Do URL redirects affect SEO?
Let’s cut to the chase: yes, redirecting URLs will affect your site rankings in search engines. But whether the effect is good or bad depends on when, where, and how you redirect.
When executed correctly, you can change, remove, or even combine URLs and not only prevent a drop in rankings but actually gain traffic from organic search.
On the other hand, redirect a URL incorrectly, and you could lose all the authority from that page, causing you to drop in rankings and succumb to competitors.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before we discuss the different types of redirects, domain-level redirects, and methods for implementation, you’ve got to know what a redirect is!
Lucky for you, our Director of Web Development helped write this blog, so you’re about to get some tips that you won’t hear from any old SEO agency.
Crash Course on Redirects
Website owners will inevitably need to modify their site. Maybe you’re changing the name of your business. Maybe you’re merging two websites, or you updated an old piece of content that you really want people to see.
URL redirecting makes each of these actions possible and plays a huge role in directing users – and search engines – to the right location.
Redirects work by pointing your old URL to your new page. If someone searches for or clicks on the old URL, they’ll be taken to the new page instead. In other words, redirects prevent users from ending up at a dead end.
You’ve probably seen digital dead ends before. They’re what’s known as 404 errors, and when you see one as in the dreaded image below, it’s because someone didn’t redirect their URL properly.
URL redirection is like highway redirection – the route is altered, but if everything goes smoothly, you’ll end up at your destination.
How Redirects Affect SEO
Here’s why redirects matter and should at least be considered as part of your SEO strategy: Google’s core algorithm assigns value, and therefore better ranking position, to URLs that contain high-quality backlinks.
Let’s break this down. The goal of search engines like Google is to put the most relevant, reliable sources in front of users. To do this, search engines’ algorithms have been designed to pick up on certain signals that help determine which pages are authoritative and trustworthy.
One of Google’s signals, called PageRank, is a part of the algorithm that places a higher value on websites that have backlinks from prominent, trustworthy sites. If a website has a good PageRank score, they are likely considered a trustworthy source in Google’s eyes.
Although PageRank has been around for at least a decade, many marketers are just catching on. But it’s better late than never to get your PageRank and redirects sorted – an article published by Stanford claims that PageRank “is an excellent way to prioritize the results of web keyword searches.”
Over time, as a website earns more high-quality backlinks, Google will start to view them as an “authority” and rank the URL accordingly.
But if a page is deleted or redirected incorrectly, those backlinks are lost, and the authority that that page had is thrown out. That means months of hard work and outreach can be lost in a second. That’s where proper redirecting comes in.
301 or 302 Redirects for SEO?
Of the different types, website developers use 301 and 302 redirects the most. But beware: not all websites are set up to benefit from 301s or 302s. There are specific circumstances where a 301 is needed, and there are specific circumstances where a 302 redirect is more appropriate. Let’s discuss what those circumstances look like.
When to Use a 301 Redirect
301 is a code sent from a web server to a browser, signaling a permanent redirect from one URL to another. This means that when a user clicks on a URL with a 301 redirect, they’ll automatically be sent to the new URL.
The standard for web developers, 301s tell Google that a page’s ranking signal should forever pass to the new URL. Not for a day, not for a month – forever. That’s why 301s are also known as “permanent redirects.”
301s transfer all ranking power and backlink authority from the old to the new URL and are most often used when a page is permanently moved or removed from a site.
For example, let’s say you have a blog about the state of Georgia. You’ve always posted updates to your blog on this subdomain: https://blog.georgia-facts.com. Now, you want to move your blog to a subfolder: https://georgia-facts.com/blog/. The original blog has been indexed by Google; you’ve included it in emails and social media posts, and people already subscribe to it. You don’t want to lose that traffic to your site, so you perform 301 redirects of each URL from the old subdomain to the new subfolder. Now, any visitors to the original blog page – even those who bookmarked the page – will be redirected to the new one, and you keep the traffic that you earned.
Now for some 301 updates from Google. The search engine recently announced that it will take a year for a 301 redirect to pass ranking signals from the old URL to the new one. However, if the web developer removes the redirect after a year, when a user visits the page they’ll see a 404 Error code and will not get passed to the new URL.
To prevent that from happening, it’s best practice to keep all redirects live.
When to Use a 302 Redirect
302s aren’t used as often as 301s but are helpful in some instances. They are temporary redirects, meaning users and search engines can visit them only for a limited amount of time before they are removed.
Because 302s can confuse search engines as they try to determine which page is of higher value – one that has been permanently or temporarily moved – these redirects are only useful if you are sure that the redirect will be removed in the near future.
One example of a helpful 302 redirect could be a merchant offering a seasonal item that they plan to sell with the same URL again. When the season is over, they may add a 302 temporary redirect to a different page selling a similar product so that users directed there are not brought to an unavailable product. Then, when they are ready to sell the original seasonal item again, they can remove that temporary 302 redirect.
Sometimes it’s not enough to have individual redirects. Sometimes, you need to redirect your whole domain. For example, if you want to change the name of your business, but keep all of your content, you could redirect the whole domain to a new one.
Through domain redirecting (domain forwarding), web developers are able to forward every single URL from one domain to the desired domain.
Forwarding a full domain to a new one can be bad for SEO if not done properly. Fortunately, the legal design and development team at EverSpark can handle anything, including individual URL mapping for a beneficial transition.
Methods of Implementation
We’ve covered the what and the why – now it’s time for the how. Some web developers will give you other options, but the platforms below are used most frequently by our Director of Web Development and team.
If your site is on a traditional server like Apache, implementing your redirects in an .htaccess file may be the best way to implement server-side redirects. The .htaccess is a file that lives on your server and is most often used to redirect URLs:
If you use a managed hosting service such as WP Engine, .htaccess is not an option to house your server-side redirects. The hosting service probably manages it for you.
For example, in WP Engine you can easily add rewrite rules in your hosting dashboard so that you can manage your redirects all in one place:
Server-side redirects are ideal in most cases. If EverSpark doesn’t have access to your hosting platform, we may use a WordPress plugin to manage your redirects. While this method is not preferred, it does allow redirects to be added easily and may be a decent option for non-technical users who need to make changes.
Stuck on redirects? Give us a call.
Proper redirection takes comprehensive knowledge of technical SEO. You’ve got to understand the different types of redirects and how each type could benefit your firm’s website at certain times.
Every website is different and will require different methods of redirection, but our team is experienced and able to take on even the most convoluted, outdated sites. Plus, if you’ve been burned by an agency that didn’t handle your redirects properly, EverSpark can scrape the mess clean and start positioning your site as an authority.
If you’re ready to move your website from one domain to the next, or if you just want to switch around a few URLs, give EverSpark a call. Get in touch with us online to learn more about our website design for SEO.