February 22 2018

Guide to URL Redirects

URL redirect best practicesIf you are a website owner or manager, you are most likely aware that the URL of a page is impacted if a page is unpublished, deleted, moved, or the site architecture is changed during a website redesign. Now put yourselves in the shoes of a frustrated internet user, clicking on a page you’ve bookmarked or a link from a site and getting a “(404) this page is no longer found” message. Search engines want to give users the best possible result, so if a page isn’t redirected properly, rankings will be penalized. Managing URL redirects should be part of every website owner’s bag of tricks, so understanding the types of URL redirects that exist and URL redirect best practices is an important part of keeping a site healthy and keeping visitors happy.

Types of URL Redirects

There are several popular types of URL redirects. Though the 301 redirect is the most popular redirection method, there are two other types of redirects: 302 and 307. Meta refreshers are also a redirect method.

  • A 301 redirect is the most commonly used redirect and should be used when you want a domain or page URL to be permanently moved to a new URL. A 301 (aka permanent) redirect tells search engines to no longer index the old page or domain, and to pass “link juice” or authority on to the new page.

  • 302 or 307 redirects should be used if a URL has been changed to a new URL temporarily, such as during site maintenance. Search engines will keep indexing the original URL, display the original URL in search results, and not pass link value since the change will not be permanent. Generally, you want to avoid this type of URL or domain redirect.
  • ​Meta refresher tags are set up on the page level, not the server level. They most likely have a several second countdown that contains the message “if you are not redirected …, click here.” These redirects are usually slower and are not recommended for SEO because they are bad for user experience. They are also a popular spam technique.

SEO Impact of Redirects

It was previously thought that too many redirects on a website resulted in a decrease in search engine rankings. This created concern for website managers who, because of expiring promotions or products, had to redirect unpublish or deleted pages. It was also a concern for people making URL changes when redesigning or restructuring their site. However, Google announced recently that they do not decrease rankings for 301 redirects. In fact, they encourage them since they can support a better user experience.

Redirection Best Practices

When redirecting a URL of a deleted or moved page, it is important for user experience to redirect it to the most relevant live page. In fact, Google will treat a redirect to an irrelevant page or the homepage as a soft 404, which means they will ignore the redirect and not pass on link equity. To prevent this, again put yourself in the searcher’s shoes. For example, if you have a page dedicated to a Car Loan promotion that just ended, it is best to redirect that page to an Auto Loans page. This allows site visitors to see related products and ensures the destination page is not completely off from what their original expectation was.

In the process of redesigning a site, new URLs are created based on the new site structure. Capturing existing URLs and documenting the equivalent new page that each of these old URLs should direct to is an important part of the sitemap and SEO process. Before the site goes live, URL redirects should be set up for each page. This way, if a user enters an old URL, has any of the old pages bookmarked, or clicks a link that pointed to an URL from the old site, they’ll be redirected to a similar page one the new site because of this process.

There are some cases where it is necessary to leave a page as a 404. Experts state that this is okay in situations where you absolutely don’t have an equivalent page on a new site. A well-designed custom 404 page can still provide value to a website user by acknowledging the inconvenience and providing helpful links such as contact information or an FAQs page. This will help users to find what they are looking for and keep them on your site.

Domain Redirects

The same rules apply to domains as website redirects. If a domain changes or there are multiple variations of a domain (e.g., www, non-www, http, https), all variations should be a 301 redirect to the primary domain. Google prefers your primary domain be https, so as a best practice, ensure that all domains you own – and all variations of those domains, are setup as 301 (permanent) redirects to your primary domain.

Audit your URLs

If you have questions about URL redirects or are interested in receiving a site audit to see where your site currently stands, let ZAG Interactive’s talented team do the dirty work. Contact us to learn more.

  • SEO
  • Website

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings.
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