tedster - 8:22 pm on Mar 14, 2010 (gmt 0)
For quite a while now, I've been cautious about using 301 redirects instead of fixing the core issue - whether it's getting legacy backlinks changed or fixing website infrastructure problems. This advice was based on several things - avoiding chains of redirects, for example, or introducing a potential trust issue because 301s have been a spam tool so often. But mostly, it seems to me that some PR is lost in a 301.
Eric Enge just published a new interview with Matt Cutts that confirms this idea.
Eric Enge: Let's say you move from one domain to another and you write yourself a nice little statement that basically instructs the search engine and, any user agent on how to remap from one domain to the other. In a scenario like this, is there some loss in PageRank that can take place simply because the user who originally implemented a link to the site didn't link to it on the new domain?
Matt Cutts: That's a good question, and I am not 100 percent sure about the answer. I can certainly see how there could be some loss of PageRank. I am not 100 percent sure whether the crawling and indexing team has implemented that sort of natural PageRank decay, so I will have to go and check on that specific case. (Note: in a follow on email, Matt confirmed that this is in fact the case. There is some loss of PR through a 301). [my emphasis]
I wouldn't say that means never use a 301 - it is one of the useful tools in our toolkit. But it does mean don't throw 301 redirects around like confetti. Do get legacy backlinks changed when a domain changes. And it's better to fix a server infrastructure issue directly, whenever you can, instead of just doing a patch job.