Archive for July, 2019

PostHeaderIcon Aren’t 301s, 302s, and Canonicals All Basically the Same? – Best of Whiteboard Friday



Posted by Dr-Pete

They say history repeats itself. In the case of the great 301 vs 302 vs rel=canonical debate, it repeats itself about every three months. And in the case of this Whiteboard Friday, it repeats once every two years as we revisit a still-relevant topic in SEO and re-release an episode that’s highly popular to this day. Join Dr. Pete as he explains how bots and humans experience pages differently depending on which solution you use, why it matters, and how each choice may be treated by Google.

Aren't 301s, 302s, and canonicals all basically the same?

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Video Transcription

Hey, Moz fans, it’s Dr. Pete, your friendly neighborhood marketing scientist here at Moz, and I want to talk today about an issue that comes up probably about every three months since the beginning of SEO history. It’s a question that looks something like this: Aren’t 301s, 302s, and canonicals all basically the same?

So if you’re busy and you need the short answer, it’s, “No, they’re not.” But you may want the more nuanced approach. This popped up again about a week [month] ago, because John Mueller on the Webmaster Team at Google had posted about redirection for secure sites, and in it someone had said, “Oh, wait, 302s don’t pass PageRank.”

John said, “No. That’s a myth. It’s incorrect that 302s don’t pass PR,” which is a very short answer to a very long, technical question. So SEOs, of course, jumped on that, and it turned into, “301s and 302s are the same, cats are dogs, cakes are pie, up is down.” We all did our freakout that happens four times a year.

So I want to get into why this is a difficult question, why these things are important, why they are different, and why they’re different not just from a technical SEO perspective, but from the intent and why that matters.

I’ve talked to John a little bit. I’m not going to put words in his mouth, but I think 95% of this will be approved, and if you want to ask him, that’s okay afterwards too.

Why is this such a difficult question?

So let’s talk a little bit about classic 301, 302. So a 301 redirect situation is what we call a permanent redirect. What we’re trying to accomplish is something like this. We have an old URL, URL A, and let’s say for example a couple years ago Moz moved our entire site from seomoz.org to moz.com. That was a permanent change, and so we wanted to tell Google two things and all bots and browsers:

  1. First of all, send the people to the new URL, and, second,
  2. pass all the signals. All these equity, PR, ranking signals, whatever you want to call them, authority, that should go to the new page as well.

So people and bots should both end up on this new page.

A classic 302 situation is something like a one-day sale. So what we’re saying is for some reason we have this main page with the product. We can’t put the sale information on that page. We need a new URL. Maybe it’s our CMS, maybe it’s a political thing, doesn’t matter. So we want to do a 302, a temporary redirect that says, “Hey, you know what? All the signals, all the ranking signals, the PR, for Google’s sake keep the old page. That’s the main one. But send people to this other page just for a couple of days, and then we’re going to take that away.”

So these do two different things. One of these tells the bots, “Hey, this is the new home,” and the other one tells it, “Hey, stick around here. This is going to come back, but we want people to see the new thing.”

So I think sometimes Google interprets our meaning and can change things around, and we get frustrated because we go, “Why are they doing that? Why don’t they just listen to our signals?”

Why are these differentiations important?

The problem is this. In the real world, we end up with things like this, we have page W that 301s to page T that 302s to page F and page F rel=canonicals back to page W, and Google reads this and says, “W, T, F.” What do we do?

We sent bad signals. We’ve done something that just doesn’t make sense, and Google is forced to interpret us, and that’s a very difficult thing. We do a lot of strange things. We’ll set up 302s because that’s what’s in our CMS, that’s what’s easy in an Apache rewrite file. We forget to change it to a 301. Our devs don’t know the difference, and so we end up with a lot of ambiguous situations, a lot of mixed signals, and Google is trying to help us. Sometimes they don’t help us very well, but they just run into these problems a lot.

In this case, the bots have no idea where to go. The people are going to end up on that last page, but the bots are going to have to choose, and they’re probably going to choose badly because our intent isn’t clear.

How are 301s, 302s, and rel=canonical different?

So there are a couple situations I want to cover, because I think they’re fairly common and I want to show that this is complex. Google can interpret, but there are some reasons and there’s some rhyme or reason.

1. Long-term 302s may be treated as 301s.

So the first one is that long-term 302s are probably going to be treated as 301s. They don’t make any sense. If you set up a 302 and you leave it for six months, Google is going to look at that and say, “You know what? I think you meant this to be permanent and you made a mistake. We’re going to pass ranking signals, and we’re going to send people to page B.” I think that generally makes sense.

Some types of 302s just don’t make sense at all. So if you’re migrating from non-secure to secure, from HTTP to HTTPS and you set up a 302, that’s a signal that doesn’t quite make sense. Why would you temporarily migrate? This is probably a permanent choice, and so in that case, and this is actually what John was addressing in this post originally, in that case Google is probably going to look at that and say, “You know what? I think you meant 301s here,” and they’re going to pass signals to the secure version. We know they prefer that anyway, so they’re going to make that choice for you.

If you’re confused about where the signals are going, then look at the page that’s ranking, because in most cases the page that Google chooses to rank is the one that’s getting the ranking signals. It’s the one that’s getting the PR and the authority.

So if you have a case like this, a 302, and you leave it up permanently and you start to see that Page B is the one that’s being indexed and ranking, then Page B is probably the one that’s getting the ranking signals. So Google has interpreted this as a 301. If you leave a 302 up for six months and you see that Google is still taking people to Page A, then Page A is probably where the ranking signals are going.

So that can give you an indicator of what their decision is. It’s a little hard to reverse that. But if you’ve left a 302 in place for six months, then I think you have to ask yourself, “What was my intent? What am I trying to accomplish here?”

Part of the problem with this is that when we ask this question, “Aren’t 302s, 301s, canonicals all basically the same?” what we’re really implying is, “Aren’t they the same for SEO?” I think this is a legitimate but very dangerous question, because, yes, we need to know how the signals are passed and, yes, Google may pass ranking signals through any of these things. But for people they’re very different, and this is important.

2. Rel=canonical is for bots, not people.

So I want to talk about rel=canonical briefly because rel=canonical is a bit different. We have Page A and Page B again, and we’re going to canonical from Page A to Page B. What we’re basically saying with this is, “Look, I want you, the bots, to consider Page B to be the main page. You know, for some reason I have to have these near duplicates. I have to have these other copies. But this is the main one. This is what I want to rank. But I want people to stay on Page A.”

So this is entirely different from a 301 where I want people and bots to go to Page B. That’s different from a 302, where I’m going to try to keep the bots where they are, but send people over here.

So take it from a user perspective. I have had in Q&A all the time people say, “Well, I’ve heard that rel=canonical passes ranking signals. Which should I choose? Should I choose that or 301? What’s better for SEO?”

That’s true. We do think it generally passes ranking signals, but for SEO is a bad question, because these are completely different user experiences, and either you’re going to want people to stay on Page A or you’re going to want people to go to Page B.

Why this matters, both for bots and for people

So I just want you to keep in mind, when you look at these three things, it’s true that 302s can pass PR. But if you’re in a situation where you want a permanent redirect, you want people to go to Page B, you want bots to go to Page B, you want Page B to rank, use the right signal. Don’t confuse Google. They may make bad choices. Some of your 302s may be treated as 301s. It doesn’t make them the same, and a rel=canonical is a very, very different situation that essentially leaves people behind and sends bots ahead.

So keep in mind what your use case actually is, keep in mind what your goals are, and don’t get over-focused on the ranking signals themselves or the SEO uses because all off these three things have different purposes.

So I hope that makes sense. If you have any questions or comments or you’ve seen anything weird actually happen on Google, please let us know and I’ll be happy to address that. And until then, we’ll see you next week.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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PostHeaderIcon New Things I’ve Learned About Google Review Likes



Posted by MiriamEllis

Last time I counted, there were upwards of 35 components to a single Google Business Profile (GBP). Hotel panels, in and of themselves, are enough to make one squeal, but even on a more “typical” GPB, it’s easy to overlook some low-lying features. Often, you may simply ignore them until life makes you engage.

A few weeks ago, a local SEO came to me with a curious real-life anecdote, in which a client was pressuring the agency to have all their staff hit the “like” button on all of the brand’s positive Google reviews. Presumably, the client felt this would help their business in some manner. More on the nitty-gritty of this scenario later, but at first, it made me face that I’d set this whole GBP feature to one side of my brain as not terribly important.

Fast forward a bit, and I’ve now spent a couple of days looking more closely at the review like button, its uses, abuses, and industry opinions about it. I’ve done a very small study, conducted a poll, and spoken to three different Google reps. Now, I’m ready to share what I’ve learned with you.

Wait, what is the “like” button?

Crash course: Rolled out in 2016, this simple function allows anyone logged into a Google account to thumbs-up any review they like. There is no opposite thumbs-down function. From the same account, you can only thumb up a single review once. Hitting the button twice simply reverses the “liking” action. Google doesn’t prevent anyone from hitting the button, including owners of the business being reviewed.

At a glance, do Google review likes influence anything?

My teammate, Kameron Jenkins, and I plugged 20 totally random local businesses into a spreadsheet, with 60 total reviews being highlighted on the front interface of the GBP. Google highlights just three reviews on the GBP and I wanted to know two things:

  1. How many businesses out of twenty had a liked review anywhere in their corpus
  2. Did the presence of likes appear to be impacting which reviews Google was highlighting on the front of the GBP?

The study was very small, and should certainly be expanded on, but here’s what I saw:

60 percent of the brands had earned at least one like somewhere in their review corpus.

15 percent of the time, Google highlighted only reviews with zero likes, even when a business had liked reviews elsewhere in its corpus. But, 85 percent of the time, if a business had some likes, at least one liked review was making it to the front of the GBP.

At a glance, I’d say it looks like a brand’s liked reviews may have an advantage when it comes to which sentiment Google highlights. This can be either a positive or negative scenario, depending on whether the reviews that get thumbed up on your listing are your positive or negative reviews.

And that leads us to…

Google’s guidelines for the use of the review likes function

But don’t get too excited, because it turns out, no such guidelines exist. Though it’s been three years since Google debuted this potentially-influential feature, I’ve confirmed with them that nothing has actually been published about what you should and shouldn’t do with this capability. If that seems like an open invitation to spam, I hear you!

So, since there were no official rules, I had to hunt for the next best thing. I was thinking about that SEO agency with the client wanting to pay them to thumb up reviews when I decided to take a Twitter poll. I asked my followers:

Unsurprisingly, given the lack of guidelines, 15 percent of 111 respondents had no idea whether it would be fishy to employ staff or markers to thumb up brand reviews. The dominant 53 percent felt it would be totally fine, but a staunch 32 percent called it spam. The latter group added additional thoughts like these:

I want to thank Tess Voecks, Gyi Tsakalakis, and everyone else for taking the poll. And I think the disagreement in it is especially interesting when we look at what happens next.

After polling the industry, I contacted three forms of Google support: phone, chat, and Twitter. If you found it curious that SEOs might disagree about whether or not paying for review likes is spam, I’m sorry to tell you that Google’s own staff doesn’t have brand-wide consensus on this either. In three parts:

1. The Google phone rep was initially unfamiliar with what the like button is. I explained it to her. First, I asked if it was okay for the business owner to hit the like button on the brand’s reviews, she confirmed that it’s fine to do that. This didn’t surprise me. But, when I asked the question about paying people to take such actions, she replied (I paraphrase):

“If a review is being liked by people apart from the owner, it’s not considered as spam.”

“What if the business owner is paying people, like staff or marketers, to like their reviews,” I asked.

“No, it’s not considered spam.”

“Not even then?”

“No,” she said.

2. Next, here’s a screenshot of my chat with a Google rep:

The final response actually amused me (i.e. yeah, go ahead and do that if you want to, but I wouldn’t do it if I were you).

3. Finally, I spoke with Google’s Twitter support, which I always find helpful:

To sum up, we had one Google rep tell is it would be fine and dandy to pay people to thumb up reviews (uh-oh!), but the other two warned against doing this. We’ll go with majority rule here and try to cobble together our own guidelines, in the absence of public ones.

My guidelines for use of the review likes function

Going forward with what we’ve learned, here’s what I would recommend:

  1. As a business owner, if you receive a review you appreciate, definitely go ahead and thumb it up. It may have some influence on what makes it to the highly-visible “front” of your Google Business Profile, and, even if not, it’s a way of saying “thank you” to the customer when you’re also writing your owner response. So, a nice review comes in, respond with thanks and hit the like button. End of story.
  2. Don’t tell anyone in your employ to thumb up your brand’s reviews. That means staff, marketers, and dependents to whom you pay allowance. Two-thirds of Google reps agree this would be spam, and 32 percent of respondents to my poll got it right about this. Buying likes is almost as sad a strategy as buying reviews. You could get caught and damage the very reputation you are hoping to build. It’s just not worth the risk.
  3. While we’re on the subject, avoid the temptation to thumbs-up your competitors’ negative reviews in hopes of getting them to surface on GBPs. Let’s just not go there. I didn’t ask Google specifically about this, but can’t you just see some unscrupulous party deciding this is clever?
  4. If you suspect someone is artificially inflating review likes on positive or negative reviews, the Twitter Google rep suggests flagging the review. So, this is a step you can take, though my confidence in Google taking action on such measures is not high. But, you could try.

How big of a priority should review likes be for local brands?

In the grand scheme of things, I’d put this low on the scale of local search marketing initiatives. As I mentioned, I’d given only a passing glance at this function over the past few years until I was confronted with the fact that people were trying to spam their way to purchased glory with it.

If reputation is a major focus for your brand (and it should be!) I’d invest more resources into creating excellent in-store experiences, review acquisition and management, and sentiment analysis than I would in worrying too much about those little thumbs. But, if you have some time to spare on a deep rep dive, it could be interesting to see if you can analyze why some types of your brand’s reviews get likes and if there’s anything you can do to build on that. I can also see showing positive reviewers that you reward their nice feedback with likes, if for no other reason than a sign of engagement.

What’s your take? Do you know anything about review likes that I should know? Please, share in the comments, and you know what I’ll do if you share a good tip? I’ll thumb up your reply!

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