It’s happened to all of us. You’re happily browsing a website and discover a link that promises to hold just the information you’ve been trying to find. You eagerly click but hit a brick wall, the dreaded 404 error: “404 error. This page is not found”.
As a website owner, broken or “dead” links are a roadblock to your carefully optimized content. Bridge the gap from pages that have been moved or deleted to relevant content by regularly integrating URL redirects. When a person or search engine tries to follow a dead link, a properly setup URL redirect will automatically bring them to a page with related content, keeping them engaged and on your site and avoiding search engines from penalizing the site owner.
Some website managers or developers may think this step is not necessary, but don’t be quick to dismiss the impact of URL redirect errors. More than just a nuisance, dead links can have a negative impact on both user experience, ADA compliance and SEO. That’s why integrating URL redirects is considered a website best practice and should be part of your routine site maintenance.
In this article, we’ll explain why staying on top of URL redirects is so important for good user experience, the health of your website, and the reputation of your brand. We’ll also explore the common types of URL redirects and how to implement them.
Why URL Redirects are Important
Broken Links Impact SEO
URL errors are not only frustrating for website visitors but Google and other search engines don’t like them either. Google’s goal is to provide high quality search results for their users so they’re constantly weeding out broken links from their rankings. If your site develops a reputation for having lots of broken links, your pages will lose credibility and could start to slip in Google’s rankings.
Broken Links Can Hurt Your Brand
Dead links on your website can damage user experience and can frustrate website visitors which then impacts your brand reputation. For many potential customers, your website provides the first impression of your brand. If a person encounters a dead end while trying to navigate your website, they could get the feeling that your site is mismanaged and perhaps your business is too. Getting hit with a 404 or other server-based error might also irritate them enough that they leave your site and move on to one of your competitors.
With customer relationships and SEO at stake, keeping up with URL redirects is clearly worth your time. Let’s look at how to use them on your website.
Types of URL Redirects and When to Use Them
There are a few types of redirects that you should know how to use so you can keep traffic flowing on your website and give search engines a heads up when you’ve moved or deleted content.
301 Redirects (aka Permanent Redirects)
301 redirects are most common and should be used to permanently redirect one URL to another. When you set up a 301 redirect, you’re telling the search engines that the original URL no longer exists so they should stop indexing it.
With a 301 redirect pointing the way to relevant content, you won’t have to worry about taking a hit on SEO when you must move or delete a page. Using this type of redirect triggers the search engines to pass the history or “link juice” from the old URL to the new one, allowing your site to hang on to the SEO value of the old page.
To stay up to date with the latest technologies, security and design trends, your business should consider website upgrades every few years. Integrating URL redirects during a website redesign project is essential. As you reorganize and eliminate pages, you’ll want to make sure search engines can quickly recognize these changes so there’s minimal disruption to your rankings once the new site goes live. While search engines will eventually rediscover your new pages even without redirects in place, they’re not likely to rank as high because it won’t be clear that these pages are replacing the previously well-ranked versions. Connecting the dots from the old pages to the new ones with 301 redirects will allow your site to retain the SEO value of the original content and keep your site’s foothold in the rankings.
If you’re changing domains, you absolutely need to redirect your old domain to the new one. Redirecting will let search engines know that the valuable SEO history of your old domain should be passed to the new domain. In this case you should also permanently redirect different variations of your domain like www, non-www, and http to your primary domain which will be the https version. While this can be time consuming and requires coordination with your hosting provider, access to Search Console accounts and more, and it’s tempting to just setup a wildcard redirect to point all old site traffic to your new home page, this is not a wise move from a user or search engine perspective.
302 or 307 Redirects (aka Temporary Redirects)
These types of redirects should be used when a URL has been changed temporarily. It tells the search engines to keep indexing the original URL since the redirect will eventually be removed. 302 and 307 redirects are not very common but are sometimes put in place when a site is temporarily taken offline during website maintenance. To ensure that your domain redirect variations are all setup a permanent redirects, use a widely available redirect checker site to ensure that you don’t have any setup as temporary redirects.
Broken Links Happen
You’re bound to delete pages and adjust page URLs throughout the life of your website, but how you handle those transitions is what matters to search engines, ADA conformance and your visitors. If you’re too busy to manage this task on your own, make sure that you have a website vendor who can do site health checks which include this service. Contact ZAG Interactive if you’d like to learn more about URL redirects, content optimization and SEO best practices and more.