Search Engine Optimization

Redirects and SEO: A Non-Technical Guide

redirects and seo

Updated on August 12, 2019

What are redirects? What do redirects and SEO have to do with each other? We’ll go over the various types of redirects, which one is best for SEO, and how to create and test your redirects.

What is a Redirect?

A redirect is when one page URL forwards the visitor to a different page URL. A redirect can be in place because the original page is no longer available and there is a different relevant page that the visitor will likely be interested in.

A redirect can solve a 404 error page. If the page no longer exists, instead of giving the visitor an error page, redirect them to a relevant existing page.

Types of Redirects

301

The 301 redirect means that the page has been permanently removed. It means the original page is gone forever, and instead you should view this other page.

302

The 302 redirect means that the page has been temporarily moved. This type of redirect is not as common as a 301 redirect. With a 302 redirect you are telling search engines that you only have this in place short-term. This type of redirect can be used to perform a test.

Meta Refresh

A meta refresh is a type of redirect that is controlled on the page instead of on the server. This type of redirect is slower and you will often see a message that says “You will be redirected to…”.

Which Type of Redirect is Best for SEO?

For SEO purposes you want to use 301 redirects. A 301 redirect actually passes link equity from the original page to the new page.

Google has stated that both 301 and 302 redirects can pass link equity. However, it can take longer for a 302 since it has to first be determined that it is being used permanently instead of temporarily.

When Do You Add a Redirect?

When a Page Has Been Removed

If you remove a page and you have a different relevant page on your site you can add a redirect. The key here is relevance. You don’t want to add a redirect if the new page is not a good replacement for the missing page.

If a page is removed and there isn’t a good replacement page it’s okay to leave it as a 404 error page. Or, you can change it to a 410 page to show that it has been intentionally removed.

To Streamline URL Entry

Another scenario where a redirect could be beneficial is to confirm your website visitors are accessing the preferred URL. If you have a secure site using SSL and your domain can be accessed via https, make sure the http version redirects.

Similarly, you should redirect the www subdomain to the non-www subdomain or vice versa. Either way is fine, just choose a preference for your site and stick to it.

How to Add a Redirect

Understanding how redirects are implemented at least from a high-level perspective is beneficial. We’ll try and describe the different methods that can be used but not dig into every detail.

.htaccess File

If you have an Apache server (which you probably do unless your website uses ASP.NET) you can add redirects in your .htaccess file. This file should be found in the root directory of your web server.

If you don’t have the file already, all you need to do is make a blank file in a text editor such as Notepad and name it .htaccess. Make sure it doesn’t add the .txt file extension when you save it.

To add a redirect just add a line to the .htaccess file like this:

Redirect 301 /old-page.html /new-page.html

Configure Through Web Host

Depending on who your hosting provider is they may allow you to add a redirect through their system. Sometimes the hosts will have an interface that allows you to enter in old URLs and choose the type of redirect and the new URL you’d like to send the traffic to.

Add Redirects in WordPress

If you have a WordPress site there are plugins you can download to make the process as simple as possible. I’d recommend using the Redirection plugin.

The Redirection plugin allows you to manually add in redirects through a simple to use interface. It also has an option to monitor changes to post and page URLs. When a URL changes, it automatically adds a redirect from the old URL to the new URL. This is a very convenient feature because it saves you from having to worry about it.

Test Your Redirects

Fix Redirect Chains

A redirect chain is when an internal link on your website directs to an old URL that is now redirected to a new URL. This is fairly harmless but it can increase load time. It’s better for search engine spiders and users to clean up your URLs when you notice a redirect chain.

To find them, you can use Screaming Frog. Screaming Frog is a downloadable desktop tool that can scan your website to help uncover technical website details. It’s free for up to 500 URLs.

To determine if you have redirect chains that need to be fixed:

  1. Run a Screaming Frog scan on your website.
  2. Under the first Internal tab change the filter dropdown to HTML.
  3. Click the column header to sort by Status Code.
  4. If any 301 redirects appear in the list it’s because a page somewhere on your site is linking to it and causing a redirect chain. Click on a row to get more details.
  5. At the very bottom click the tab called Inlinks. This will list the pages on your website that link to this old URL.
  6. Go through and update the links on your website where necessary.

Fix Protocol Errors (http vs https)

Another common redirect problem you want to test for is when you link to the wrong version of the web page. This is similar to a redirect chain. It isn’t a real problem but it isn’t a great experience for the user so it should be fixed.

To identify protocol errors:

  1. Run a Screaming Frog scan on your website.
  2. Under the first Internal tab click the column header to sort by Address.
  3. If any URLs are using the wrong protocol on your website they should now be grouped together at the top. Click on a row to get more details.
  4. At the very bottom click the tab called Inlinks. This will list the pages on your website that link to this old URL.
  5. Go through and update the links on your website where necessary.

Redirects can be very helpful when you’re trying to keep your website organized and easy to navigate. However, implementing them in a manner that causes no issues could sometimes be tricky. Just remember to keep the user in mind and do what creates the best user experience and you’ll be in a good situation.

Do you have any SEO related redirect tips? Let us know in the comments!

About the Author

Jennifer Rogina has been a digital marketing specialist since 2008. During those years she has focused on Pay Per Click Advertising, Search Engine Optimization, and Conversion Rate Optimization.

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