If you’ve ever moved houses or set up a call forwarding service, you understand the importance of the right information getting where it needs to go.
When you move your website or a page of your website to a different location, setting up redirects is like submitting a change of address form to your local post office. It allows a URL that has already been disseminated into the world to redirect to the new URL for the page, creating less hassle for your customers and for search engines.
Redirects in a Nutshell
The entire purpose of a redirect is to send visitors and search engines to a new URL than the one that they typed in or clicked on from a search engines results page. These redirects can be temporary or permanent, but in either case, they play a pivotal role in maintaining your SEO presence for both visitors and search engines.
For your visitors, redirects help you avoid sending visitors on a wild goose chase for working URLs. If you forget to setup a redirect, and a visitor clicks on an old link, they’re going to be faced with the dreaded 404- Page Not Found.
Additionally, you want search engines to continue to crawl and index your site, even though your content has moved. If Google performs a crawl on your old website, which it already has in its indexing repertoire, your SEO rankings are going to plummet, as it will look as though your site is no longer working. Redirects are the best way to communicate that you’ve moved, but you’re still the same site, just at a different address.
Types of Redirects
301: Moved Permanently
If the move you are making is permanent, such as when you’re migrating an entire website, you want your redirects to be permanent. According to Hubspot, “A 301 redirect is key to maintaining a website’s domain authority and search rankings when the site’s URL is changed for any reason.” That’s why setting them up is absolutely imperative before you begin to move.
It’s a signal to search engines that says, “Don’t worry! We’re still here! Please replace our old pages with these fresh, new ones!”
Example: Sally’s Seashell Store recently began working with a website developer and wants to move her online shop from a SquareSpace site onto a WordPress site. Alas, Sally sends out her monthly email with links to a hot sale on conch shells, and she doesn’t want visitors to accidentally wind up on a 404 page due to her old site no longer being online.
In that case, she would create a 301 redirect that takes visitors from the original URL in the newsletter to the new sale page on her new website, and customers would continue spending exorbitant amounts of cash on Sally’s special shells.
302: Moved Temporarily
A 302 redirect instructs your server to take visitors to a new site temporarily, and gives search engines the same message. These are pretty rare, but may be relevant if you have a seasonal offer that you’re trying to market in front of your regular sales page, or if you are using a location- or language-based landing page.
The key here is to keep your 302 redirects online for less than 6 months. After that point, Google may begin to regard them as permanent, which can make your actual permanent page fall in SEO rankings.
Example: Sally’s back at it again with the conch shells. This time, she wants all visitors who click on her general shell shop link to be redirected to the conch shell sale link, but only for the next two weeks. In that case, she would establish a 302 redirect, which signals to search engines that the move is temporary. In that case, Google would not penalize her for no longer having the shop page that it had previously indexed.
This interesting little redirect stops visitors who fill out forms from being able to resubmit the form once they hit the Back button. In this case, “the 303 redirect indicates that the follow-up request to the temporary URL should be made using the GET HTTP method.”
As such, never use a 303 redirect for anything other than preventing form resubmissions. They don’t affect SEO and should only be used for their intended purpose.
Example: Sally is holding a raffle drawing where visitors can enter to win using an online form. Sally wants each person to have only one submission a day, so she prevents visitors from being able to re-submit their entry by going back a page on their browser.
A Final Word on Redirects
When it comes to redirects, the key to success is using them as little as possible. According to ContentKing, “They increase load time and waste crawl budget.” Use them sparingly, and remove them when they are no longer relevant. Be conscious of the sites that are being redirected, and consider sending out an email to your mailing list that provides a “best hits” list of the most popular pages on your site and its new URL.
Most importantly, let experts walk you through the process. Redirects can go wrong, and the best way to ensure that you continue receiving visitor and search engine traffic is to establish them correctly.