What are 301 redirects? A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect that points one URL to another URL. Simply put, a 301 redirect is a way of saying, "Hey computer, the page that used to live here is now here." It is roughly similar to submitting a “change of address” request with the post office. According to Moz, an inbound marketing software company, a 301 redirect is:
A permanent redirect which passes between 90-99% of link juice (ranking power) to the redirected page. 301 refers to the HTTP status code for this type of redirect. In most instances, the 301 redirect is the best method for implementing redirects on a website. (Link)
When 301 redirects are not implemented, your users will be directed to your 404 "This page cannot be found" error. Redirecting users to 404 pages creates a poor user experience and negatively impacts your website, and is a quick way to lose potential repeat visitors. Below is Lego's 404 page.
Image Source: Creative Bloq
Besides the user experience issue, your old pages have established credibility on search engines like Google. Google places a high value on links and pages with quality content. Any links that were pointing to your previous pages will no longer be passing "link juice" onto your site without the proper redirects. This can result in your ranking for certain search queries to drop, which could lead to a loss of traffic.
You probably worked hard to establish the ranking for your keywords, so why lose them? Simple 301 redirects will take care of the problem.
Getting Started: How to Plan Your Redirects
The goal is to make sure that every URL is accounted for during a website redesign and redevelopment.
Step 1: Identify your URLs
First you need to run a crawl on your entire website. Screaming Frog is a useful time-saver. It scans your site for URLs and makes a handy spreadsheet to annotate for your redirect list.
It’s also a good idea to do a google search to verify what’s being indexed online by searching this query: site:yourwebsite.com.
Step 2: Map out your URLs
Then you need to decide the new structure of your website. Are any pages being deleted or combined? Are any of the URLs changing with the new site?
- You need to map out the new URLs that are replacing the old ones.
- Map out any pages that are being combined.
- Most importantly, if you’re deleting any pages, they need to be redirected to the most relevant new pages. Decide on the pages that most resemble your old pages.
Depending on the nature and extent of the website redevelopment, you may need to 301 every URL of the whole site except the domain name.
If you are redeveloping a huge website, but don’t have all day to make a long list of 301 redirects, there is a shortcut. Use a paid software service like Open Site Explorer to identify the websites’ Top Pages and make sure those URLs are 301’d appropriately.
Step 3: Implementing the 301 redirect code
After you map out the new site structure, it's a matter of finding out what server you're on and inserting 301 redirects. Content Management Systems like Wordpress and Joomla make adding 301 redirects very easy. It’s best to have things mapped out before the launch of the new website to keep your search engine result stable.
Here is a link that can help you get started creating 301 redirects: http://moz.com/learn/seo/redirection
301 redirects are important and without them you have the potential to lose “link juice”, SEO rank, web traffic and customers. It is not uncommon for a newly redesigned website to witness a drop in traffic and sales, which is why we recommend an SEO consultant or digital agency to assist with the process.