URL redirects: The ultimate guide
There are a variety of reasons why you might need to create URL redirects. However, when a website visitor comes across a page that is recently removed, deleted or has moved to another location on your website, their reaction is typically the same: pure frustration.
Not to mention, this website visitor has been forced to leave your sales funnel and won’t convert.
To stop this from happening, we’ve put together this ultimate guide on how to create URL redirects and ensure your website visitors never have to feel frustration when engaging with your brand online.
The types of URL redirects
Yes, there are multiple types of redirects. Many people are familiar with the most common type of URL redirect: a 301 redirect. That’s because it’s extremely user-friendly. But, it’s important to understand the different types of redirects out there, and what they mean.
A 301 redirect:
If a page on your website has permanently moved elsewhere, you’ll want to use a 301 redirect. This is a permanent redirect from one URL to another URL – the old to the new. This will seamlessly take all website visitors and search engines to a completely different URL to the one they originally typed out or clicked onto.
This makes for a good user experience and, for this reason, Google likes 301 redirects. URL shorteners use the 301 redirects to forward browsers from a short link location to the final destination. A 301 redirect passes the link equity – or SEO value – of a short URL on to this new location.
302 or 307 redirects:
While a 301 URL redirect is a permanent move, a 302 redirect is implemented when a web page moves temporarily. This way search engines are still able to find and send users to the new URL.
Similarly, a 307 redirect is most commonly used in a scenario where your URL changes for a certain amount of time and then changes back to the original.
A meta refresh instructs a browser to automatically refresh a web page, but it can also be used as a method of URL redirection. Though this isn’t common or recommended.
301, 302 and 307 URL redirects are all executed at a server-level. While meta refresh is only implemented at the page level. It should be avoided unless you need to create a redirect but don’t have any control over your website servers.
With a meta refresh, the redirection itself takes longer and users will see a message saying something like: “If you are not redirected in five seconds, click here.”
A meta refresh is not the most user-friendly experience and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) doesn’t recommend their use.
Why your choice of URL redirect is important
Trust us, it’s important to your users, to search engines and your site’s SEO success.
For the purpose of this conversation, we will focus on 301 redirects, as these are the type of URL redirects you should be using whenever possible. So why are they so important? Marketers reading this may be thinking – redirects are something for the technical guys and gals to worry about! But this is the wrong outlook.
Redirects are important for many reasons. For one, correctly implementing a redirect ensures the SEO value, or link equity, of a URL is carried over to its new location. That means you’re not starting from scratch with Google and you can build up the authority of the new updated location.
Secondly, URL redirects let you bring website visitors on a smooth user journey. They won’t end up stuck at a dead end on your site.
URL redirects also help us avoid 404 pages – aka error pages. Google accepts that 404 pages are a normal part of the internet.
If you’re permanently removing content from your site and don’t have any other content to fulfill the same user need, then leading users to a 404 ‘not found’ page or a 410 ‘gone’ page is the only option.
Google treats 404 and 410 pages the same way and, though they are a normal part of the online world, they are generally undesirable for SEO. So consider leading users to other relevant content using a 301 URL redirect whenever possible.
For marketers, it is also worth noting that 301 URL redirects make using short branded links within blog posts, social media posts, and websites safe. They can share on-brand, visually appealing links and tracking URLs from Rebrandly without worrying about a devaluation of the link quality.
How to redirect a URL – the right way
We’re glad you asked. This wouldn’t be the ultimate guide to URL redirects without sharing best practices.
1. Redirect to a relevant page
If you’re implementing a redirect, take the time to first figure out which page makes the most sense to send users to instead. Redirects aren’t just about transferring SEO link equity. They are also about maintaining an intuitive user experience for people visiting your website.
2. Document your URL redirect list
During a website redesign, your site architecture will change and likely lead to URL changes. Before your new site goes live, document existing URLs and the new URL to redirect users to. It saves your website visitors some stress if they use an old URL or navigate to your page from a link in an email or bookmark.
3. Domain redirects shouldn’t be forgotten
For one reason or another, your main domain might change. When that happens, you’ll need to set up a 301 URL redirect from the old URL to the new URL. You’d hate for people to not be able to find your website at its new home!
Additionally, there are different variations of a domain – with and without “www”, as well as the http and https versions. Or you may have purchased domains with the most common misspellings of your brand’s name. In this case, a redirect to your primary domain should be set up, which should be https if you want to stay in Google’s good graces.
URL redirects and link shortening
In terms of shortening a URL, Rebrandly uses 301 URL redirects to forward a user from the short link location to the destination URL location.
For example, if you have a lengthy URL with UTM parameters, you won’t want your audience to see it. Well, we certainly wouldn’t:
So, we set up shortened it to look like this:
Much better! It is on-brand, visually appealing, will have a high CTR and its link equity will be passed on to the destination.
And if the landing page ever becomes outdated, but will remain on your site, you can update the destination URL of your links to redirect users to a new location.
This feature is also beneficial if marketers need a page redirect faster than developers can address it. By changing the URL in your central link management platform, everywhere the link has been shared will be updated too.
If you want to shorten an already shortened link… just don’t. This is one of the most common URL shortening mistakes, which creates a double redirect making the page’s load time twice as long. If you shorten a link, make sure to use the end destination and not someone else’s already shortened URL.
So 301 redirects are the preferred method of URL redirection when taking into account SEO and user experience. These redirects tell search engines and users alike that the page has moved permanently and prompts search engines to pass the link juice from the old page to the new page. According to Moz, 302s and meta refreshes, are poor substitutes, as they won’t pass the rankings and search engine value like a 301 redirect will.
If you haven’t been following these best practices, now’s a good time to start. And you can always perform an audit of your website to identify any error pages or URL redirects that can be improved upon. Google Search Console is great for highlighting broken backlinks, which lead to 404 pages. While SEO-crawler tool Beam Us Up will also help highlight any issues.
So there you have it! URL redirects are a tricky thing, but hopefully, this guide has cleared up the question: How do I redirect a URL?
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- Video: What is link management?
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Photo in main image by Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash