Have you ever bookmarked a website page, forgot about it, and then tried to visit it again months later only to find that the link no longer works? It’s likely that you ran into a problem because the owner of the website changed domain names, but failed to use a 301 redirect to make sure you ended up in the right place. Avoid this causing this confusion on your own site by understanding what a 301 redirect is and when to use it.
What is a 301 Redirect?
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect from one website domain to another. You’ve probably experienced a 301 redirect without even realizing it, because these redirects are the reason both http://website.com and http://www.website.com bring you to the same place, even though those could be considered different websites.
When You Need a 301 Redirect
301 redirects are extremely important for making sure your site visitors always get where they’re trying to go, even when you change domain names. It’s also important for your search engine optimization (SEO). Some examples of when you need a 301 redirect:
- When you change your website domain. If you want to change your domain from http://www.mygreatbusiness.com to http://www.myawesomebusiness.com, you need to use 301 redirects to make sure everyone who tries to go to http://www.mygreatbusiness.com ends up at http://www.myawesomebusiness.com. In this case, using these redirects will help you avoid losing potential customers who knew your old domain. If you are redirecting to an entirely new domain, it’s best to redirect each of your old URLs to their direct counterpart on the new site. Ex: http://www.mygreatbusiness.com/products to http://www.myawesomebusiness.com/products. Don’t forget about your PDFs!
- When a link on your website no longer exists. If you used to have a webpage on your site, but for whatever reason you decide to remove it, you should redirect that URL to your homepage. Doing this will prevent the dreaded 404 Error when someone who may have saved the now-dead URL or linked to it tries to access it.
- When you set a preferred domain. You can set up a preferred domain in Google. This means that you choose whether you want http://www.myawesomebusiness.com or http://myawesomebusiness.com to be the default URL. When you choose your default, you use 301 redirects to bring people to your preferred domain, whether that’s what they typed or not.
What 301 Redirects Do for SEO
You might think it’s more effort than it’s worth to redirect every single page of your old website to your new one, especially if you feel the likelihood that anyone would have links to your old pages is slim. However, even if you don’t care about possibly losing some visitors, redirects are very important for your search engine rankings.
Even if you didn’t do anything to encourage it, your old URL was working very hard to rise up in the ranks of search engines. If you fail to use 301 redirects, all of that hard work will have been for nothing and you will start all over, because Google will have no way to know that your new domain is the same as your old one.
301 redirects serve to tell search engine bots that they should be indexing your new URL as if it were your old one, retaining the ranking power of your previous domain.
One final note: You only want to use 301 redirects if you are planning to use this redirect permanently. If you’re going to revert it back to the original at some point, use a 302 redirect, which is a temporary redirect.
How to Do a 301 Redirect
The first step in conducting a 301 redirect is to determine which pages need to be equated to each other. We like to use the tool Screaming Frog to index all of our existing pages, then find their equivalent in the new site manually.
The next step is to apply the redirects. Most of the time, 301 redirects are conducted using code, and this article on redirection by Moz explains how to do that in detail.
At Insivia, we use WordPress as our content management system (CMS), so we installed this plugin to eliminate the need for code and make redirecting a large volume of pages at once easy.
301 Redirects are an important, but often overlooked part of having good SEO. Don’t make the mistake of dismissing them as unimportant, or you might find yourself at the bottom of the search engine totem pole when you should be at the top.
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