What Are Redirects and How to Use Them Correctly?
No matter what kind of site you manage, things can be different at some point in the future. Changes might result from plenty of reasons like page removal, alteration of the site structure, purchasing a new domain name, etc. So before any shift happens, you should develop a good redirect outline.
Poor redirect plans may cause rankings loss that, in turn, lead to traffic decrease. All this will negatively affect revenue and business by and large. Plus, botched redirect outlines can destroy years of SEO efforts in one fell swoop. Hence, our core task is to figure out how to avoid such undesirable consequences.
What are redirects, and which types are there? How do they operate, and what way to get them correctly implemented? This article covers all these issues in detail. So, let us start our overview.
The Meaning of a Redirect
Redirection is a process of sending users or search engines from one URL to another. Redirects may be client-side or server-side. Regardless of the kind, the key reasons to incorporate them are:
- Moving a site from the current domain to a new one
- Forwarding traffic while conducting vital server maintenance
- Joining duplicate or redundant content
- Redirecting traffic from the outdated content version to the fresh one
- Merging sites or switching to HTTPS
- Deleting pages or running a promotion
Why Use Redirection
Basically, there are two core factors why you need to apply redirects during content moving:
- Enhanced UX for visitors. You don’t want your users to meet ‘page not found’ every time they wish to access the moved page. The redirection will handle it, directing visitors to a new page location.
- A better understanding of your site by search engines. Redirect informs search engines of the place to content move and the shift type (permanent or temporary). This influences the way the pages show up in their search queries.
Types of Redirects
In essence, redirection comes in two types: server-side and client-side. Each group includes redirects set viewed by search engines as temporary or permanent. So, to prevent potential SEO issues, applying the correct URL redirect for the given tasks is critical.
This redirection means the server is responsible for forwarding users or search engines while making a page request. It occurs due to the 3XX status code returning. When dealing with SEO, you are likely to use server-side redirects most of the time since client-side ones have a few cons and suit mainly unique and rare cases.
Each site owner should be aware of such 3XX redirection:
1. 301 Redirect
It signals to Google that the shift is of temporary nature. 301 redirect also stands as the best pass links method within page redirecting. That’s because they transfer some page establishment from the old URL to the new one.
Still, bear in mind that page authority reduces with each 301 utilization. So, incorporate them only when really needed.
2. 302 Redirect
302 is another widely-spread redirect. Although such a redirection is temporary, it may still pass the page authority forward to the new page. But you need to wait a bit until it works smoothly.
When to take advantage of 302:
- To move your pages to new URLs
- To carry out an A/B test of the site design or copy
- To perform overall page maintenance
If you are confused about when to opt for 301 and 302, remember that a 302 redirection is typically for cases targeted to bring back the initial URL further.
3. 303 Redirect
This denotes a temporary redirect form forwarding users to a resource similar to the requested one. It commonly helps to avoid form resubmissions when people hit the ‘back’ button across their browsers. Moreover, you would better not apply 303s for SEO goals since search engines tend to treat them as 301 or 302.
4. 307 Redirect
307 redirects are practically identical to 302s, but they hold one distinct difference. HTTP method remains the same while making the redirection of the original request.
5. 308 Redirect
Such a move is permanent and close to a 301 redirect. They only differ in the HTTP method of the initial request while 308 directing. Google states it perceives 308 redirects as equal to 301s, but the truth is most SEOs still apply 301 redirections.
Considering client-side redirects – it is when the browser determines the user’s forwarding. Still, it is better not to use it unless you have no other options.
1. Meta Refresh Redirect
Meta refreshes are more about operating at the page level rather than the server level. Unlike the HTTP redirect process, they take place within browsers, not servers. From the SEO perspective, HTTP redirection is more efficient than meta redirect since it is less confusing for Google and site visitors.
It follows that meta refreshes are pretty slow, so they are hurting the user experience. Thus, Google may index the wrong page by mistake. So utilize meta redirects only when server-redirect tactics are not available. Furthermore, they can’t transfer sufficient link equity due to their slow-moving.
Meta redirects are of two types: instant and delayed. You get an instant meta redirect as soon as a web page is launched in the browser. That’s why Google treats it as permanent redirection. On the other hand, triggering after a number of seconds stands for delayed meta redirects viewed as a temporary kind by Google.
Testing showcases that Google takes in JavaSceipt redirects similarly to 301s. Still, no warranty you won’t lose your page authority if you go for this redirect type. Hence, if it is possible, use 3XX redirection rather than JS one.
Ways to Incorporate Redirects
1. WordPress Plugin
Since WP is open-source software, web developers constantly craft new plugins to boost performance. So if you are a WordPress site owner, a redirect plugin forms the simplest way to generate redirection. Just install the Redirection tool, and it will do its toll.
This free plugin will allow you to rule all your redirections in one spot. You don’t have to deal with complex coding and features by utilizing it. As long as your WP site maintains permalinks, you may use Redirection to search for broken linkings and set them right via redirects.
2. .htaccess File
Due to such a configuration file, you can quickly amend your server software. This method is possible to redirect specific URLs, make custom 404 error pages, and alter HTTP to HTTPS within permalinks. However, the only drawback you might come across is the file is available exclusively on Apache servers.
So, where to find the .htaccess file? It is placed in your site’s root folder, but how you can access it results from your web host and plan. When you have a plan at DreamHost, you may trouble-free go for your account, pick the site to work with, and click on ‘Manage Files’. Seek the folder with your site name and go to it. After you locate the .htaccess file there, select ‘Edit’. Then add redirect code via the text editor.
3. PHP File
PHP file is one more valuable option to direct visitors to new URLs. All you need to do here is attach the header function to this file. Still, the initial source must also be a PHP file to get the process to operate.
First, open your text editor. Microsoft users should go for Notepad++, while Mac owners may utilize Tumult Whisk. The next step is to ensure you set the language of PHP. Now insert the redirect code as the first document line within the source file. That’s it.
The Hottest Redirect Practices
1. Close-Match Content Redirecting
While setting up redirection, ensure that the new page content is relevant to the old page. For example, if you move old URLs to new ones that are not a close match, search engines can fail to transfer the old page authority. As a result, it will end in a soft 404 and low Google search ratings responsively.
We receive a soft 404 if the server sends a ‘200 OK’ HTTP status, while Google claims the page must be 404. Such an issue may arise when:
- A page includes insufficient content, like empty pages of a product category or blog.
- A redirected page is totally unrelated to the original one.
- A 404 error appears on a page, but it still sends to 200 HTTP status.
Google mainly lets through valid 404 pages, which is not typical for soft 404s. Therefore, avoiding them and fixing any emerging errors is crucial. Google Search Console is the perfect tool to solve this problem. Here you can reveal a list of URLs that relate to soft 404s. For any like-kind 404, update the redirection so that it forwards to the most appropriate page accessible.
2. Elimination of Redirect Chains and Loops
Sometimes it happens that URLs redirect to themselves or to the previous URL in the overall chain. This is when we get redirection loops. They can be harmful from two points:
- From the user perspective – they make it impossible to reach the target resource and come with ‘too many redirects’ errors across browsers.
- From a search engine perspective – they ‘capture’ crawlers and negatively affect the crawl budget.
Crawling the site with the audit tool will help you discover redirect loops clusters.
3. HTTP to HTTPS Upgrade
HTTPS implementation is just an irreplaceable thing at this stage. It enables your site with an extra protection layer that positively influences Google search ranking positions. But how to check your site performs correct redirection from HTTP to HTTPS?
Take advantage of Ahref’s SEO Toolbar. After its installation, try to switch your homepage to the HTTP redirect version. If done correctly, a 301 response code will show up on the toolbar.
However, you are likely to encounter a 307 when your site applies HSTS. So let us familiarize ourselves with another tactic to update:
- Open Site Audit
- Go to +New Project
- Choose Attach Manually
- Switch to HTTP
- Type the domain
4. Duplicate Content Prevention
This is common when the site operates on a few subdomains. The issue is search engines treat them as different sites. Hence, if taken lightly, duplicate content can appear. You may wonder what’s wrong with this content. In practice, you steal your traffic and compete with yourself because Google doesn’t know what site version forward users to.
The ‘Issues’ tab of the Site Audit tool will provide you with a list of pages for redirection and data on the number of existing duplicate pages. That way, you will be aware of what to get removed.
5. Over Time Redirects Check
Regular redirect performance audits may give valuable insights into unnecessary redirects and slow down the site’s efficiency. Plus, permanent redirects turn into default after nearly three years. In other words, you can delete the redirect now since users won’t visit it anymore, and its gained value belongs to the new one.
6. 404s Fixes for Linking Authority Regain
Google neglects backlinks pointing to 404 pages. And that’s a massive problem since backlinks form an essential ranking factor. So, in essence, you won’t receive any credit from Google for backlinks directing to 404 pages.
Still, no worries; resolving this is easier than it seems. Backlink Analytic Tool will help detect 404 pages to which links point. That way, you could regain some of the lost authority via 301 redirects of those pages to appropriate ones.
No doubt, WordPress plugins, .htaccess files, and PHP files are the best ways to incorporate redirecting. When it comes to the practices that are worth implementing within the redirect framework, here are the top-notch ones:
- Redirection to close-match content
- Removal of redirect chains and loops
- Switch from HTTP to HTTPS
- Duplicate content elimination
- Regular checkouts of redirect
- 404s fixes to reclaim lost link authority
Cave to the tips above, and rest assured that your site will become niche-leading soon.
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