You might have heard of 301 redirects being bandied about and wondered what they are and why you need them.
What is a 301 Redirect?
Basically a 301 redirect is a way to permanently redirect one url to another. If I had a page at http://teaisforteagan.com/original-page and I wanted to move it to http://teaisforteagan.com/new-original-page then I would use a 301 redirect to automatically redirect anyone going to the first url to the second.
The 301 redirect happens in the background, so when a user types in http://teaisforteagan.com/original-page or clicks a link or bookmark to that page, the browser will automatically redirect them to the new url http://teaisforteagan.com/new-original-page without the user ever seeing the redirection taking place.
Using a 301 is like saying to the browser and any search engines that come crawling that the page has been permanently moved to the new location.
Why Use 301s?
When you’re moving a website to a new domain or restructuring your website to make the urls more SEO friendly, the chances are you’re going to want anyone that has bookmarked your site, or any links from other sites to your site to still work properly. Without the redirect those links will go to a dead space and you could lose valuable traffic.
Another reason to use 301 redirects is because they help maintain any page rank that your web page has built up, as well as it’s position in search engines. Google announced in 2016 that 301 redirects now pass over 100% of any page rank that has built up on the original page, prior to 2016 it was thought that pages lost about 15% of page rank through 301 redirects.
When To use 301s
301 redirects are for when a page has been permanently moved to a new location. In general it’s used for cases when the same page has simply moved to a new url, or perhaps it’s a newer version of the page with updated information. If that’s the case you’ll find that the page rank should stay the same.
On occasion you might want to get rid of a page entirely and redirect the user to a different page for example the home page. If that’s the case then you’ll find that even though initially the original page rank will pass over, that’s likely to change over time because it’s not redirecting to the same content. This is to prevent people having a popular page with a high page rank, then redirecting that page to something else. For example if I have a particularly popular page full of information about the youtube algorithm, then use a 301 redirect to redirect users wanting to see that page to a page that’s trying to sell them some product. Obviously the sales page doesn’t deserve the page ranking from an originally informative page, so that page rank will decrease rapidly once search engines identify that the 301 isn’t redirecting the user to a similar page as the original one.
301s are a great tool for when you want to change your urls, but still want to maintain any existing links like bookmarks, or from other websites, as well as keeping the original urls page rank and search engine position.
While 301s are great, you should use them with caution. It’s far easier to spend time structuring your sites urls correctly in the first place rather than having to rely on 301 redirects later on down the line. My first ever blog was a mess of 301 redirects purely because I didn’t think through my url structure the first time round, then continued to change things around on the site.
Sometimes changing your urls is unavoidable, for example if you need to change domain entirely. If that’s the case, don’t worry. So long as you implement your 301s properly everything should keep working just fine, but you might want to include a visible notice that your sites domain has changed asking users to re-bookmark the site if they’re using a bookmark.