I've moved quite a few times, and every time I do I almost forget to set up mail forwarding.
It's a good thing I don't, otherwise my mail would still be going to my old apartment and never get rerouted to my new home. That'd be a lot of mail hitting a dead end, confusing the new tenant, and leaving me pretty unhappy.
This rerouting, or redirecting, of mail is pretty similar to redirecting web pages.
You've may have heard of 301 redirects before, but what they heck are they and why do they matter for SEO?
301 redirects are similar to the mail forwarding example above, they reroute traffic from one website page to another, and they are an essential tool in your belt when it comes to managing and optimizing your website.
On the journey to mastering SEO understanding 301 redirects is one of the essential objectives you need to wrap your brain around. While they might sound a bit technical, most website platforms (like Wordpress, HubSpot, or SquareSpace) make them easy to set up.
In this article, we will provide a simple explanation of 301 redirects followed by a more intensive study of how they help your SEO efforts and how to set them up in the major website platforms.
Let’s start with the basics.
A 301 redirect reroutes traffic from one page to another, what makes 301 redirects unique is they indicate that a web page has permanently moved and they carry on any SEO credit from the original URL to the new one.
The '301' refers to the HTTP status for this type of redirect. A 301 redirect tells a browser this page has moved permanently, and the people who run the website don’t intend on moving back.
As a concrete example of this phenomenon, I previously wrote for a hockey website originally called Along the Boards. In a new direction our focus shifted into the collision between hockey and pop culture. This new vision resulted in a new website called Pucks and Recreation.
In order to shift our original content from a created site to a brand-new page, the bloggers in charge of the site employed a 301 redirect while our audience adjusted to the new web address.
Usinga 301 redirect is essential to maintain a website’s domain authority and easilysends visitors to a different web page without having to type in a differentURL.
There are many reasons why 301 redirects are important for SEO, and they go beyond simply rerouting traffic.
First, they help your audience and search engines find your website faster. Beyond this fact, 301 redirects are a helpful tool to ensure that the inbound links already present on your website at its original URL also appear on the migrated new domain.
301 redirects also serve as a buffer against making mistakes. For example, if you post a broken link to a page that does not exist on your site, a 301 redirect can help “redirect” visitors to the correct web page. This redirect therefore saves you extra time of deleting the page and can provide you a way of ensuring users find the right website. Learning how to create 301 redirects for different website content management systems, which we will turn to later in this post, will show you how they can be created to fix this issue.
Finally, the last important benefit of using 301 redirects whenever you move your website from one location to another is ad tracking. If your website uses banner ads, you can track responses to them by adding URLs to those ads. Redirects can thus provide a potential avenue of increased eyes on your website which is obviously the goal in content marketing!
While searching for articles related to 301 redirects, you may have come across a term known as 302 redirects. We define the difference between these two terms, and when to use them, in another article for our site but briefly, the main difference between these two terms is that a 301 redirect tells a browser that a URL has moved permanently from one location to another. Meanwhile, a 302 redirect tells a browser that a URL has moved temporarily from one location to another.
Make sure to check out the article on 301 vs. 302 redirects for more information on this important distinction as well as when to use both of these redirects!
We've covered a lot so far but it's all very theoretical, let's look at some practical examples of how to use 301 redirects to boost your SEO.
301 Redirects can be most impactful when using as a tool to merge pages with thin content together to create denser and better content.
Sometimes an older post on your website, or one that is a bit thin, just isn't worth updating or rewriting - especially when you have a piece of content on your website that that is more current or more authoritative.
You can redirect the underperforming pages on your site (ones that have not received backlinks or much traffic) to pages that have similar content or merge multiple pages together to create content worth ranking.
This preserves any SEO credit the original page earned, as well as helps to bolster the newer piece of content.
While changing the name and domain of your business is rare, it can happen.
We've done it (we used to fly by the name Blog Trackr but now are branded as Centori). There's also the hockey blog I wrote for as another example.
Whenever you make a domain change it is absolutely critical to set up 301 redirects from the old domain to the new one. If you do not do this then all the hard work you've out in to build up your domain authority will be lost.
Often a phased approach is best here.
For phase one you need to set up 301 redirects for all the pages that will be accounted for on the new site.
You can also add 302 redirects for all other pages that won't carry over to the new site (as these don't matter in the long run), usually to the new website's homepage. This will prevent users trying to visit your old domain from receiving a 404 error, without confusing search engines by having your pages suddenly redirect to seemingly irrelevant content.
It's not always the case that a page on your website will last forever. While blog posts might be 'evergreen' to an extent, sometimes pages need to be timely.
An example is a few of our clients manage events and webinars which have a definite end date in mind. It doesn't make sense to keep these pages up forever as they add very little value once the event is over.
Often times we advise our clients to unpublish the old event pages and redirect them, either to a list of upcoming events or the homepage.
If you are enabling SSL on your website, you absolutely will want to redirect those old non secure urls to the new secure versions.
What is SSL?
It's a certificate you can purchase for your domain which adds extra encryption and security to your site. It's also a clear signal to Google that your website is legit and worth ranking.
Secure URLs load over 'https' rather than 'http', and will show a small lock icon in the url bar of your browser.
If you are not redirecting http -> https though people will still be able to visit the non secure version of your site, which undermines the point of having an SSL certificate.
Let's start with Wordpress.
Wordpress does not have any functionality to set up redirects 'out of the box' however there are many plugins that make adding 301 redirects relatively simple.
These plugins can be downloaded and added to your Wordpress account.
Once downloaded, these plugins all have different advantages to them. For example, the Redirection plugin automatically adds a 301 redirection whenever you change your post at any time.
I recommend picking the simplest one that you can manage and upskill your team on. We use the 301 redirects - Easy redirect manager plugin (formerly Eggplant Redireccts) and I think it's pretty great, especially for a free plugin.
SquareSpace is a bit simpler than WordPress in some respects in creating 301 redirects.
To create a 301 redirect, you simply navigate click Settings in the lefthand menu then Advanced. You then click URL mappings, click the text box and add a rule for the urls you wish to map.
Squarespace gives you a rule format to follow in their app, the redirects should look a bit like this:
old url -> new url type
/best-burgers-in-new-york -> /best-burgers-new-york 301
After hitting save, you are ready to go.
You can see that these redirects are straightforward to set up in SquareSpace. However, like WordPress, there are also more detailed instructions on different types of redirects. Check out their website for more information.
Creating 301 redirects in HubSpot is a breeze.
To set up a redirect in HubSpot, navigate to Settings (using the cog in the top right) > Domains and URLs > URL Redirects.
From here, choose "Add a URL redirect".
There's a lot here but for most cases just focus on setting up a standard redirect, make it a 301, auto assign the priority. For more information on the rest of the settings check out HubSpot's knowledge doc on the subject.
Wix’s Help Center specifies you must upgrade your Wix site to a Premium Plan before you can set up 301 redirects. Upon upgrading, go to your site’s dashboard, click marketing tools, then SEO tools, then add a new redirect.
After,you enter the Old URL slug and the New URL slug into the designated slots.Finally, you click save and it’s as simple as that.
For more information on creating 301 redirects in Wix, check out the help portion of their website.
Creating 301 redirects in Webflow is quite easy.
To redirect a page first open Project settings > Hosting > 301 redirects:
Add the old URL in the “Old Path” field (eg. /old-url) and add the new URL in the “Redirect to Page” field (/new-url/). Add the redirect path and publish your site
Test the redirect by entering the old URL in a new browser tab. You can check out Webflow's knowledge doc on 301 redirects for more advanced instruction.
301 redirects are certainly a useful component of SEO. As you make changes to your content, make sure that you add 301 redirects whenever you re-tool your website.
301 redirects may not be something you use every time you update your website but they are nevertheless an important consideration to remember as you position yourself to become a master in SEO.
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