The Basics of 301 Redirects: What They Are, Why They Are Important, and How To Set Them Up
Have you ever needed to change a URL on your company’s website? If so, did you use a 301 redirect as part of the change? If not, you may be hurting your search engine ranking, as well as the overall user experience on your website. A 301 redirect basically means that a page has permanently moved to a new location. By using a 301 redirect (which points from the old URL to the new URL), you can not only ensure that you keep a large majority of your search engine ranking for that page, but it also gives a better online experience for your users, as anyone who visits the old URL will automatically be sent to the correct new URL instead of seeing a error message (404 error/page not found) like they otherwise would.
Here is an example of a URL that was changed but doesn’t have a 301 redirect setup:
Now here is an example of a URL that was changed but does have a 301 redirect setup:
Notice the difference? Basically /biohazard-cleanup-lakeland/ is the correct URL for this page, so by having a 301 redirect pointing to it from the incorrect URL /biohazard-cleanup/, it redirects the user to the correct URL automatically. This is why having a 301 redirect set up for any URLs you change is highly recommended in all cases, as it gives your users a seamless experience, despite you making changes to the URLs that they may visit. On top of that, having a 301 redirect set up also helps pass any SEO weight the old URL may have and pushes it to the new URL, so it isn’t lost. By not having a 301 redirect set up, you will lose a large amount of your old page’s search engine ranking weight, which will make your new page that much harder to rank for.
For more information on the basics of 301 redirects check out the video below.
Here are some situations in which you should use a 301 redirect on your website:
–You discover a typo in a URL for a page and want to correct it
Example: /this-is-an-exapmle/ would be corrected and 301 redirected to /this-is-an-example/
–You change the format of your page URLs on your website
Example: /Toronto-Plumbing/ could be updated and 301 redirected to /Toronto/Plumbing/
–You move your site to a new domain or want to merge multiple websites together
Example: http://ouroldsite.com/ pages would be removed and 301 redirected to the new versions on http://ournewsite.com/
–You have multiple versions of the same page
Example: /index.html could 301 redirect to /home.html
–You fully delete a page from your site
Example: /temp-offer/ could 301 redirect to the most relevant page on your site that still exists
So now that you know what 301 redirects are, the benefits of using them, and the various situations in which you might need them, you may be asking “how do I find pages that I may have missed setting up 301 redirects for?”
The easiest way to find these are to create and/or log in to your site’s Google Webmaster Tools account. From there, go to the Diagnostics > Crawl Error section and look for URLs that are flagged as “not found“. This will give you a list of URLs that don’t currently exist on your website but users have tried to visit, and therefore should have 301 redirects set up pointing to the most relevant page in each case. If you do not wish to create a Webmaster Tools account, you can also get this list of dead URLs from various popular SEO-oriented WordPress plugins such as SEO Ultimate and Yoast SEO.
Once you have this list of URLs that are 301 redirect candidates, you can then move on to implementing the actual redirects for each.
If you have a WordPress site like many businesses nowadays, doing this process can be very easy. Simply install a 301 redirect plugin such as Simple 301 Redirects, and once installed, go to Settings > 301 Redirects and enter the old URL in the request field and the new URL in the destination field. Once done, hit “save”. This will instantly apply 301 redirects to the old URL (request) and send users and SEO weight to the new URL (destination) going forward, ensuring a seamless user experience, while retaining most of your search engine ranking.