lots of other signals that you are larger than you are, in order to help minimize the chances that a Google engineer will try to destroy your rankings.

Published: August 6, 2007 by Aaron Wall in Q & A


August 7, 2007 - 11:59am

Thank you for this, really useful post. I was sure Google counts my 301 so I never checked anything.

August 7, 2007 - 5:35pm

..Google hate us? :(

...Maybe that's why they tell us fibs all the time, heh.

August 7, 2007 - 9:51pm

That's very interesting - am I correct in assuming that this is in reference to the acquisition of a domain for purposes of leveraging that domain's age/history? Or if you were to rebrand a website?

I've redirected a few sites (meaning moved them to a new domain name) and not had any issues. That being said, none of those sites are or were registered with Google Webmaster Central.

August 8, 2007 - 1:08am

Hi Derek
I suppose it depends how they view it. For example, if Google views your re-brand as leveraging a domain and knows you are a well known SEO they might go out of their way to screw you.

Perception is reality, and in a market where the rules and guidelines are selectively enforced, successful people have to be aggressive to compete with white-listed companies that are older, richer, and have stronger brands.

August 8, 2007 - 3:59am

Thanks for the reply - I am fortunate to not have been adversely affected (I guess that's how I'll take this ;-)) In all seriousness, it's definitely valuable to expose some of the potential pitfalls and look at ways to avoid issue.

I wonder if Google would actually track/review the domain name history, in terms of evaluating site ownership etc, in coordination with this - and would imagine that it would depend on the competitive nature of the keyword space (thinking out loud).

August 8, 2007 - 4:31am


Something I've been wondering for a while related to this post is if I point other domains to my site to capture direct navigation traffic. Will that hurt the rankings of my main site?

Specific example here, I have an RPG game. I also have a couple of generic RPG domains that get a small amount of traffic - not indexed as they are parked right now. If I 301 (or DNS) those domains to the main site, could this be considered some kind of blackhat tactic by Google? Is there a way to do this "safely"?

August 8, 2007 - 6:22pm

Hi Aaron,

Kickass post! Many thanks.

Quick question if you have time: let's say I have a website and I haven't bothered to redirect my non-www version of the site to the www one. To make things more interesting, my web developers submitted my www url to Google as the "official" url for my site. I notice people linking to the non-www version and I'm thinking about redirecting it to the www version to get a boost of juice. I'm afraid to do this though, because a 301 means that a page has moved... and if Google thinks that a page it isn't supposed to index (non-www url) has moved to a new url (www version), my concern is that Google may assign the status of the redirecting url (non-www, "do not index") to the destination url (www version of our site). Are my fears reasonable, or should I 301 redirect with (relative) impunity?

August 8, 2007 - 8:09pm

I would go into the Google console and set my appropriate page priority first.

A month after I saw those pages ranking in the search results I would likely try to do a 301 redirect then.

August 8, 2007 - 8:43pm

You mentioned twice how much Google dislikes SEOs..Lately Ive been wondering something (b/c of your post about having titlem header and meta tags too closely aligned):

Maybe doing everything that could tell them you're an SEO is a bad idea: Not just getting too much of the similar anchor text, but also having your title and header tags, etc. look too perfect. Or using signature links in SEO forums to get your site indexed.

This theory might be strange, but Ive been wondering if maybe they could be applying filters for all sites that have signs of SEO, which they would not apply to sites that do not look SEOish - as a page that is obviously SEOd usually ranks higher than a site that is not (obviously) SEOd even if they're of the same quality.

I might be paranoid, but I'd try to use filters like that to distinguish between SEO'd sites and non-SEO'd sites.

(SEO is a great field for paranoid people like myself ;))

Jeff Martin
August 9, 2007 - 1:04am

I don't sit in the camp that thinks we search marketers (talking about the organic side here) and the engines are chummy old pals. From an organic perspective the engines have a right to not like us as an industry. Hell, we cant even agree to disagree amongst ourselves most of the time on issues. We, as an industry, present problems that the engines must spend hours to solve or try to regulate. Not necessarily because we are "being evil," but because we are being manipulative.

That being said, to this day I see sites rank, and rank very well, year after year that are obviously optimized. The kind of site when you land on any page you say..'oh yeah, they have an optimization plan" (and not because they stuffed the heck out of it). I see sites rank for competitive, generic (yet relevant) terms whose optimization practices fly in the face of what we have been told by the engines should work (but not spamish).

Based on my experiences I cannot say that I believe wholly that we are all marked men/women. However, I don't strive to learn such things so I'm open to SEO, er, strategic manipulation.

September 24, 2008 - 7:39am

can a 301 redirect help in case I have multiple domains and don't want to duplicate my content on different domains? What if I wish to put some content on all domains in the future?

September 24, 2008 - 8:06am

You can consolidate related domains with 301 redirects, and if you later want to detach the domains you can turn off one of the 301 redirects and publish content on that domain.

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