How Do 301 Redirects Work And When To Do Them

301 redirects

When changing webpage URLs, or eliminating pages from your website, it’s important to set up redirects so that your site doesn’t become a dead end for both search engine bots and users.

Some common types of redirects include:

  • 301, “Moved Permanently”—an SEO-recommended redirect
  • 302, “Moved Temporarily”
  • Meta Refresh —while it isn’t a recommended SEO technique, this type of page-level redirect is mostly associated with text stating, “If you are not redirected in five seconds, click here.”

What Is A 301 Redirect?

The 301 redirect indicates that a web page has been permanently moved to a new location. So when a user attempts to visit the old URL, the server sends back the 301 “permanently moved” status code, and redirects the user to the new URL.

301 is the HTTP status code of the redirected page.

When Do You Need 301 Redirects?

301 redirects should be used when a web page is no longer useful, relevant, or has been deleted.

Here are some other instances where 301 redirects are particularly useful:

Merging Sites

If you’ve merged two sites, make sure the outdated URLs are re-routed to the current and correct pages with 301 redirects.

Migrating To a New Domain

301 redirects should be used if you’ve moved your website to a new domain and want to ensure the transition is seamless for the users.

Migrating From HTTP to HTTPS

Google has openly admitted that it favors HTTPS over HTTP in search engine rankings. It slaps a security warning labeled “Not Secure” on sites that haven’t switched to HTTPS.

When migrating your site from HTTP to HTTPS, use 301 redirects to re-route the traffic to the secure version of your site. Check out this FAQ Google’s John Mueller posted in 2016 about migrating your site to HTTPS. Mueller also confirmed that 301 redirects no longer cause sites to lose PageRank when they migrate to HTTPS—which is a clear win-win!

Broken Pages

Broken pages and links return a 404 HTTP error code. Most users who encounter a 404 page get frustrated and hit the back button, which increases the site’s bounce-back rate and hurts its SEO ranking.

In some cases, 404 pages result from the user typing in a misspelled URL, which should be handled with a customized 404 page.

In other cases, URLs that come from other websites that point to your site, but return a 404, can hurt your organic traffic.

In both cases, you can set up 301 redirects to ensure the users are redirected to the correct resource.

However, detecting 404 pages is not always easy, so we recommend using website SEO audit tools like RankGenie. This SEO checker tool crawls your site’s on-page elements and helps you detect 404 error pages, zombie pages, unoptimized images, page load speed issues and much more.

Rebranding Sites

Rebranding a site often ends up in moved, deleted, or re-written content. For website owners that have spent years building backlinks and PageRank, 301 redirect is a great solution.

Implementing redirects enables you to keep your SEO and traffic intact while your URL reflects a new brand name. However, remember that any big changes on your website can have negative SEO effects, so you must take all the aspects of site migration into account.

Canonicalize Multiple URLs

Use 301 redirects if your site can be accessed via different URLs. For instance, if your home page can be accessed via the following three URLs:

  • https://www.example.com 
  • http://example.com/home
  • http://home.example.com

Pick one of the URLs, use it as the canonical (preferred) version, and implement 301 redirects to send the traffic from other URLs to the preferred one. This way, you can have multiple versions of the same site without harming your search engine ranking.

Check out our detailed blog on how URLs can impact SEO.

Cleaning Up Old URLs

Implementing redirects is a useful SEO practice during site rebuilds where you wish to change dynamic URLs into shorter, search-engine friendly versions.

Why Are 301 Redirects Important For SEO

Maintaining a Good User Experience

Since Google aims to provide the best site experience to its users, a missing resource on your website can translate into bad user experience and can potentially move you down the ranks in search results.

Removing Old URLs from the Search Engine’s Index

When search engine bots encounter 301 redirects during a website crawl, they remove the old URL from their index and replace it with the new one.

Implementing redirects allows search engines like Google to find the correct resource and keep their index up-to-date.

However, in the absence of a 301 redirect after a page is moved from a site, the bots are served a 404 “Not Found” error code. This can result in the web page being dropped from the index completely.

Maintain Link Equity

301 redirects ensure that any sites linking to the old page now pass the link value to the new URL. This way, even after redirecting a page, you’ll be able to keep most of your site’s link equity intact, and you won’t lose the reputation you built for your brand through content creation and link building.

Maintain Domain Authority

Associating all your pages to the same URL pattern (using 301 redirects) makes it easy for users to remember it, and builds your site’s authority in the process.

Plus, URL consistency plays a role in maintaining domain authority.

Problems with 301 Redirects

While 301 redirects are very useful, they can also be very risky, especially if you implement them incorrectly.

The most common mistake that webmasters make is redirecting all the old site pages to the new homepage’s URL (perhaps because it’s quicker).

Even if your goal is to rebuild the website and clean up old pages, make sure you spend time to ensure each old page is redirected to the existing, most relevant page.

Think about how badly it would affect user experience if you wanted to look up that blog everyone’s talking about, only to find it redirected to the site’s homepage!

Moreover, webmasters often end up creating redirect loops that affect indexability.

How to Implement 301 Redirects

The actual process of setting up 301 redirects varies depending on the platform and CMS. In this blog post, we’ll briefly go over common ways of implementing 301 redirects for your web pages.

Your site’s .htaccess file

For websites hosted on servers running Apache, your web developer will need to access the .htaccess file. This is your web server’s configuration file, which contains instructions on how the server responds to various requests.

So, for example, if the old page’s URL is:

https://www.examplehost.com/old.html

And the new URL you wish to redirect it to is:

https://www.examplehost.com/new

You will need to add the following code to the .htaccess file:

redirect 301 /old.html https://www.examplehost.com/new You can consult the Apache .htaccess Tutorial for more information.

WordPress plugin

WordPress comes with useful plug-ins, like Redirection, that eliminate the coding element in the redirect implementation and allow you to simply input the old and new URLs into two fields. This makes the whole process quicker and simpler and cuts the need for involving a web developer.

Fix Your Redirects With An Advanced Website Audit Tool Today!

RankGenie’s technical site audit tool picks out broken links and 404 imports with the click of a button. It presents them in a consolidated SEO analysis report along with areas that need improvement. This allows you to take action right away and harness the power of redirects to make your site more search-engine friendly.

With Rank Genie, you get an all-encompassing SEO tool that features a keyword rank tracker, backlink analyzer, and free SEO audit all in one! Start a 30 day free trial of Rank Genie today.

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