If you’re moving a website from one URL to another, you need to take the necessary steps to ensure your visitors get sent to the right place. In the world of tech, this is called a 301 redirect.
Understanding a 301 redirect and using it to boost SEO is essential. While they might seem simple at first, understanding how they should (and shouldn’t) be used in different scenarios is a little more complex, albeit one you should be able to master pretty quickly.
If you don’t know how to properly use redirects, you could quickly cause problems that negatively affect both your SEO and user experience.
Here, we’re going to discuss what a 301 redirect is and when you need to use one, why it’s important to set up a 301 redirect as well as how to redirect a URL in WordPress.
What is a 301 redirect?
A 301 redirect shows that a web page has been moved permanently from one place to another. The 301 refers to the redirected page’s HTTP status code.
Let’s say you have historically hosted your blog on a subdomain—https://blog.website.com/—and have decided to move this into a subfolder—https://www.website.com/blog/.
Web pages are deleted and URLs are changed for a number of reasons, including the updating of date-based URLs and the deletion of discontinued products. This is frequently unavoidable and perfectly normal.
However, if you simply edit or remove a page without taking any further action, you will encounter problems. To prevent any visits to that page from leading to a dead end on your website, you must set up a redirect. You need to implement a 301 redirect here, at least in the majority of cases.
Why set up a 301 redirect?
In essence, a 301 redirect will inform search engines of the following: “Hey, do you remember that article from the SERPs that people liked clicking on? Take all the visibility you previously associated with this page and move it to this new URL since it now resides here.”
A 301 redirect also plays a crucial role with search engines. Search engines like Google and Bing can keep their indexes current by using useful status codes that accurately signal where content has moved to.
When the original page is no longer available, a 301 redirect is a permanent redirect that sends users (and search engines) to a new URL when the original page is no longer available. It is designed to be applied in situations where there are no plans to undo the change.
Let’s say you’ve decided to permanently stop publishing a certain page. Google will have indexed that original website, it will have appeared in emails and social media posts, and visitors will probably have bookmarked it.
You don’t want to lose the traffic that has been coming to it. Users will encounter a 404 page when visiting any of the original URLs if you simply delete the subdomain when moving the blog to the subfolder.
In addition to being bad form and providing a terrible user experience, this will cause search engines to remove the blog pages from their index because, as far as they are concerned, they no longer exist.
However, if you implement a 301 redirect, anyone who accesses the outdated URLs will be routed to the more recent one, and search engines will gradually update the pages in their index.
When should you use a 301 redirect?
In short, here are some instances in which you will need to use a 301 redirect:
- When you are permanently moving a page to a new URL
- Deleting site pages
- Migrating the site to a new domain
- Consolidating several pieces of content
- Switching from a WWW URL to a non-WWW URL
- Changing the structure of the URLs on your website
- Switching from HTTP to HTTPS
Changing a page to a new URL
The folder structure of your website URLs may have been reorganized, or your original URL may not have been well optimized. Moving a piece of content is very easy if you’re using WordPress or another CMS.
Deleting site pages
What best practices suggest you should do when deleting a page from your website is frequently unclear. Should you leave it as a 404 page or should you 301 redirect to another URL? Or even assign it a status of 410? It depends, really.
Migrating the site to a new domain
For a variety of reasons, businesses occasionally need to change their domain name. You might be switching, for instance, from a .com TLD to a.co.uk TLD, or you might have rebranded and require a domain name that reflects the new company name.
When switching from one domain name to another, a 301 redirect is required, and the “change of address” tool in Google Search Console should also be used.
You also need to keep in mind that your redirects must be served from the original URL.
Consolidating several pieces of content
You might want to consolidate your content if you’ve determined that you have several pieces that overlap, compete for the same keywords, or all cover the same subject.
You won’t want to discard the search engine visibility that these outdated pages may have attained, though.
Once your new resource has been created, you should simply set up a 301 redirect from each of the previous pages to the new page.
Switching from a WWW URL to a non-WWW URL
You must ensure that your site is hosted on either non-www or www URLs, even though there is no SEO benefit to either.
If you discover that your website can be accessed using both non-www and www URLs, you should use a 301 redirect from one to the other, depending on your preference, to avoid duplicate content problems.
Changing the URL structure
To improve your site’s overall SEO performance, make it simpler to categorize content, and help Google understand how your pages relate to one another, you might need to change the structure of your website.
The same reasoning holds true for altering the hierarchy of any subfolder on your website, including blog categories, eCommerce categories, and other folders.
Switching from HTTP to HTTPS
Only 60% of the web is currently using the HTTPS protocol, which indicates that 40% of users have not yet made the switch.
To ensure that Google properly indexes the new protocol and that users are sent to the correct page rather than a 404, which is what would occur without putting this in place, you must use a 301 redirect if you are changing your URLs from HTTP to HTTPS.
How to set up a 301 redirect on WordPress?
You’re in luck if your website is powered by WordPress because setting up 301 redirects is incredibly easy. A built-in redirects manager is available if you’re using the RankMath plugin, and you can use it to implement redirects.
As an alternative, you can use the Redirection plugin, which makes it simple to add your redirects in a matter of minutes.
Using 301 redirects to manage SEO and boost organic traffic
There are many instances in which 301 redirects can help boost organic traffic and help with SEO. They can assist you in overcoming obstacles that might hinder your site’s natural visibility or in maximizing growth-promoting opportunities.
The following are some of the most common methods for using 301s to improve your SEO performance:
Merging or Redirecting Thin Content Pages
Consider two topically related pages on your website that are similar to one another. Each of them is doing fine. They have a couple of good backlinks. They receive some natural traffic. Not at all terrible. But instead of splitting those two pages into two, why not combine them into one?
Use 301 redirects as part of a content pruning task to combine weak content pages into strong ones that thoroughly cover a topic. This is one of the most effective ways to use 301 redirects to boost your SEO performance.
Getting Rid of Keyword Cannibalization Problems
When two or more pages target and rank for the same keyword, this is known as keyword cannibalization (s). Finding these problems is a good way to find openings.
Let’s be clear: Having multiple pages that target the same keyword won’t automatically prevent either from ranking isn’t keyword cannibalization.
Instead, it is a problem that is solely a matter of intent. Only when two (or more) pages have the same intent do you compete with yourself and experience cannibalization problems.
However, in situations where there is no justification for keeping all of the competing pages, using 301 redirects is one of the primary ways to resolve issues brought on by cannibalization.
Combining multiple related content into one domain
You have already seen the SEO benefits of moving a blog from a subdomain to a subfolder on your website.
Once more, you are fusing the legitimacy and value of various domain properties into one, creating a more robust website that encourages instant SEO success.
It can also be used to keep the website navigation more clean and easy for Google to understand the topical relevance of the website.
301 Redirect Mistakes to Avoid
Now that you are aware of how crucial the 301 redirect is, let’s go over some typical steps to take so you don’t make a mistake that could harm the SEO of your website.
Allowing Pages to 404
In most cases, you should implement 301 redirects to direct users and search engines to the new target page instead of letting deleted pages return a 404 error code.
Setting up a 302 redirect between versions of your domains.
As mentioned above, 301 redirects should be used for permanent changes and 302 redirects for temporary ones; however, these are frequently used incorrectly.
Although http://blog.website.com and blog.website.com may not appear to be different URLs, 301 redirects transfer the power of inbound links from one URL to another.
To improve your search engine rankings, make sure you set up a 301 redirect from all of the variations of your brand’s domain.
Using a 302 redirect during content migration.
Use a 301 redirect to preserve the inbound links and your search rankings while making changes to your domain, unless you’re temporarily migrating your website’s content while updating or repairing your website.
Redirecting a page to a new location with a different intent than the original page
Redirecting just for the sake of it is not a good idea because it may detract from the user experience on your website.
Redirects should only point to pages that are similar to the original; adding redirects that point to pages with entirely different purposes is bad practice and should be avoided whenever possible. With the right planning and record-keeping, this will be a breeze, but make sure you’re redirecting to the right pages.
As an example, you wouldn’t want to send someone to your blog page who was looking for your homepage. Maintaining this transition’s smoothness will help your site’s SEO and attract more satisfied visitors.
Consider including them in your project if you’re planning out this new phase; your SEO won’t suffer and website visitors will still be able to find the helpful content they’re looking for.
Redirects that point to out-of-date information
If you don’t set up redirects from the older internal links on your website (like a link to your business blog on your homepage), you’ll give visitors who click on these links a bad user experience.
Although it may take a few seconds or display a white screen in the interim, the old internal link will eventually redirect to the new domain.