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7 Types of Redirects and Endless Opportunities to Make Mistakes

7 Types of Redirects and Endless Opportunities to Make Mistakes

Redirects are a confusing necessity. There are 301, 302, 307, 308, HTTP Header, JavaScript and Meta Refresh directors. Its a lot to absorb. Some redirects are faster than others. There are permanent redirects and temporary redirects. When do you use which redirect?

Areredirects necessary? Are you leading crawlers down a chain of redirects andlosing around 10-15% of authority for every step of the chain?

You can setup a redirect quickly, it takes just a minute or two, but redirects can either help your SEO efforts or harm them. Lets see what purpose redirects serve before diving in to see which common SEO issues improper redirects can cause.

What is a Redirect?

Redirectshelp you forward one URL to a different URL. Lets say, for example,your sites CMS created dynamic URLs for products. The URL may look somethinglike this:

  • www.example.com/product.php?id=12

Fromthe URL above, we dont know that the product is actually a t-shirt that comesin an array of colors. Dynamic URLs may have colors and sizes in the URL, too.Not only is the URL unfriendly, but the URL is not optimized for SEO.

Youvegained natural links to this example page, and instead of losing the value ofthese links, you have a better option: redirecting.

Youvenow chosen an SEO-friendly URL, and youve used a 301 redirect to pass some ofthe link value youve gained to your new URL:

  • www.example.com/shirt/red-batman-tshirt

The URL isdescriptive, has some SEO value and will be moved permanently thanks to the 301redirect you used.

If a crawlerlands on the page or a customer has texted the pages URL to a friend, theyllautomatically be directed to your new page. There are no confusing errors orpotential to lose a sale because you changed a URL or the structure of yoursite.

What are the Different Types of Redirects?

End-users may not know the difference between one redirect type over another, but Googles crawlers will learn a lot from the redirects that you choose. You dont want to lose your organic rankings, so you need to carefully choose the type of redirect your site, page or file will use.

301: The most common form of redirect is a 301. This tells search engines that your site has moved permanently. A response code is sent to crawlers when they land on the page, which tells it that the page has moved to a new URL. A 301 redirect can help your site save 85% - 99% of link equity.

302: The 302 is meant when redirecting users or bots from one page to another, with plans on bringing the original page back. The 302 redirect has changed from the first iteration of the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) to version 1.1. Originally, the 302 was defined as Moved Temporarily, to Found in the 1.1 version of HTTP.

307: You would only use a 302 or 307 when conducting internal testing, or if youre conducting maintenance and dont want users to land on a page or sub directory. The 307 redirect is the new Moved Temporarily direct as of HTTP 1.1. But its best to use a 302 redirect because crawlers seem to treat the 302 redirect as a temporary move.

308: A 308 redirect means Permanent Redirect. Googles John Mueller confirms that a 308 is treated as a 301 redirect when it redirects one URL to another.

HTTP Header Redirects: HTTP redirects include status codes that are transmitted from the server, a website, to the client, or browser. The user requests a webpage, and headers are sent that redirect the page as required. Programming languages, such as PHP, allow you to utilize HTTP headers to tell the client that a page has moved. When dealing with multiple redirects that go through a particular file, its often easier to use HTTP Header Redirects.

Meta Refresh: Redirects can be made on the server level, or on the page level. Meta refreshes are performed on the page level, and most SEO experts dont recommend this method because its slower than on the server level. Speed plays an important role in SEO, so its best to skip meta refreshes for any redirecting on your site.

JavaScript Redirect: JavaScript can also be used to redirect a user from one page to another, but search engines may treat these redirects differently. Bing used to have issues with JS redirects, and it should be used as a last resort. JavaScript redirects may or may not work, despite Google seeming to follow them since 2014/2015. If a user is blocking JavaScript, they may still land on the original page.

SEO Best Practices When Using Redirects

If you planon passing your SEO value or equity from a former page or website to another,its best if you choose a 301 redirect on the server level to keep 85% or moreof value.

Some valueis lost when performing a redirect, and this is why many SEOs will cautionbefore using redirects.

Google hasclaimed, in the past, that all redirects will pass all PageRank value.

Can thischange?

I think so.If you go back to 2013, Matt Cutts of SEO claimed that sites lost about the same amount of PageRank from one page toanother. But things change, algorithms evolve, and this is the very nature ofGoogle and search engine optimization.

If you go back to 2016, just three years after Matt Cutts confirmed that PageRank was lost, Gary Illyes confirmed that 30x redirects no longer lose PageRank.

So, in theworst-case scenario, youll lose 10-15% of value with a redirect, althoughGoogle claims that as much as all of your value may be passed through aredirect.

In terms ofwhich type of redirect you use, Google claims that their algorithm will be ableto figure it out. If youre moving pages permanently, you can speed up thisfiguring out by using a 301 redirect.

For speedpurposes, use a server level redirect.

NoteAbout PageRank:Google stopped allowing public access to PageRank, but its been confirmed thatPageRank is still one of the many signals Google uses when ranking a page.

Common Problems Faced When Using Redirects

Redirectscan cause issues on a website, or redirects can cause problems if theyreimplemented improperly. The most common issues with redirects are:

Redirect Chains

Redirect chains

Redirectchains are exactly what they sound like: a chain of redirects. Perhaps youredirected your about page to /about, but then someone else determinedyou should redirect this page to /about-us then /about-our-firm.

You havethree redirects occurring in a chain.

The originalabout page should have been redirected to the final page.

When youhave multiple chains, youll lose some authority for each link in your chain.Your site will be slower and the number of server requests will be artificiallymultiplied.

Everyredirect takes time, so a chain of redirects will also have a negative impacton your sites bounce rate and potential rankings.

You should run a full scan on your site to try and find any potential redirect chains and correct them. Screaming Frog is a great tool for checking Redirect Chains.

Cleaning upthese chains will speed up your sites load speed and allow your site to retaina lot of its authority in the process.

Redirect Loops

Redirect loops

A redirectloop will cause website crawlers to stop dead in their tracks. There are times,especially when working with large teams, that your redirects will cause amassive loop. Many browsers have come to recognize these loops because theresno way out of the loop.

Using theexample above, lets assume someone decided to redirect /about to/about-our-firm. But there was a miscommunication along the way, or someonemade an error and redirected /about-our-firm to /about.

So, when searchengine or a user lands on the /about page, it will:

  • Redirect to /about-our-firm
  • Redirect back to /about

The cyclewill continue and ultimately fail. Correcting the issue requires you to removeone of the redirects.

While aredirect loop may not cause harm on an about page, imagine the same error on amain landing page. Sales will be lost; revenue will be lower and potentialcustomers may have decided to purchase from a competitor.

The quickand easy way to correct redirect loops is to test every redirect.Keep logs of all redirects internally so that anyone who chooses to SEO yoursite has a clear picture of your current redirect structure.

Crawlingtools will be able to catch these redirect loops.

Case Sensitivity

You canredirect URLs in a variety of ways: Meta Refresh, JavaScript, .htaccess files -to name a few. When redirecting, its important that the right rules arepassed, in case of a .htaccess file, that will not be case sensitive.

In thiscase, you would need to pass either the appropriate rule, which may be NC whenusing RewriteRule.

You want tomake sure that the redirect works whether you go to /About, /about, ABoutor any other iteration.

Mass Redirection to the Homepage

Mass Redirects to Homepage

More isbetter, but thats not always the case with your redirects. A common issue thatis overlooked is that redirects are meant to be implemented to pass authority.Lets assume that you have a pet website, so you may have pages for dogs,cats and lizards.

You have 452links coming from 50 dog pages, so you have an idea: lets redirect these pagesto the homepage.

Sure, youlllose some authority, but redirecting these pages to the homepage will passauthority and may help boost your entire sites rankings.

It soundsgreat, but SEO crawlers are a lot smarter.

Searchengines know that website owners want higher rankings, so mass direction is anatural occurrence to Google.

But whatdoes this do for your rankings?

If you havethe time, I recommend watching this video by John Mueller (its an hour long). What Muellersuggests is that mass redirects to the homepage may not pass on any link equityat all. When a large number of pages are redirected to the homepage,its a red flag to Google and is a questionable move.

It would bebetter, from a relevancy standpoint, to redirect these pages back to theirrespective category pages if theyre not redirected to highly relevantpages.

Google seesthese redirects as soft 404 errors.

Improper Redirects of a URL Containing URL Parameters

Some URLshave parameters in them, and while tracking parameters may not matter much,other parameters do matter. For example, the URL mentioned earlier in thisarticle made use of parameters.

Content-modifyingparameters, as Google calls them, would be something along the lines of: www.example.com/product.php?id=12.

Now, if youhave only 12 products, you can use redirect files to redirect these parametersto something more natural, such as: /product/t-shirts. But lets assume thatyou have 10,000 products - your redirect file will be massive.

Files are amessy way to handle these redirects, and it will greatly slow down your serverin the process.

In thiscase, you would want to perform a redirect on the page-level. Yes, page-levelredirects are slower, but they will be faster when there is a massive list ofredirects in a redirect file.

Anothermethod would be to edit the product.php page to perform the redirect.

How?

It dependson the programming language.

In PHP, youwould use the header() function. A basic example of this would be:

  • Header(Location: . $url, TRUE,301);

The trick isto set the $url variable properly, accounting for the id which is passedthrough the URL.

Youll needa little know-how in programming to handle this type of redirect using coding,but its a neat way to handle the request without using a large redirect file.

301 Redirects VS Canonical URLs

A lot can gowrong with 301 redirects, as we outlined previously, but what happens when youadd canonical tags into the mix?

Yourecausing Google to run down another rabbit hole.

Canonicaltags are inserted into an HTTP header or HTML head tag, and they serve avery important purpose. When you use these tags rel=canonical, youre tellingsearch engines that certain URLs are actually the same.

This is aform of a soft 301 redirect.

For example,you may have the URL: www.example.com/product.php?id=12 and www.example.com/product/t-shirtswhich contain the same content because 12 is actually theidentification number for t-shirts.

You can pushsearch engines to the appropriate page using canonical tags.

This isideal when the content is similar, or you have multiple pages with the samecontent. Rel=canonical has been shown to pass the same amount of link equity asa 301 redirect.

Youll wantto use the rel=canonical tags when:

  • 301 redirects are difficult or notpossible to implement
  • When your CMS creates dynamic pageson-the-fly
  • When multiple pages lead to the samecontent

Of course,you do not want to use canonical tags on new websites - you should notcreate duplicate content issues in the first place. If you use this tag acrossthe entire site to push authority back to a single page, youll find that alarge chunk of these links will be de-indexed by search engines.

You Don’t Need to Redirect Every Page You Delete

Whenanalyzing a site, you may come across pages that dont work for your site anylonger. Perhaps you run a veterinary clinic, and initially, you had a boardingpage that had all of your clinics boarding information listed.

You may havestarted out offering this service, but you decided that it was not profitableor took up too many resources.

You deletedthe page.

Do you needto redirect the page? If it had a lot of link equity, you may redirect the pageto a blog post about animal boarding which also mentions a few vets in townthat offer this service.

But letsassume that the page really had no link equity or SEO value.

You dontneed to redirect this page.

Its okayfor a page to produce a 404 error - websites often delete or retire pages. Youdont need to fix every error page using redirects, and it will be better foryour site to not redirect every page.

You cancreate redirects on the server-level using .htaccess files in each folder, butit can quickly become messy, especially on sites with tens of thousands ofproduct pages. Instead, if a page really has no value or purpose any longer,you can delete the page and let the server produce a 404 error page. Theseerror pages can suggest related content or resources to keep the user on yourwebsite.

Every sitewill have a few 404s, and this may just be a person typing in the URL wrong.

If you dontcreate a custom 404 page, the user will be presented with a generic 404 pagethat is not personalized to your site. You can implement custom pages either onthe server or using your CMS.

The .htaccessfile, the same one used when creating redirects on Apache servers, is thefile youll need to create a custom 404 page. The following code can be used totell the server to go to a specific page when a 404 error is found:

  • ErrorDocument 404 /error-page.html

You canchange the error page to your desired page. Ensure that you test your errorpages to make sure that theyre working properly. You can now customize theerror produced to:

  • Provide a user-friendly error
  • Followyour sites theme
  • Include links to your sites mostpopular pages
  • Include a search bar so that thereader can try and search your site for the content they want to read

If you havelost a valuable link because youve deleted a page or post, you can ask thewebsite owner to change the link to a new URL.

Redirectsare a critical part of telling search engines and users where a new pageor resource is located. While these redirects happen behind the scenes, searchengines will have redirect codes passed to them to better understand the reasonfor a redirect and why youve chosen to implement the redirect in the firstplace.

Whileredirects may be simple to implement, they can be very confusing, with multiple30x redirect options, meta refreshes and even JavaScript redirects.

If you planon using redirects, you also need to make sure that a redirect is beneficialcompared to a rel=canonical tag which can also be used.

Whenproperly implemented, youll be able to keep your SEO equity in place, evenwhen changing URL structure or renaming a page.

Conclusion

Redirectshelp webmasters forward one URL to another while retaining most of the originalURLs equity. You can use redirects when changing URL structures to be moreuser-friendly, or you can use redirects when you delete certain pages on yourwebsite.

Whenutilized properly, the page will retain most of the link equity, 85% to 99%allowing the page to retain its search engine rankings.

The type of redirect that you use plays a major role in how search engines respond to the redirect. If you produce a 301 or 308 redirect, search engines will realize that the new redirected page is a permanent redirect.

But you canalso temporarily redirect a webpage using 302 or 307 status codes. Temporaryredirects are often used when youre conducting maintenance on a webpage, and youwant to redirect a user to a page explaining that your site is down formaintenance.

Redirectscan be done on the server- or client-level. Server-level redirects are oftenbest because they ensure that the redirect is sent properly to the browserwhether or not JavaScript is enabled.

Commonproblems users face with redirects include redirect chains, redirect loops,case sensitivity issues, issues redirecting URLs containing URL parameters andalso mass redirection to the homepage.

Testingredirects is key to ensure that your redirects are functioning properly.If youre using redirects as part of your SEO strategy,you must check that the redirects are functioning as intended. You can use avariety of tools to test your redirects, including Screaming Frog whichis a great tool for checking if your site has redirect chains.

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