What Are Redirects & How Do They Work?

May 11, 2021

In a previous article, we shared a few lessons we learned from launching our website. One topic that we didn’t cover—mainly because we are all too familiar with the subject—was redirects and their SEO value. 

As a digital marketing agency in Minneapolis, we help clients design and develop beautiful, SEO-friendly websites—many of which are rebuilds. In fact, our clients are all too happy to leave their old sites behind in exchange for a fresh look, easier navigation, and custom features that improve their users’ engagement. 

But before they can move forward in a new direction, they first need to make sure the right redirects are in place to avoid sending users (and search engines) to the wrong location.

Wait, What?

Let’s break this down further by using a common URL restructure we might make during a relaunch: shortening /about-us/ to /about/. 

It’s a simple change, and it even has a similar URL to follow. But it requires a proper redirect in place to forward the user (and search engines) to the new page. Otherwise, Google would try to send users to the old about us page which no longer exists on the server, thus resulting in a 404 error (a.k.a. page not found). 

Think that was bad? Just imagine what would happen to your earned ranking and PageRank value. A user would land on the 404 page, discover that the page no longer exists and immediately bounce. That’s certainly a bad experience and one the search engine will take notice of.

When search engines discover the same error, they’ll drop the URL from their index, meaning you’ll lose any organic rankings you’ve earned prior to the rebuild. Ouch! And this is just the about page we’re talking about! 

Other Reasons for Redirects

Aside from a URL structure change, there are other scenarios that can cause a 404 error to happen, including

  • You change to a new domain name (Brandography changes to Brandography Digital Marketing—don’t worry; we didn’t change)
  • You delete a page that was previously ranking for keywords and/or backlinks
  • You redevelop the site’s structure/navigation
  • You migrate from http to https
  • You want to combine pages or a series of blog posts into one comprehensive pillar article. 

There will always be reasons why you need a redirect in place. The real challenge is understanding the types of redirects you should be using while avoiding a “chain” reaction. 

Types of Redirects

For the purpose of this article, we’re going to focus on two commonly used redirects: 301s & 302s.

  • 301 redirects signal a permanent move.
  • 302 redirects signal a temporary move.

Though there are other types of redirects for http, HTML, etc., these are the most commonly used options. And most importantly, they are also confirmed by Google to not interfere with your site’s rankings when used correctly.

When Are Redirects Harmful?

There seems to be a rumor going around that redirects are bad for SEO. But redirects—again, when used correctly—can actually secure your keyword rankings, PageRank value, and backlinks. However, there are several factors that could negatively impact your SEO:

  • Incorrect Redirects: Sometimes, life is more complicated than a simple 301 redirect. Remember, each website is different, and you may find yourself in a complex situation. When that happens, it’s best to not try to figure it out on your own. Instead, it’s time to call in the SEO experts for help! Don’t worry; we know a few good ones!
  • Redirect Chains: SEMrush has an excellent guide on redirects and why they’re so important. One issue they note in particular is unintentionally creating what’s known as a redirect chain: ” [a] redirect chain is when more than one redirect exists between the original URL and the final URL and often happens as a result of website migrations.”

In other words, you don’t want one or more redirects caught in between page A forwarding traffic to page B. It’s like having a third-wheel on a romantic dinner for two. 

  • Sending Redirects to the Home Page: Sometimes, there’s a reason to delete a page that no longer serves a purpose; maybe it’s harming your SEO efforts. When this happens, though, there tends to be a natural reflex to send any traffic from this page to your home page. You really want to avoid doing this. The goal of redirects is to send traffic from one page to another that features similar content. 

Remember the example of merging multiple blog posts into one pillar article?  You wouldn’t pull content from random posts to form one cohesive article, right? You’d select a certain number of blog posts that contain similar information to create a longer-form article on a particular topic. 

For example, let’s say the topic is retirement planning, and you have 10 articles that share tips, strategies, types of retirement saving options and other related financial insights on this subject. This content is closely matched. Therefore, if you were to pull the information together into one long-from article, this new page would likely pass PageRank in Google and work to support your ongoing SEO efforts.

Make sense? 

Need Help Navigating Your Site’s Redirects?

The truth is no situation is ever cut and dry. If you’re planning a website relaunch, changing your URL structure, or looking to remove old blogs or merge pages (or even websites) together, our team can help! 

We perform full website audits to help track backlinks, page performance, and other metrics to ensure your site is working for you, not against you. And we’ll help you implement an effective redirect strategy, whether you’re redirecting a series of single URLs or an entire directory.

To learn how we can help, contact us today! 

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