SEO Redirects: Unlocking the Mystery

What are Redirects?

Redirects are made to take a visitor from Page A to Page B. Sometimes a page does not work or does not exist anymore. Instead of having the visitor land on a broken page or a 404 error page, it is best practice to try and redirect the visitor to an appropriate page. Moreover, when proper redirects are implemented, they will actually transfer link juice* and rankings to the new page.

When to Use Redirects

There are countless situations when redirects should be used. Let’s go over some of the most common ones:

Changing domain name

When a domain is changed, it is important to redirect the old domain to the new one. Whether it is a simple LTD change from .ca to .com, or the domain name is being changed to a completely different one, redirects have to be implemented in order to direct the visitors to the new domain, keep rankings and the link juice flowing.

Avoiding duplicate content

Pages or domains with duplicate content should be consolidated. Redirecting the duplicate version towards the original version is recommended. A common duplicate content issue we run into is between the ‘www’ version of a site and the ‘non-www’ version. Indeed, http://example.com and http://www.example.com may look like one site, but they are two different sites in the eye of the search engines. Having the two versions live splits the link juice coming to the page and creates duplicate content issues. One simple rule in an htaccess file can take care of that issue.

Website redesign with new URLs

Often, changes in URL structure come along with a website redesign, , especially if a new technology or CMS is used. Once again, old URLs have to be redirected to the new ones for the same reasons as stated above.

Retired Pages

When a page is no longer needed/wanted on a website, I have seen a lot of webmasters just delete the page from the server. However, it is important from a usability and SEO perspective for the retired page to be redirected to an existing page. I have recently seen a website where the programmer would just leave the page live and copy/paste the content from their 404 error page onto that page. This is very bad practice.

Fix 404 errors

Google Webmaster Tools gives you a full report of all the 404 errors on a verified site. A 404 page is a page that doesn’t exist but is being linked to, either internally or externally. It is a good idea to go through that report every month or so and fix all the new 404 errors by redirecting broken pages to the appropriate pages on the site.

Types of Redirects

There are many types of redirects. However, not all redirects are born equal – at least not in the SEO world. Some redirects are SEO friendly, other are not. Let’s go over the main different types of redirects:

301 redirect – “Goodbye forever”

The 301 redirect is one of the most commonly used redirects. It is easy to implement and is very SEO friendly. The 301 redirect code means that the page A has been permanently moved to another URL; therefore, search engines should replace it in its index by the new page the redirect is pointing to.

302 redirect – “I’ll be back”

The 302 redirect is almost the same as a 301 redirect except it tells search engines that the page has been temporarily moved and it will be back, so they should keep the page in their index.

Meta refresh redirect

This redirect is a bit old school. It is still being used in some occasions. That’s the kind of redirect that gives you a message: “You will be redirected in 5 seconds…” with a countdown. Then you leave to another page. This redirect is not SEO friendly and will not pass link juice as well as 301 redirects.
Meta refreshes are a type of redirect that is executed on the page level rather than the server level (they are usually slower and not a recommended SEO technique). They are most commonly associated with a 5 second count down with text “If you are not redirected in 5 seconds, click here”. Meta refreshes do pass some link juice but are not recommended as an SEO tactic due to usability and the loss of link juice passed.

JavaScript redirect

A JavaScript redirect is a piece of JavaScript code that is used to automatically transfer a visitor from a landing page to a different target page. Although there may be some legitimate reasons to use JavaScript redirects, it is most often used for black hat SEO because most crawlers don’t have JavaScript enabled so robots and people will see two different versions of the page. That’s called Cloaking and can hurt your rankings big time. JavaScript redirects can be used to solve technical issues with a site but if you have the choice, you are much better off using a 301 redirect.

Redirect via a link

That’s not really a redirect per se but sometimes, webmasters will put a sentence with a link on a page that is retired: “The page has moved. Click here to access it”. Needless to say, this is not SEO friendly or in usability best practices.

Domain forwarding

In the case when a domain name is changed to another one, you can use domain forwarding from the cpanel of the registrar. However, most registrars have domain forwarding set as a 302 redirect instead of a 301 redirect so it will not pass on link juice and rankings. It’s best to double check before implementing.

Quality Control

It’s always good to check if newly implemented redirects are working. The main two things to check are:

• The old page actually redirects to the new one – just try to load it up in your browser. Clear your cache if the old page still loads up.
• The redirect implemented is the one chosen (301 redirect vs. 302 redirect, for example). To check that, you need to look at the HTTP header code of that page with a tool such as http://www.virante.com/seo-tools/live-headers.

*link juice is the amount of PageRank that is passed with a link. PageRank has a value between 0 and 10 and helps rank web pages higher.

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