Redirects can be an invaluable tool for directing traffic around your website. However, inadvertently chaining them together can cause more harm than good. Here’s how to fix redirect chains so they don’t harm your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
What Is a Redirect Chain?
A redirect chain happens when multiple redirects exist between the original URL requested and the final URL destination. For instance, URL A redirects to URL B, which then redirects to URL C. This causes slower loading time for users and search engine crawlers on URL C.
Redirect chains make it harder for search engines to crawl and index your site and can frustrate site visitors by increasing page load times.
How Do Redirect Chains Happen?
Redirect chains almost always happen accidentally. The vast majority of the time, they happen slowly as one page gets redirected to another, which itself may eventually be redirected to yet another page. In this case, the chain gets built piece by piece over time.
Redirect chains can also happen when you implement redirects to send visitors from a www site to non-www site, from HTTP to HTTPS, and from URLs without a trailing slash to URLs with a trailing slash (or vice versa). For example, many websites redirect traffic from the https://www.website.com version of their site to the https://website.com version. Combining this with a trailing slash redirect or an HTTP to HTTPS redirect can cause site-wide redirect chains that will slow down all of your pages.
Redirect Chains vs. Redirect Loops
While a redirect chain is when there are multiple redirects between the first URL and the final URL, a redirect loop is a closed chain of two or more redirects that point back to each other, creating a loop that traps visitors.
With a redirect chain, eventually you get to a final destination. Redirect loops ensure visitors and search crawlers never reach the destination page. It’s like redirect purgatory.
Just as with redirect chains, you should identify and deal with redirect loops as soon as possible to prevent them from hurting both the user experience and your site’s SEO. The method I share below will help you find instances of both on your website.
How Redirect Chains Affect SEO
Redirect chains can impact your site’s SEO by wasting crawl budget, slowing down page load times, and diminishing link equity.
Wastes Crawl Budget
Before Google can index and rank a site, it first needs to crawl it. However, Google will only crawl so many pages on any given day based on the size of your site and its popularity (i.e. your crawl budget). Redirect chains waste that limited crawl budget by sending search crawlers to multiple URLs just to crawl one page of actual content. This may not be as much of an issue for smaller sites, but it can be especially problematic for larger sites that are, unfortunately, also more susceptible to redirect chains.
To make things worse, Google treats redirect chains as soft 404 errors and fails to properly crawl them. If it runs into a certain number of redirects, Googlebot will simply give up without ever making it to the destination page, leaving it uncrawled and unindexed. In fact, in a Reddit thread, Google’s John Mueller indicated that Googlebot will only follow up to 5 redirects before giving up.
Slows Page Load Speed
A redirect is an extra step. Chaining too many extra steps together will naturally slow down the performance of your site and increase the time it takes to get from page A to page B, C, or D. The more redirects you chain together, the slower your pages will load.
Page load speed is a significant Google ranking factor since Google believes fast speeds to be an integral part of a positive browsing experience. Site visitors are likely to click away from your site if it takes too long to load their desired content. They’ll return to Google to find a page that answers their query and loads quickly. This signals to Google that your page wasn’t useful. Google, in turn, may lower the ranking, especially if it happens often. Remember, they want to make sure that everyone that uses their search engine has a good experience so they’ll keep using Google products. If they think your site has poor page experience, they’ll rank you lower, which will impact your organic traffic.
Drains Link Equity
A page’s link equity is diluted more and more with each redirect. The first 301 redirect will transfer 100% of link equity, but every redirect after will transfer less and less to the final page.
Considering how important links are for SEO, maintaining as much of your link equity as possible by fixing redirect chains is critical for preserving your PageRank and your hard work.
How To Use Screaming Frog To Find Redirect Chains
Rather than going on a wild goose chase and attempting to find redirect chains manually, you can use Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider to help you identify redirect chains more quickly.
The spider tool can look for redirects in one of two ways: by crawling your site or by analyzing a list of uploaded URLs. Here’s how it works.
Check Redirects by Crawling the Site
To begin, download the Screaming Frog SEO spider. The free version will analyze up to 500 URLs, so if you’re working with a small site, it may be enough to get the job done. Otherwise, you’ll need a license.
To check redirects by crawling your site, open up the SEO spider and type in the URL of the website you want to crawl in the top box and click ‘Start.’
Check for Redirects in Real-Time or After the Crawl Has Finished
You can either wait for the crawl to finish or check results in real time by clicking on the Response Codes tab.
To see the active redirects on your site, click on the filter field and choose ‘Redirection 3xx.’ You can also filter for redirects by looking over to the crawl overview section in the right-hand window and clicking on ‘Redirection 3xx’ from under the response codes tree.
Analyze the Redirects Found on Your Site
After the crawler finishes populating the list, you’ll be able to see the URL of the redirect, the type of redirect, and the URL being redirected to. To see more about the source of the redirect, click on a URL from the list, then click on the ‘Inlinks’ tab at the bottom.
If you would rather see the list in a spreadsheet, click on ‘Bulk Export’ at the very top of the page and select ‘Response Codes’ → ‘Redirection (3xx) Inlinks.’ From here, you can choose to export the data into one of several different spreadsheet formats.
Check out Screaming Frog’s handy guide to exporting from the SEO spider for more information about how the process works.
Look for Redirect Chains & Loops
To look specifically for redirect chains and loops, you’ll need to export the redirect chains report. You can do this by clicking on the ‘Reports’ tab at the very top of the page and selecting ‘Redirects’ → ‘Redirect Chains.’
The ‘Redirect Chains’ report will show you the chain of redirects, the number of hops the chain makes, and the source of the redirect. It will also let you know if you have a redirect loop that needs to be addressed.
Check Redirects by Crawling a List of URLs
The other way to check redirects with Screaming Frog is to upload a list of URLs for it to check.
In order to check the URLs, you’ll need to submit them in list mode. To enter list mode, click on the Mode tab at the top of the page and choose ‘list.’ After you’ve got them all copied from your original spreadsheet, you can click the ‘Upload’ button on the top right and then select ‘paste’ from the drop-down menu.
Click ok to start your crawl, then follow the steps to analyze the data noted above.
Other Ways To Find Redirect Chains
In addition to Screaming Frog, there are several other tools you can use to find redirect chains hidden around your website.
Online redirect checkers and website crawler tools can also help you identify redirects and other crawl problems across your site. Screaming Frog is our tool of choice, but it’s not the only option.
How To Fix Redirect Chains
Removing redirect chains and loops is a pretty straightforward process. Once you have your report, you can go to the source page and locate the noted anchor text. Edit the link so it goes directly to the final destination URL.
For a redirect loop, you will need to find an appropriate live page to send traffic to from the two pages looped together.
Preventing Redirect Chains
After you’ve cleaned up the redirect chains across your site, it’s time to think about protecting your site from future problems.
The best way to prevent redirect chain problems is to regularly check your site’s redirects for new chains or loops. Performing regular crawls and audits is always a good idea from an SEO perspective, so think of redirect chains as just another thing you should be checking for during your regular SEO maintenance.
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