The 301 Redirect – Avoiding SEO Suicide

Topics: SEO

Do you utilize the Web to capture new business? If so, it’s likely you frequently update your site to better your customer’s experience. As you do, be aware of its implications—both good and bad. Fresh, user-friendly content = good. Abandoning long-term page credibility by changing page paths and URLs = bad—unless, of course, you’re implementing all of the right 301 redirects.

When it comes to search engine optimization, we know Google and other major search engines base your site’s credibility on a variety of things, one of them being reliable, fresh content. As you update your site, rearrange pages, etc., be sure you’re properly implementing 301 redirects; doing so will maintain many factors lending to the credibility of your site in the eyes of the Google bots.

What is a 301 redirect?

Simply put, a 301 redirect is a permanent URL redirection to another URL. If my site is coolwebsite.com and I want it to redirect to waycoolwebsite.com—I would need to implement a 301 redirect. It’s like a change of address form that you might fill out at the post office. Essentially it redirects traffic from one location to another, without error.

When should I use a 301 redirect?

Non-www redirect (canonical redirect)

Did you know that http://coolwebsite.com and http://www.coolwebsite.com are actually two different locations? Because of this, make sure you implement a redirect for your domain from the “non-www” URL to the “www” URL. This is called a canonical redirect.

You can’t always control how Web users will type your site’s URL. A 301 redirect will help visitors avoid hitting an error page when trying to visit your site. Also, if other sites are linking to your site and use the “non-www” version of your URL, the external link credibility will not be attributed to your address unless you have that 301 redirect in place.

Change of domain

Often, when site owners change their domain, they are anxious to abandon the old one thinking, “if I don’t want that URL anymore, why would I want to still connect it to my new URL?” We call this, SEO suicide. Without this simple, and very important 301 redirect, all of your site’s external links, domain age, keyword ranking, etc. will be lost—ALL OF IT! Avoid losing that hard-earned credibility with a 301 redirect.

Site reorganization

In order to improve our site’s visitors’ experiences, it’s best practice to refresh content and even rearrange pages based on usability. Again, don’t forget the 301 redirects.

For example, if you feel like the content on your site for your best-selling red pen, which lives in the “coloring” section (www.waycoolwebsite.com/office-supplies/coloring/red-pen), should instead live in the “pens” section (www.waycoolwebsite.com/office-supplies/pens/red-pen), make that change-of-address request by properly implementing a 301 redirect when you move the content. If not, all of the users that book marked your page, will hit a 404 errored, broken page instead. Not to mention, your red pen has been ranking really well in Google searches. Every time someone searches for “new red pen,” a link to your red pen page shows up on the first page of search results. When you move that page, if you don’t have the redirect in place, all of the sales coming from those organic “new red pen” searches will be lost.

How do I implement 301 redirects?

As you plan your new sitemap and begin adjusting content and URLs, be sure to keep careful track of where content is moving to and which URLs need 301 redirects. We find that the easiest way to do this is to create a spreadsheet of old and new URLs. The first column should contain the old sitemap with the old URLs and the second column should contain all of the new URLs that apply to each page in the first column. This will help you avoid missing redirects and minimize your chances of 404 error pages.

Implementing a 301 redirect doesn’t take much time, but holds great importance. Some content management systems have a feature for quick 301 redirect implementation already built in. If you don’t have any other resources for manual redirect implementation, this could be a good option. However, be wary of relying solely on a CMS tool for this. It’s always safest to do it manually. There are several online tutorials available to help guide you through this process. But remember, if you are doing it manually, say through your .htaccess file, be sure to backup that file before editing it. Once your redirects are in place, we always recommend thorough testing to ensure the 301 redirects are working properly.

If you’re looking for further search engine optimization best practices, or someone to assist with your site migration and 301 redirecting, contact our team of SEO experts today.