What’s a 301 Redirect and When Should I Use One?

When it comes to inbound marketing and SEO, there’s all kinds of techie talk, and sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what you actually need to know vs. what you can leave to your IT guy. From 404 errors to HTML to Meta Tags, it can get pretty confusing if you don’t have a lot of experience with web developing, but there are some things do you need to know to get by. Whether you’re a content writer or you’re the website owner, a 301 redirect is one of those tech terms to get used to. We’ll explain why you need it in a minute, but for starters:

What is a 301 Redirect?

Technically speaking, a 301 redirect is a permanent redirect from one existing URL to another. A really good way to understand this, for those of us who don’t deal with web developing all that often, is to think of it as a forwarding address. Once you fill out a change of address form, if someone sends a letter to your old address, the post office will automatically send your mail to your new forwarding address. That’s pretty much exactly how a 301 redirect works.

Say for example, your old website was www.neatwebsite.com/really-good-article, but you then changed it to www.neatwebsite.com/best-article-ever. By setting up a 301 redirect, anyone who tries to go to www.neatwebsite.com/really-good-article will automatically be sent to www.neatwebsite.com/best-article-ever, and you don’t lose any traffic. Pretty neat!

But why a 301 redirect?

There are all kinds of redirects out there (we’ll explain ‘em later), so what exactly makes the 301 the fairest in all the land? Well, unlike most other redirects, a 301 redirect passes between 90 and 99% of the ranking power from the original page to the redirected page, which is very important in terms of SEO. This means that any authority you gained from inbound links to that original page, you maintain, and add to the authority of the new page.

Now that we understand what 301 redirects are and what they do, why do you need them?

Connect multiple domains

You know how your parents still type “www.neatwebsite.com” into the URL bar at the top of your search browser? Well search engines actually consider that a different website than the neatwebsite.com you usually type in. Even though you might think they’re the same thing, for the internet’s purposes, they’re two different websites that could hypothetically have different content.

That’s why it’s important to have a 301 redirect from the http://www. and http:// versions of your website. If you don’t, the authority you gain on either site will remain independent, rather than combining for your one site, and you could be penalized for duplicate content.

New Website

Another very important time to make use of 301 redirects is when you decide to have your website updated, or overhauled. If you’re considering a new domain, make sure you use a 301 redirect to link your old site over before you go live with the new site.

What’s that? You hated your old site?

That’s fine, but you should still set up the redirects. If you don’t you’ll be worse off than you were with the old website. Without the redirects, a previous client can theoretically still find your old site, but when they click on the link, it will take them to a 404 error page. This is bad because they have no way to get to your new website, and they just may go looking for someone else. Additionally, any authority you built with the old site, whether you had a lot of inbound links, or you were ranking well for certain keywords, will be completely lost without the redirect.

Duplicate content

If you know anything about SEO, you know that duplicate content is bad. A 301 redirect is a great solution to any duplicate content you might find on your site, without having to take down pages. If you have duplicate content on multiple pages, and you’ve just realized it, or have just realized duplicate content is bad, you can easily choose one URL to direct all of the other duplicate pages.

By doing this, you avoid two risks: 1) being penalized by Google for duplicate content. 2) 404 error pages that deter customers and make your site look bad. By simply using a 301 redirect, you minimize the risk of duplicate content, while still providing that great content to your site viewers.

Cleaning up Dynamic URLs

In terms of standard SEO best practice, short, static, keyword driven URLs are still the better option. So, some people opt to change their dynamic URLs to Static URLs. Essentially this means changing a URL from a long jumble of letters and symbols to something that’s easy to remember, like mywebsite.com/home.

This is all fine and dandy, especially if you’re changing your URLs to something that will help you rank better, but what do you do with those old, dynamic URLs? Well you redirect them of course! With a 301 redirect. This ensures search engines don’t mistake that URL for duplicate content, and it sends any visitors coming from older inbound links to the correct page.

Point of Information:

Now that you’re psyched about using 301 redirects, let’s just make sure you do it right. While it’s not rocket science or anything, there is one thing about 301s you’ll want to know to ensure you’re maintaining your ranking power.  

Google will only follow one 301 redirect for certain. While they might follow up to three redirects in a chain, there’s no real guarantee that they’ll navigate to the end of a 301 redirect chain. What does this mean for you?

Don’t chain your 301 redirects.

For example, if you have page A, Page B, and Page C, and you want to redirect both A and B to C, you need to set up an individual 301 redirect to Page C from both of them. Let’s make this a little clearer:

DO NOT:

Page A > Page B > Page C

By linking Page A  to Page B, and then Page B to Page C, you’re going to lose out on your SEO opportunity. Certainly, your pages will still work as you expect them to, but you’re losing your ranking ability by chaining them together like this.

INSTEAD:

Page A > Page C

Page B > Page C

This way, you get the same outcome, and you use the same amount of redirects, but each page only has to take one step to get to the correct address. This ensures that Google can follow that link, and assess your content to rank it properly.

Now you’ve got 301s down. You know what they are, you know what they do, and you know how to use them properly. So go forth and redirect!

And just in case you were wondering, here’s a list of the other redirects, and what they do:

Additional Redirect Options

302 Found / Moved Temporarily – A 302 shows that a page or content has been moved temporarily. These are used very infrequently as they do not pass a page’s authority on to the redirected page.

303 See Other – This type of redirect is typically used in an e-commerce situation where you don’t want a visitor re-submitting sensitive information. A 303 ensures they cannot hit the back button or refresh the previous page, saving a lot of hassle and accidental orders. This should never be used for redirecting URLs with moved content.

307 Temporarily Redirect – Similar to the 302 redirect, the 307 temporarily redirects content to another page. Like the 302 redirect, the 307 does not transfer authority, which is why the 301 is the more popular option.

308 Permanent Redirect (HTTP 2.0 only) – This redirect, only available in HTTP 2.0, is essentially the permanent version of the 307. Like the 301 redirect a 308 redirect does pass authority because it is a permanent redirect.

So, if you’re new to SEO, or you’re just getting into the webmaster side of things, we hope this helps you figure out what a 301 redirect is, and why it’s useful to you. If you have any more questions about 301 redirects, or inbound marketing in general, make sure to get in touch or leave a comment below!



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