A Beginner Website Owner's Guide To Using Redirects - Webnames Blog

A Beginner Website Owner’s Guide To Using Redirects

Let’s say you’re on your way to work and as you’re taking your usual route, you find that the road is closed due to repaving. You spot the familiar orange detour sign, and you follow it in order to get around the road closure and on to your destination.

While the above example takes place in the physical realm, rerouting and relocating can happen virtually too. When it does happen, it takes the form of a redirect. Redirects are a commonplace action on the web, and they can significantly impact your search engine optimization (or SEO) strategy, but what are they and how do you know when to use them?

What are redirects?

In simple terms, redirects are used to forward visitors or search engines from one URL to another. The first URL is the one that the user typed in, clicked on, or otherwise requested in some way. The second one is the destination URL.

Redirects work in a similar way for search engines too. They will send the search engine from one URL to another. This allows users and search engines alike to access the most current or relevant page. Not only does it make for a better user experience, but it also can prevent SEO problems and help your website rank higher.

Types of redirects and when to use them.

There are several types of redirects for different situations, but that have similar functions. The most common reasons you might use redirects on your site are:

  • Domain Change – for when you create a new website on a different domain and you want to use a large scale redirect to preserve inbound traffic from the original URL.
  • Permanent Page Deletion – for when you completely remove a page from your website, but you still want any backlinks that lead to that URL to go somewhere.
  • Temporary Page Maintenance – for when you temporarily take a page down to do some improvements or a redesign, a redirect would take visitors somewhere else for the duration of the maintenance.
  • Page Merging – for when you’re merging two or more pages into one, one or more of the former URLs will not survive the merger and you need your traffic to go somewhere.

Just as there are various situations for redirects, there are different redirects that have unique functions.

301 Moved Permanently

If you’ve ever physically moved from one place to another, you’ll know how important it is to forward your mail. The same can be said about your website! When you move your website from one domain to another, you want to be sure that you take the necessary precautions so you don’t lose traffic. In the virtual world, this is called a 301 Redirect.

Without getting too technical, a 301 is an HTTP status code sent by a web server to a browser that signals a permanent redirection from one URL to another. Any visitor who requests the old URL will automatically be sent to the new one without having to do anything. It is most commonly used when a page or an entire website has been permanently deleted or moved to a new location.

302 Found

In the 301 example, there was a comparison of a physical move from one location to another and the importance of having the post office forward your bills and other mail to your new location. For a 302 comparison, it would be as if your home was being renovated and you can’t live there temporarily, so you have to live in another location for a little while.

In the virtual world, a 302 redirect is an HTTP status code that occurs when a URL a visitor is attempting to reach has been moved to a different URL temporarily. This one also happens on the server side and is automatic. If set up correctly, it doesn’t impact the user experience at all. Some appropriate uses for the 302 redirection would be: redesigning a page, running a promotion, or conducting A/B testing. While these uses are not exhaustive, there’s one thing you need to keep in mind when using this type of redirect: only use a 302 if the change is temporary.

303 See Other

The 303 redirect is similar to a 302, but with one main difference – a 303 is not cacheable. A good analogy to describe this type of redirect involves a fast-food drive through in which you pay for your purchase at one window and then you are directed to pick up your food at the next window.

A 303 redirect is an HTTP status code returned by the web server indicating that the URL location does not link directly to a resource. It is linked to an alternative page, such as a confirmation message. This type of redirect is a result of a POST or PUT request, ensuring that refreshing the page won’t trigger the redirect again. The main use of a 303 redirect is for form submissions. By using a 303, it ensures that you avoid getting duplicate form submissions.

307 Temporary

The 307 redirect is another case of someone living in a different location while their home is being renovated. It is the successor to the 302, but with some crucial differences. The 302 redirects from one URL to another, however the 307’s status response is that the URL being accessed has temporarily moved to a different User Resource Identifier or URI but will eventually be back in its original location. It also tells search engines that your server is compatible with HTTP 1.1. Mainly, the key difference between the two is that the request method doesn’t change with the 307. For example, the 307 can’t change the request from GET to POST, it has to be either GET / GET or POST / POST.

308 Permanent

Just like how 301 is akin to packing up all the belongings in your home and moving to a new one, the 308 works in the same way. While the 301 redirects from one URL to another, the 308, like the 307, directs the request for the URL being accessed to a different URI. Plus, as with the 307, the request method for the 308 doesn’t change.

How do redirects affect SEO?

The primary goal of search engine optimization is to get higher rankings for your website on the various search engines that people use on a daily basis. Organic search rankings have a huge dependency on link authority. Link authority is based on the quantity and quality of links from other websites to your own. If the URLs for those links change, it severs the connection of those backlinks. That is where the redirects become a crucial part of your SEO strategy.

Learning which redirects becomes very important when you’re trying to rank up. A 301 or a 308 will tell search engines that the page has moved forever. Search engines will index and show the new permanent URL in the search results. On the other hand, a 302 or a 307 will tell search engines that the page has moved temporarily. This causes the search engines to keep the old URL indexed and show it in the results because it thinks that the old URL will be back in commission soon.

But what about URL forwarding… isn’t that the same thing?

Without getting too technical, no they are not the same thing. A redirect tells the browser to fetch the new URL that is either temporarily or permanently replacing the old one, whereas forwarding changes the URL on the server without telling the browser. At Webnames.ca, we offer free URL/Domain Forwarding, URL Masking (where you can use content from another domain while keeping your original domain name in the address bar), Domain Parking and Email Channeling. These value added services can help ensure that your presence on the internet is continuously available.

Final Thoughts

Now that you have a better understanding of what exactly redirects are, how they work and when to use them, you can start to think ahead to future projects that might involve a permanent or temporary move. While this short tutorial on redirects only scratches the surface, you should recognize that they are an essential part of your SEO strategy.

There are so many redirects available, it’s no wonder that many rookie website owners often find themselves in a state of confusion. When it comes to implementing redirects, keep this short list of criteria in mind:

  • Are the redirects going to be permanent or temporary? The answer to that question will affect your redirect selection.
  • 301 and 302 are the most common and easiest redirects to set up and manage.
  • 303, 307 and 308 should only be used if you really need them AND (we can’t stress this enough) you know what you’re doing when you’re setting them up.
  • Multiple redirects can result in slower site speeds, which in turn can have a negative impact on the user experience. It can also cause search engines to stop crawling your site.
  • Try to avoid redirect loops or chains (where a redirect is linked to another redirect and so on and so forth) as they can get convoluted and hurt your site rankings.

Following the above-mentioned guidelines will help you maintain your search performance, provided implement them correctly.

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