Redirects are used to forward from one page to another when content is moved to a new location.
And it does both for website visitors and search engines.
It is also used when a page is deleted from a site, or even when a domain name is changed.
They are essential from both an SEO and user experience perspective.
Since neither visitors nor search engines want to find a page that no longer exists.
But there are several different types of redirects, and multiple cases in which they should (and shouldn’t) be used.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about redirects.
We’ll clarify some of the most frequently asked questions, and help you understand which type to use depending on the situation.
So, let’s dive into it.
What are Redirects and Why are They so Important?
Redirects are a way to forward traffic (or search engine bots) from one URL to another when the original URL no longer exists.
If a redirect isn’t implemented, anyone landing on a page that has been moved or removed will see an error.
But why are redirects so important?
Landing on an error page is not a good experience for users expecting to see a live web page.
This result can cause users to bounce or leave the site.
And it means that the conversion of the user to a customer, or even an email subscriber, will drop massively.
When we click on a link, we expect to be taken to the corresponding page, and not get an error that the page has been moved or removed.
And this happens when there is no redirection.
Use a redirect to forward traffic to the new URL, and you’ll have a visitor who, even though the URL is different, ends up where they wanted to go.
You will have taken it directly from pages A to B.
When a page returns a 404 status code (or another not found error, such as 410), search engines quickly remove it from the index, meaning it will no longer rank in the SERPs.
Even if the page only moves temporarily, you will need to inform the search engine robots.
And let’s also not forget that backlinks pointing to a 404 page will not be considered by the algorithm and are therefore being wasted.
An analysis of some of the world’s most popular brand websites revealed that there are literally thousands of great links going to waste due to this problem.
Forgetting to implement redirects can really result in lost search engine rankings and disgruntled users.
So, you need to understand the importance of redirects when to use them, and what type to use them.
Whether it’s because you’re revamping your website and the structure of your page URLs will change, you’re migrating to a new domain, or even routinely cleaning up old content.
When to Use Redirects
You need to use redirects when:
- You move the URL of a web page (from URL A to URL B).
- You delete a page that gets traffic or has backlinks pointing to it.
- You remodel your website and change the structure.
- You move your website to a new domain.
- You merge two or more websites.
- You migrate from HTTP to HTTPS.
- You want to avoid duplicate content in slashed or non-www URLs.
Sometimes you only need to redirect a single URL (or a series of unique URLs) or directory on a site.
Other times, you need to redirect an entire domain.
You must assimilate that there are different types of redirects that you must use depending on the situation and the final objective.
Different Types of Redirects
The type of redirect you implement largely depends on why you need to do it and whether the move is temporary or permanent.
Knowing the different redirect options means you can use the right one in every scenario and prevent SEO or user experience issues from occurring.
Please note that using the wrong redirect type could result in a loss of search engine rankings in rare cases.
If you have a complex situation and you are not sure what type of redirect you should use to avoid problems.
Seek the advice of an experienced SEO.
Perhaps the most widely used type of redirection is HTTP redirection.
In a nutshell, as described by the W3C: “An HTTP redirect is the richest form of redirect because it provides the User-Agent with more information than just the new address: the server also provides information about the purpose and type of the redirect, which allows User-Agent to behave differently depending on the redirect type.”
And it is this information about the purpose and type of redirection that makes this type so common.
Which means that you can give different addresses depending on your situation.
But what are the different types of HTTP redirects and which ones should you use depending on the occasion?
301 Redirect (Permanently Moved)
Using a 301 redirect indicates that the content of the original URL has been permanently moved to a new URL.
Use this type of redirect when you need to forward users and search engines to a new page location and the original URL doesn’t come back.
These are the most common and most talked about redirects.
They are one of the basics of SEO, given their ability to not only forward users but also pass on PageRank.
This means that, in most cases, these redirects pass on the authority that comes from the backlinks, as long as the topic of the new page matches the original one.
302 Redirect (Found and Temporarily Moved)
A 302 redirect forwards a user from page A to page B but also indicates that this move is only temporary and that the original URL will be restored.
Historically, 302 redirects did not pass PageRank and thus were known to cause SEO issues.
It was confirmed in 2016 that this is no longer the case and that they do, in fact, pass on liaison authority.
Google’s John Mueller said:
It is incorrect that 302 redirects do not pass the PageRank of the link. That is a myth.—John Muller, Google
This type of redirect should only be used in cases where the move is temporary.
Let’s say you’re A/B testing a new page template, or you want to redirect users to a different URL based on their location or the device they’re using.
Many SEOs also believe that if 302 redirects are left in place for long periods of time, Google starts treating them like 301s.
That being said, the purpose and way they are handled are very different.
Even if the PageRank is passed.
When a 301 redirect is implemented, the URLs will be consolidated in the Google index.
However, with 302, the original remains indexed and will continue to rank.
Be sure to think carefully about whether or not a move is permanent before implementing 301 or 302.
These are the two most common types of redirects, but there are other variants that you may encounter from time to time.
303 Redirect (See Other)
Although rarely talked about in the context of SEO (for the simple reason that this type of redirect has nothing to do with it at all), 303 redirects can be used to indicate that redirects do not link to newly uploaded resources, but to another page (such as a confirmation page or an upload progress page).
These can be used to prevent the content of a form from being resubmitted.
For example, when a user presses the “Back” button on their browser.
307 Redirect (Temporary Redirect)
Very similar to a 302, a 307 redirect is its HTTP 1.
1 equivalent and can be used when a URL needs to be redirected temporarily.
The use cases are, for the most part, the same as for 302 redirects.
However, it is believed that 307s do not pass PageRank and for this reason, should be avoided if possible and 302s used instead.
308 Redirect (Permanently Moved)
As you may have discovered, a 308 redirect is the permanent equivalent of a 307 and, for the same reasons, should be avoided whenever possible from an SEO perspective.
Try to use 301 whenever you can.
For a long time, Google couldn’t properly recognize them in the same way as server-side HTML redirects.
And therefore the concerns about these types of redirects should no longer be the same as before.
There is also evidence that they now pass PageRank.
Meta Refresh Redirects
Unlike HTML redirects, which are handled on the server side, it is also possible to redirect one page to another on the client side (in the browser).
This is known as a meta refresh redirect, where a meta tag in the <head> </head> section of a page tells the browser to go to another page after a specified period of time.
You will often find that this type of redirect is used in conjunction with a countdown timer that informs the user that they will be redirected in a few seconds.
Google has confirmed that these are handled like any other redirect.
However, there are still problems in the sense that they offer a bad user experience due to the time it takes to process.
And also, the fact that the original page is kept in the browser history.
To be treated in the same way as a 301 redirect, the update time must be 0 or 1 second.
Common Ways to Implement Redirects
The way redirects are implemented differs depending on the configuration of your web server and CMS.
As a general rule, these are some of the most common ways to implement redirects:
- Editing your site’s .htaccess file (when hosted on an Apache server).
- Adding a server block to your nginx.conf file (when your server is Nginx).
- Importing the mod_redirect module and using url.redirect (when you’re on a Lighttpd server).
- Using the plugin (or complement) ” Easy Redirects Manager ” if you use WordPress.
- Using the built-in URL rewrite module if you are on Magento.
- Using the built-in URL redirection feature if you use Shopify.
Simple Guide to Getting Correct Redirects and Avoid Common Problems
Understanding the importance of redirects is very simple.
However, implementing them incorrectly can lead to issues related to both SEO and user experience.
There are common problems that occur over and over again and that you should be aware of and work to prevent them on your website or that of your clients.
Always Redirect to Similar Content
When redirecting, you need to make sure that the content of the new page is very similar to the content of the old page.
Otherwise, it’s likely to drive like a bland 404.
If a user clicks on a link to visit a page that sells red dresses, they want to explore these products.
They wouldn’t want (or expect) to be redirected to a page selling “jeans.”
If the store no longer carries red dresses, it would be acceptable to redirect to a higher-level dress category, for example.
Avoid Redirect Chains and Loops
Redirect chains and loops are two common problems that occur with redirects.
In fact, this study on internal linking errors highlighted that 8.3% of websites suffer from these problems.
Simply put, a redirect chain is when there is more than one redirect between the original URL and the final URL, and often occurs as a result of website migrations.
Let’s say your “about us” page used to be at /about-the-company/ (A) and then moved to /about-us/ (B).
You have now created a new site and changed the URL of this page to /about/ (C).
If A redirects to B, and B redirects to C, then you have created a chain of redirects.
They are unnecessary and should be avoided.
If you have one that currently exists, you should update it (in this example, you would redirect directly from A to C, even if you also need to redirect from B to C.)
A redirect loop is where the final destination cannot be reached.
Imagine you want to redirect from A to C, but C also redirects to A.
Again, this should be avoided for the simple reason that the redirect is broken and will not forward visitors or search engines to the destination.
You can use the Semrush Site Audit tool to check and get insights into issues caused by chains and redirect loops.
Avoid Internal Redirects
When you change a page’s URL, it’s sometimes easy to forget to go back and update internal links to point to this new location, especially when you’ve implemented redirects.
These redirects are unnecessary since you have full control to redirect internal links.
Of course, it is important that you have these URLs, just make sure to modify the content of your site and update the destination of internal links to avoid redirecting users and search engines in cases where it is not necessary.
Don’t Use 302 Redirects Unless the Change is Temporary
We’ve already discussed how search engines handle 301 and 302 redirects differently.
But you should carefully consider and analyze which type is right for your use.
This usually means making sure not to use 302 redirects unless the move is temporary and doesn’t exist long-term.
As a simple note, let’s not forget that 302 redirects are not removed from Google’s index.
Redirect to Avoid Duplicate URLs
It’s not uncommon to find that a site exists on duplicate URLs (non-www and www, HTTP, and HTTPS, etc.), but this can be easily resolved with a 301 redirect of all variants to a single canonical URL.
Be sure to use redirects to avoid duplicate URLs that could exist between:
- No-www and www
- HTTP and HTTPS
- URLs with trailing slash (/) and without slash
- URLs in upper and lower case
Redirect to Fix 404 Linked Errors and Recover Lost Link Authority
Did you know that Google ignores backlinks that point to a 404 page?
You can use Semrush’s Backlink Analysis tool to discover 404 pages that have links pointing to them.
Simply go to the Indexed Pages tab in your report and check the Destination URL Error box.
You will be given a list of 404 URLs that have links to them and you can now put a 301 redirect to a page with similar content to regain the authority of the missing link.
Thanks for Reading.
Frequently Asked Questions about Redirects
We’ve already covered what redirects are, the different types, and some ways to avoid common problems.
But there are also some frequently asked questions on the subject.
Do Redirects Pass PageRank?
If there is a close match between the content on page A and page B, PageRank will be passed along through redirects, even in cases where a 302 redirect is used.
When there is no content match, the redirect will classify as a soft 404 and will not pass PageRank.
However, 301 redirects should be used in preference when you want to pass the link authority to a new URL.
Are Redirects Bad for SEO?
No, redirects are not bad for SEO.
In fact, in many ways, they are precisely the opposite (as long as they are used in the appropriate cases).
Think of it this way: if you don’t use redirects but move or delete a URL, neither users nor search engines will be forwarded to the new page when they hit the old URL.
This can cause keyword positions to drop and users to leave the site.
When redirects are used these problems are more likely to be anticipated.
That being said, redirects should not be overused and issues like redirect chains and loops should be avoided whenever possible.
How do I Test Redirects?
Sometimes you’ll know there’s a redirect because you’re forwarded to a different location when you visit the URL.
But how do you test redirects to see if they are working correctly or if they are 301 or 302?
You can see both temporary and permanent redirects in the Site Audit report and in Google Search Console.
If you want to test a specific URL, you can use the httpstatus.io tool.
To Sum Up
Redirects are a vital part of SEO, but their use goes beyond this.
You should use redirects whenever you change the location of a web page.
If you don’t, users and search engines won’t be forwarded to the new one.
This in itself can cause SEO problems, as well as cause customers to leave the site.
Take the time you need to understand how redirects work, learn the different types you can use, and try them out to see their features, and you’ll be ready to implement them and prevent the common problems that are often seen.