Redirects are a huge part of SEO, but when implemented incorrectly, they negatively impact user and crawler experiences across a website.
For example, if a user or crawler is greeted with a 404 Not Found message instead of a redirect, this results in an uncompleted journey.
Too many uncompleted journeys, and you could harm the reputation and performance of your website. If a redirect is applied properly, however, its benefits are numerous. Find out what those benefits are, and more, in this beginner’s guide to redirects.
What is a redirect?
Redirects are a way to create a connection between an old or a nonexistent URL and a new page. A redirect will simply forward users, crawlers, and bots from one page to another. There are many reasons to create a redirect, including forwarding users and crawlers away from deleted pages, which is better than offering a 404 message.
Can redirects hurt your SEO?
The answer to this question is dependent on whether your redirects are correct. Successfully placed redirects won’t hurt your SEO. However, if a number of redirects are sloppy and or broken, crawlers will struggle to navigate your website, which will affect its performance in organic search.
Why should a URL be redirected?
Whenever you’re making changes to a site, deleting posts, or changing URL structures, you must replace them, or a user will experience a 404 Not Found page. By redirecting a user or bot, you’re assisting them to where they want or intend to go.
If the changes you’re making are quite small, for example, if you are deleting an old blog post, you can redirect the old URL to a new article of a similar nature. Alternatively, you could delete it and create a “410 Gone” response. If you’re deciding to delete pages and posts, create a solid plan so that you don’t ruin your SEO efforts and risk a decrease in performance.
Here are a few examples of when you would use a redirect:
- When migrating your site to a new domain. All pages must be redirected to those on the new domain.
- If you have an e-commerce site with out of stock or discontinued products, it is best practice to redirect users to a closer alternative.
- When deleting old articles or pages, you can keep the value of your content by redirecting entities to a closely related page.
What do the 404, 410, and 451 error messages mean?
Although these codes are HTTP status codes and not redirects, it is helpful to understand the codes and what they mean. Google sees error pages as a lack of website maintenance, and furthermore, site users are often confused by them.
A 404 Not Found indicates that a page has not been found, which, as previously mentioned, is unhelpful to users and can negatively impact your SEO when discovered by a crawler.
A 410 Gone Error means that the content has been deleted, and a 451 Error message means the content is unavailable for legal reasons.
What are the different types of redirects?
There are a plethora of redirects, as some redirects permanently redirect content, while others are temporary. Take a look at the different types, below.
A 301 redirect is used to permanently redirect URLs to a new place. Using this redirect, you can notify both search engine crawlers and site visitors that the URL has changed and is found at a new destination.
If you want to permanently redirect a page, you must use a 301 redirect, so the old page is no longer indexed. If you don’t complete a redirect correctly, both crawl bots and site users will likely be hit with 404 Error messages.
302 redirects are a temporary redirect option, however, they are quite ambiguous. A 302 redirect means that the content is found but has moved to another location. An explanatory message is not shown on the screen to users.
As a 302 redirect is temporary, Google will wait for the page to return. If a 302 redirect is left for long, Google will treat it as a 301 redirect.
307 redirects are temporary redirects that offer explanatory messages to users. This means you can display a message explaining that the content is “temporarily unavailable” at the requested URL. This way, users will know that the page will return and offers a perfect redirect method if a move is temporary and you know the URL will be needed in the future.
Why are redirects so important to SEO?
When you’ve spent hard work and time optimising your website, it will save you a lot of future hassle to focus on your redirects. If you don’t follow redirect best practices, your site integrity and user experience will be impacted for the worst and lead to troublesome 404 Error messages.
URLs are your entire websites structure; by mishandling redirects, you are at risk of losing rankings.
Can you have too many redirects?
Often, a user can be greeted with a “This page isn’t working. ___ has redirected you too many times.” If this happens, it likely means you have set up a redirect chain, sometimes known as a redirect loop.
If you redirected a page a long time ago, forgot the page is redirected, and then choose to redirect it again, you will end up with too many redirects. This situation results in an “infinite loop” and produces an error message.
Once you’ve got started, your site can reap the benefits of intelligent and successfully placed redirects. However, the hard work and struggle are managing your redirects. You must ensure they lead to the right places, so be prepared if something breaks, and be cautious of redirect chains.
By using the Index Coverage report in Google Search Console, you can learn more about whether your pages have encountered problems when Google is indexing your site. This allows you to find broken redirects and understand why this has happened.
When reviewing your pages, think about what you’re hoping to accomplish with your redirects, and then choose the best method for that situation.