The Importance of 301 Redirects

Ignite Online - 02 May 2018

Website re-launches are a part of life. Designs become dated, code becomes obsolete, newer and better standards for optimal user experiences are constantly overtaking old ones. A website re-launch is a highly involved process and doesn’t come without a huge checklist.

With all the excitement of setting a new website live, one task can often fall by the wayside: redirecting old content.

The consequences? A huge dip in search rankings; meaning decreased traffic, and this brand-new, shiny website you worked so hard on? No one can find it.

When you’re redeveloping a website, making changes to the content is often inevitable. Whether you’re completely rethinking the content structure or just making a few tweaks here and there, changing content can result in URLs changing or removal of pages.

If your website has considerable authority on Google (and even it doesn’t), it’s important to set up redirects for your content to avoid being penalised. You wouldn’t move house without redirecting your mail would you?

Why does this happen?

Often, with long-standing websites or really even any website that has gained reasonably solid search rankings, sub-pages (any pages that aren’t the homepage) will have gained good rankings through SEO over time.

Once you swap over to your new site, it’s likely that your page structure will change – this includes the slugs in URLs of popular pages. This is best solved by redirecting this content to your new site’s homepage or, more favourably, a relevant page that serves a similar purpose so that your users can still find what they want when clicking on a search.

Why do I need 301 redirects?

Without putting into place important redirects, users searching for a particular query might still see one of your site’s subpages listed in the search results page on Google, and clicking on this will result in a 404 or 401 error which leaves users at a dead end when searching for a particular query. It’s the easiest way to make a potential lead disappear into thin air!

Aside from satisfying the user and helping them find what they want, Google also needs to be taken into consideration. If there are a huge amount of links that have not be redirected, Google will penalise your website for not addressing these properly by dropping your search rankings.

Enter, the 301 redirect.

What is a 301 Redirect?

HTTP 301 is simply the ‘instruction’ code for something that is moved permanently, meaning when the server requests information about a link or record, a new URL provided is what the server will respond with instead of the original one.

How can I fix up my broken links?

To implement 301 redirects, the first thing to do is identify which links are broken. If you’re working with a smaller site, this may not be necessary and you might already know which links that will break and need to be redirected. However, if the website you’re migrating is long-standing and content heavy with hundreds of pages, you’ll need to use a tool to identify the URLs of pages that will be broken once the new site has gone live. Your best option is to use a SEO tool such as Screaming Frog to crawl the website for broken links. Once you’re got a list of the URLs to redirect, direct them one by one to the most relevant page on the new site.

Option 1: WordPress Plugin

Your first and easiest option when it comes to redirects is to use a plugin. Redirection is a popular link redirect manager to be used in the backend of WordPress to implement 301 redirects. Opt for this solution if you don’t have access to the cPanel and would prefer a quick and easy fix.

Option 2: Server-side C-panel Redirect

The second option would be to use the cPanel to implement a redirect on your site. Log into cPanel, select “Redirects” and specify the URL of the broken link and what you would like it directed to.

Option 3: Server-side redirect via htaccess file

The third option is a little trickier, to help you if you aren’t utilising WordPress as your CMS and you don’t have cPanel hosting. It involves making changes to the .htaccess configuration file on your Apache web server. If that didn’t mean anything to you, then we recommend enlisting a web professional to give you a hand.

301 redirects of pages is just one point on Ignite’s long checklist of pre and post actions when relaunching a website. If you’d rather just hand it over to your web developers, just say the word! Need help with re-launching a new website? Simply get in touch to get started!