Redirects can be a useful tool for guiding traffic around your website and away from pages that are no longer in service. However, not all redirects are the same. Different situations call for different kinds of redirects.
301 redirects are an SEO-friendly way to safely divert traffic away from inactive pages while maintaining the SEO integrity of your website.
In this comprehensive guide to 301 redirects, I’ll cover what a 301 redirect is, why it’s the preferred redirect for SEO, when you should use one, and how to implement a 301 URL redirect.
What Is a Redirect?
Have you ever clicked on a link only to land on a 404 error page? Clicking through a dead link can be frustrating and annoying.
Thankfully, you can redirect URLs to avoid this situation on your site.
Redirecting URLs is the process of linking a current URL to a different one so that traffic is guided from the first page toward the second page. By redirecting to another URL, you tell both visitors and search engine crawlers like Googlebot that a page now has a new location.
You may want to use a redirect when you:
- Move your website to a new domain or protocol
- Find a broken URL on your site
- Merge two web pages
- Change the URL of a web page
- Have multiple domains and want visitors funneled to just one
- Remove a specific page from your website
Types of Redirects
All redirects fall into one of two categories: permanent redirects and temporary redirects.
You can use a permanent redirect when a page has moved to a new location and you no longer need the URL. On the other hand, temporary redirects are better suited for pages that are moving for a limited time and whose URL you want to preserve.
All redirects effectively do the same thing — redirect traffic. So why bother to distinguish between temporary and permanent redirects?
A permanent redirect sends a strong signal to search engines that the new URL is the canonical URL. In contrast, a temporary redirect sends a weaker signal and reduces the likelihood that its URL is designated as canonical.
A canonical URL is the URL Google considers the most representative among duplicate pages. Google will be more likely to crawl and index your new page instead of the old one when it receives that strong signal that the new page should be the canonical URL.
There are 6 types of permanent redirects:
- HTTP 301 redirect
- HTTP 308 redirect
- Meta refresh redirect
- HTTP refresh redirect
- Crypto redirect
HTTP 301 and HTTP 308 redirects are server-side redirects. When a browser makes an HTTP request to the web server, the server responds with a status code and proceeds to redirect the client to the new page. This entire process usually takes only a fraction of a second and tends to go relatively unnoticed.
Server-side redirects are not the only options when it comes to permanent redirects. There are also client-side redirects. As their name implies, client-side redirects tell the client’s browser to redirect to the new page.
What Is a 301 Redirect?
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect that takes visitors and search engine bots to a new URL when the old one is no longer active or accessible.
A 301 effectively tells the visitor’s browser that the page has permanently moved. When a visitor attempts to access the original URL, their browser makes an HTTP request to the web server, which then delivers an HTTP status code. The number 301 refers to the HTTP response status code of the source page and indicates that the requested page has been moved to another URL.
When a search engine crawler encounters a 301 redirect, it makes a note to remove the old URL from its index. It also “reads” the page it has been redirected to and determines whether it’s a good fit for the initial query. While a redirect indicates the new URL should be the one that appears in search results, it doesn’t guarantee that it will rank for the same keywords as the redirected URL.
How does it work?
Let’s say there’s a specific webpage on your site that gets regular traffic. Google has indexed it, you’ve linked to it from your social media accounts, and visitors have bookmarked it for easy access. However, for one reason or another, you’ve decided to move its content to another page.
If you simply delete the page, then your visitors will be met with a 404 error page when they attempt to access the original URL. However, if you implement a 301 URL redirect, visitors will be transferred to the new URL without any action on their part.
301 Redirect Best Practices
A 301 redirect should be used strategically. Follow these best practices to ensure you use them correctly.
Only Redirect to Relevant Pages
If you redirect to an irrelevant page, it can confuse Google’s search crawler into thinking it’s a 404 error instead of a 301. It’s best to avoid redirect spam by only redirecting to relevant pages.
Avoid Redirect Chains
If you redirect a page to a new URL and then later redirect that URL to another, you’ve inadvertently created a redirect chain. These redirect chains can slow down your website and squander your crawl budget. Since page speed is a Google Ranking factor, plan out your redirects to avoid redirect chains.
You can use a paid tool like Ahrefs Site Audit to discover redirect chains on your site. If you find that you have a redirect chain, you can revise your redirects so that each page goes to the final URL rather than intermediary stops at other now removed pages.
Clean Up Any Unnecessary or Left Over 301 Redirects
Over the years, a site can collect 301 redirects. These can lead to the above-mentioned redirect chains and may also slow down your overall site speed by overloading your .htaccess file.
An SEO audit service can help you detect unnecessary 301s so you can remove them from your site.
Can 301 Redirects Affect SEO?
Redirects can help you manage the flow of your site’s traffic. However, when used improperly, they can negatively impact your site’s SEO and UX.
The good news is you can rely on 301 redirects to successfully redirect traffic without harming your site’s SEO.
Why Are 301 Redirects Considered SEO-friendly?
301 Redirects Transfer Link Equity
One of the main benefits of 301 redirects is that they transfer link equity and authority from the original URL to the new one. As a result, 301 redirects have gained a reputation as the go-to type of permanent redirect for SEO.
If you need to permanently remove a page, there’s no need to delete it altogether and lose its link equity. If another topically relevant page exists, you can use 301 redirects to transfer the link equity of the original page to the destination page.
301 Redirects as Part of Your Content Strategy
Because 301 redirects transfer link equity, they can be safely used as part of your content strategy to build bigger and better content. How?
301 Redirect Example
Imagine you have two content pages that are closely related. Each of these pages captures some degree of organic traffic and performs well enough for SEO purposes. In your attempts to boost organic traffic to the two pages, you redo your keyword research and find you can better meet the search intent for your desired keyphrase by combining your two pages.
When you merge these two pages into one large piece of content, you can transform two pages that perform well enough into one page that performs better than either. Plus, a 301 redirect on the page with less traffic or fewer backlinks can send additional link equity to your stronger page.
Similarly, you can use a 301 redirect to merge pages when you’re faced with keyword cannibalization issues.
301 Redirect vs. 302 Redirect?
301 redirects and 302 redirects are both server-side redirects that guide visitors towards new URLs. The main difference between these two is that a 301 is intended for a permanent redirect and a 302 is intended for a temporary redirect.
This means you should use a 302 redirect only when you’re temporarily relocating a page. Some situations when a 302 redirect may be the more appropriate choice include when:
- You’ve updated a webpage but still want to provide viewers with a consistent viewing experience
- You want to test a new page without making it a permanent placeholder
- You have a broken webpage but need time to fix it
It used to be that 302 redirects would lead to a loss of PageRank, but this is no longer the case. Google has confirmed that neither 301 redirects nor 302 redirects should impact your PageRank or other SEO signals.
That said, it’s good form to only use 302 redirects when you need to temporarily divert traffic and 301 redirects when you want to divert traffic permanently.
When Should I Use a 301 Redirect?
Apart from merging content, there are a few other situations when you should use a 301 to redirect a URL.
Permanently Moving a Page to Another Location
The most common use of a 301 URL redirect is to help you shift traffic to a new URL when you’ve decided to get rid of a page. If you want to delete a page, then you can use a permanent 301 redirect to keep the incoming traffic and direct it to a topically similar page.
Cleaning Up Inactive Pages
Leaving up 404 dead ends on your site frustrates visitors and can make your site look unprofessional.
Ideally, you should delete these pages and remove their links. However, if you want to hang on to the page’s link equity, use a 301 URL redirect to permanently send the traffic it would receive to another page.
If there’s a near equivalent page somewhere on your site or another page that would make sense to direct visitors to, don’t hesitate to use a 301 redirect instead of deleting the page entirely.
Changing Your Website’s Structure
Changing your site architecture can sometimes help you better structure and categorize your content. If you’ve decided to merge pages or arrange them into new subdirectories, a 301 redirect can help manage the change and seamlessly move web visitors around.
Moving a Blog from Subdomain to Subdirectory
If you host your blog on a subdomain and want to recombine it with your root domain, you can redirect your posts to new URLs in a subdirectory. Check out this post to learn more about subdomains vs. subdirectories.
Website Migration to a New Domain
A website migration to a new domain doesn’t mean you have to lose all the traffic and SEO value you’ve worked so hard to build. Use 301 redirects to migrate from one domain name to another and send your visitors to your new home.
Don’t forget to also use the Change of Address tool in Google Search Console to let Google know you’ve moved your domain.
Making the Switch From HTTP to HTTPS
HTTP used to be the standard for pages all across the web. Today, the majority of sites have switched over to HTTPS, a safer protocol that allows for encrypted communications through the use of a TLS certificate.
Case Sensitive and Trailing Slash URLs
URLs are case-sensitive. An upper-case URL will lead to a different page than one that is lower-case, even if they otherwise say the same thing. Additionally, a URL with a trailing slash (www.website.com/home/) represents a different page than a URL without one (www.website.com/home).
If you want to clean your URLs up and make them more consistent, use a 301 redirect to direct visitors and search crawlers to one particular URL structure, like all lower-case with a trailing slash.
When NOT To Use a 301 Redirect
Not all use cases call for a 301. Here’s when you should avoid this type of redirect.
For Temporary Redirects
You should avoid 301 redirects when you only want to redirect traffic temporarily. In this case, you should use a 302 redirect instead. If you want Google to maintaining the original URL in its index, use a temporary redirect.
To Redirect to Unrelated Pages
Don’t use 301 redirects to redirect to a completely unrelated page unless it’s necessary to do so. Google may treat redirects to a homepage or a completely unrelated page as soft 404s instead of 301s. Only use a 301 to divert traffic towards relevant pages.
How To Implement Redirects in WordPress
Ready to implement some 301 redirects in WordPress? There are a few ways you can do this.
Use the .htaccess File
For sites hosted on Apache servers, you can edit the .htaccess file in your site’s root folder to implement 301 redirects.
Editing the .htaccess can be complicated, especially if you’re not technically inclined. Luckily, there are plugins that can simplify the process and several other ways to implement redirects if you find digging into your server’s files isn’t exactly your cup of tea. Speak to your web dev to learn more.
Use PHP to Create a Redirect
You can also implement a redirect with PHP code. Here’s an example from WordPress of how you can do this with the built-in wp_redirect function.
If you wish to go the .htaccess or PHP route, use a URL redirect generator to help you generate the necessary code. A URL redirect generator will provide you with the code you need to implement a redirect and will allow you to simply copy and paste it in the right spot.
Use a WordPress Plugin
Thankfully, implementing 301 redirects in WordPress is simpler than on other platforms. There’s no need to edit the .htaccess file or your PHP code — just use WordPress plugins specially designed to help you implement redirects. Some plugins you can use to simplify the process include Redirection, Yoast, and Easy Redirect Manager.
How To Check for 301 Redirect Errors
You can manually check your 301 redirects are working. Just type the URL address into your browser and see if you’re sent to the correct page. If the page you’ve redirected to doesn’t show up, then your redirect isn’t implemented correctly.
You can also use an online redirect checker tool like Screaming Frog to automatically check if the redirects on your site work as intended. These tools can be especially useful if there are multiple redirects you need to check at the same time. A redirect checker will identify any redirect errors that lurk under the hood of your website so you can create a plan to fix them.
FAQs About 301 Redirects
When Should I Use a Redirect?
If you’ve removed a page, you should redirect the URL to a new page with a similar topic or intent. For example, if you find you have some low-performing content you don’t feel can be better optimized, you may choose to delete it. Implementing redirects on those pages and sending site visitors to similar pages will let search engines know they should unindex the redirected page. It also creates a better experience for visitors.
Do 301 Redirects Hurt SEO?
When implemented correctly, 301 redirects shouldn’t hurt your SEO efforts. In fact, 301s can support your SEO goals since they allow you to strategically remove poorly performing content and pass their link equity to more relevant and useful pages.
In the past, 30x redirects used to harm a page’s PageRank (one of the metrics that Google uses for ranking pages). However, in 2016, Google officially changed its stance on this, and 30x redirects no longer harm a page’s ability to rank. Plus, both 301 and 302 redirects transfer link equity, which actually helps your SEO by allowing you to shift link equity when you remove a page.
Can I Have Too Many 301 Redirects?
There really is no limit to how many 301 redirects you can have on your domain. However, at a certain point, too many redirects may begin to slow down the browsing experience. It can also waste your crawl budget.
Can I Implement Several 301 Redirects at Once?
Yes, nothing says you can’t stack 301 redirects. However, redirect chains will slow down your site speed and waste your crawl budget. So while it’s possible, best practice is to avoid this.
Will My 301 Redirect Transfer Backlinks from Other Sites?
Yes. Using 301 redirects means the link equity from the original redirected page transfers to the new page.
Can I Redirect an Entire Domain?
While you can’t redirect an entire domain at once, you can redirect all of the pages on a domain to another domain. For example, if you move from HTTP to HTTPS, you’ll need to redirect each page from its HTTP URL to its new equivalent HTTPS URL.
Should I Remove a Page’s Canonical Tags Before Redirecting It?
Yes, to avoid sending search engines mixed signals, remove canonical tags on the page that’s being redirected. If the new URL doesn’t have a canonical tag, add one.
Implement 301 Redirects & More With a Trusted Partner
Not sure whether there are improper redirects on your site? Let us help you! Our 200+ Point SEO Audit can find redirect errors and other issues that can impact your website’s performance. Book a free SEO consultation with Victorious today to learn more.