What is a 301 redirect?
If you’ve done any type of SEO training or read anything about SEO, it’s likely that you’ve come across references to 301 redirecting. It’s easily misunderstood so I’m hoping to clear it up in this series of articles. In our next article, we’ll explain how to use .htaccess files and web.config files to set up your 301 redirects properly, but for now, we’ll just cover what they are and why they’re important.
In the most basic sense, a 301 redirect is just telling the browser to go to a different web address (uniform resource locator or “URL”). In other words, if someone clicks a link to a page that no longer exists, you as the web owner can do one of two things:
- Let them go to an error 404 page (“Page Not Found”), which will likely cause the person to leave
- Nicely change their browser address to go to the correct or new page URL
In the latter case, the person coming to your site may not even realize that the address has changed, and instead, just got to the place they wanted to go in the first place.
The “301” part is an error code that you’re telling the browser and more importantly, the search engines, and it’s useful to us. There are many browser error codes, and the “301” means that you’re telling the search engine or browser that it’s a link that’s been permanently redirected to a new place.
This is helpful to the search engines. Because the redirect is permanent, they will eventually drop the old address and replace it with the new address in their index.
301 Redirect SEO Uses
There are many ways that you can use a 301 redirect in your own website. The most common is to redirect a web page from an old address to a new address.
Let’s say that you’ve set up a new website and switched from static html pages to a PHP platform. If the old pages have been indexed by Google, and someone clicks a link to the old page, you don’t want people to go to a dead link.
Instead, by setting up a 301 redirect from the old page to the new, the links in Google’s index will still work. So a link going to www.example.com/page1.html gets automatically redirected to www.example.com/page1.php. Your readers will appreciate that you put the work into setting this up.
It’s absolutely essential to take the time to redirect all the old URLs to a new page addresses. The reason being is that if other websites have linked to your pages, by using a 301 redirect, you’ll still maintain the link quality even though the physical URL has changed.
Another very common URL redirect is to redirect whole domains. As I wrote in Multiple Domain Names: Do They Help Search Engine Position, you really don’t want to have multiple domain names all resolve into a working website. Instead, you want to redirect all website domains to one single primary domain, or you risk having a problem with duplicate content.
To do that, you can set up www.example.net to redirect to www.example.com. This way you can own multiple domains. They will all work, but you don’t get penalized for duplicate content.
Web Address Shorteners
Have you ever used a URL shortener like tinyurl.com, bit.ly or goo.gl? Guess what? They’re a special kind of 301 redirect. The address shorteners create a unique URL that then 301 redirects to a longer web address. Yes, they maintain your link juice too. Unfortunately, most social media links (like Twitter and Facebook) do not carry any link value because by and large, they have the “rel=nofollow” tag on them, which blocks the link value.
Unusual Uses for 301 Redirects
You can get creative with the uses for your 301 redirects. A couple examples we’ve run into include:
- An e-mail newsletter went out with a critical link to a web page, but the URL was incorrect. We set up a 301 redirect from the incorrect URL to the correct URL so the e-mail newsletter still worked.
- A client who had an unusual spelling for their company said that they always got complaints from customers who said their website was down. Their website wasn’t really down, but the customers were typing in the wrong URL. Instead, we purchased the misspelled version of the domain and redirected it to the correct domain. That way, customers never experienced the “down” web address.
- Creating vanity URLs for customers, like www.example.com/payonline can go to a much longer URL for customers to pay their online bill.
You might come up with your own, but these were some that worked well for us and solved a customer’s problem.
Free SEO Webinar on 301 Redirects
Follow-up (July 31): We have the free SEO webinar recording but have had some trouble converting it over to get it posted on the website. We are working to get this fixed (and if we can’t we’ll re-record it) so we can post the webinar recording online.
Hi Thomas your this information is really very helpful for the redirection i was looking this information sometimes back but that time i didn’t get any satisfactory answer now i got the answer . its very helpful me thanks thomas.
Glad it helped. Please be sure to sign up for the webinar as I’ll show you some techniques. There will be two follow-up posts as well that should help you.
I’ve signed up for the webinar and am very much looking forward to it.
I’m considering switching my 10yr old website(no CMS) to WordPress, but am afraid of loosing my SEO. I’ve got about 500 pages of well ranked content, how would I go about switching all of that to WP with 301s and maintain my SEO? Any serious pitfalls that I should be aware of?
Hi Caleb, Glad to hear that you’ll be on the call. This is exactly what you need to be considering when you set up your new website, and the 301-redirects will ensure that you don’t lose your links from other sites. With 500 pages to redirect, you’ve got a bit of work ahead of you, but fortunately, you’ll only have to do it once. “See” you tomorrow on the call!
We’ll also be recording the call and it will be available about 48 hours afterwards in case you want to review it later.
Just a question. If you use a 301 redirect for a domain – say http://www.domainA.com redirects to http://www.domainB.com, and domainA.com is currently ranking on the first page, will google eventually remove domainA.com from its index and from it’s first page? Will domainB.com be in the same position instead? Or will domainA.com continue to always be indexed and on the front page?
Hi Jon, The purpose of the 301-redirect is that it is a permanent redirect. Google will remove domainA.com (in your example) from its index because you’re permanently redirecting domainA.com to another domain. Any links that point to domainA.com (assuming there is a corresponding URL/page in domainB.com) will be redirected to domainB.com. So you will continue to get the link juice from the first domain, but your SEO will disappear as it gets removed from Google’s index. So domainB.com would benefit from the additional links, but only if there are corresponding pages from both domains (i.e. domainA.com/page1.html, and there is an equivalent domainb.com/page1.html).
Hope that helps.
I’ve seen many SEO firms use 301 redirect in that they get backlinks to their website – to say http://www.seofirm.com/sydney-dentists and use a 301 redirect to their client’s website (a sydney dentist). I think they do this so link juice is passed on but when their clients stop paying, then may just stop the 301 redirect.
Is this ethical? Also, can you just stop the 301 redirect (even though it’s meant to be permanent?) then redirect it to another site?
Huh, I’ve never heard of that one. Seems “gray hat” if it’s anything – treading the line between ethical and not in my opinion. It doesn’t really logically make much sense on several levels either:
1. The /sydney-dentists page would have to have lots of links to be of any value to start
2. The page on the seofirm site would become de-indexed and have no value at that point
3. The entire theme of the seofirm.com website wouldn’t match Sydney Dentists, so any link relevance would be devalued or negated by that.
4. Any links from the /sydney-dentists page could only be redirected to one page on client site. The greater the diversity of links (sources) and diversity of pages they point to, the better. So to me, these would have low value anyway.
I have to believe that Google has seen this trick and either devalues it or ignores it at best or penalizes either the seofirm.com site or the receiving site (or both). I’d be *very* suspicious of a website the redirects many pages from one site to many other domains. Furthermore, I’d be very suspicious of any SEO company that does this type of manipulation. It sounds more like a stick to blackmail the customer and force them to continue to pay “or else we’ll remove all your links”.
To answer your question, yes, if you turn off the 301-redirect, then it all goes away (link redirection, etc.)
thanks for this really useful and informative post on 301 redirects. 301 redirects are very useful in case of a new website and links are to be directed there without lowering the pr and link juice of the webpages on the new website. the points given here would help a lot for better 301 redirects.