Google Warns Against “Sneaky Redirects” When Updating Content

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Google recently cautioned against employing certain redirects when updating outdated website content, advising against methods that might mislead users. This warning emerged in a recent installment of Google’s Search Off The Record podcast. In the episode, members of the Search Relations team, John Mueller and Lizzi Sassman, delved into tactics for addressing “content decay,” the gradual obsolescence of website content. Within their discussion, they highlighted the use of redirects when refreshing or replacing older content, but they also emphasized the importance of avoiding tactics that could be construed as deceptive.

When Rel=canonical Becomes “Sneaky”

The method that drew attention for its potential issues involves the improper utilization of rel=canonical tags. This concern surfaced during a discussion on linking content that is similar but not identical.

Sassman pointed out:

“… in such cases, I wish there was a way to connect these items, as it seems preferable to simply redirect them.

For instance, Daniel Weisberg from our team authored a blog post on troubleshooting traffic drops using Search Console. Subsequently, we expanded on this content to create documentation, enriching it with additional information. Our aim is for users to access and engage with the updated content, and ideally, for it to be discoverable in search results.

In my view, in cases like this, there’s little reason for users to seek out the older version, as it doesn’t serve as an announcement but rather offers best practice guidance.

Given this scenario, would implementing a rel=canonical approach be more appropriate?”

Mueller promptly voiced reservations regarding Sassman’s suggestion to employ the rel=canonical tag.

Mueller elaborated:

“The rel=canonical approach might be perceived as somewhat deceptive in this context since the content isn’t truly the same… they’re not interchangeable.

I’ve always viewed rel=canonical as a directive to search engines, indicating, ‘These are essentially identical, feel free to prioritize either one.’

In this scenario, it’s as if we’re saying, ‘Well, these are similar, but treat it as a redirect,’ which could lead to confusion because it contradicts the usual intent of rel=canonical.”

What To Do Instead

If you encounter a situation akin to Sassman’s, Mueller suggests following this protocol:

“I believe the best course of action is either to implement a redirect or refrain from redirecting altogether. It’s essentially a decision between indicating that the older page has been replaced or maintaining both versions.

The most effective method to link a page to a newer, more comprehensive one is through a redirect, rather than utilizing a rel=canonical tag.

Alternatively, if you perceive ongoing value in the older page, you may opt to keep both versions accessible.”

Why SEJ Cares

Incorrectly employing redirects or canonical tags may be interpreted as an effort to manipulate search rankings, contravening Google’s guidelines and potentially leading to penalties or a decline in visibility.

Adhering to Google’s recommendations helps maintain your site’s credibility and ensures that visitors can easily access the most pertinent content.

Original news from SearchEngineJournal