What is a Redirect Chain and How Does it Impact SEO?

To understand how a redirect chain occurs and its effect on SEO, you first have to know what a redirect is.

A redirect is when a URL is different from the destination page. You type in a URL (website.com), but you end up on a different one (newwebsite.com). Ultimately, though, you land on the content you want — the page just has a different URL than you expected.

How does this happen? Let’s say you combine two blog posts into one larger blog post. Instead of simply deleting the individual blog posts now that you have a more comprehensive one, you set up redirects. That way, link integrity carries over from the original link to the new one instead of losing it.

A redirect chain is when there is more than one redirect that leads from the original URL to the new destination URL.

Let’s continue with our example from above. Maybe after creating that larger blog post, you decide to change its link structure, which means the URL changes again. If you don’t update the original redirect to go straight from the original URL to the new URL, it will do this: original URL > new blog post URL before link structure change > destination URL with the new link structure

That’s a redirect chain — instead of one “hop,” there are at least two. This can happen with both 301 redirects (when the old URL permanently redirects to a new URL) and 302 redirects (when the redirect is temporary).

In this article, we’re going to talk about how redirect chains occur, their effect on SEO and what you can do to rectify and prevent them.

How is a Redirect Chain Created?

Redirect chains usually happen accidentally. Here are a few examples of how they end up on your website:

Categories Are Revised

As your blog or website grows, you may update categories a few times for more sensible navigation. If your link structure includes categories, this can pose a problem over time.

For example, if you have a travel website, you may start with a category called “air travel.” As you add more content, maybe you want to niche down, so you get rid of “air travel” and add different categories for the airlines you cover. You create redirects that go from the original link with the “air travel” category to new links with the airline categories.

From there, you expand your content even more. You create sub-categories for features of those airlines, like VIP lounges and upgraded seats. You’ll create redirects from the links with the airlines to links with the sub-categories. Now you’ve started a redirect chain.

Other Link Structures Change

What seem like minor URL details can cause redirect chains without you realizing it.

For example, if you update the http: at the beginning of a URL to https: for the sake of more secure web browsing, you’ll need to create a redirect.

A few months later, you decide to get rid of the URL’s trailing slash (yourwebsite.com/blog versus yourwebsite.com/blog/). You add another redirect to point people to the correct URL.

If you don’t recall adding that first redirect when changing to https:, you could unknowingly create a redirect chain when updating the trailing slash.

Website Content is Updated

In this example, you update website content, and the destination URL ends up changing. Ideally, you’ll add or update a redirect so there’s a max of one redirect between the original and destination pages.

The more your site grows, though, the harder it is to keep up with this. You may not realize that you add a second redirect when updating a piece of content that’s been stagnant for a long time.

Are Any Redirect Hops Acceptable?

Search engines have their own limits when it comes to how many redirect hops in a chain they’ll follow. For example, Google will abort mission after five hops.

To avoid potential problems, the best option is to avoid redirect chains altogether and have the original URL redirect straight to the destination URL. When that’s not possible, limit the number of hops as much as you can.

Redirect Chains vs. Redirect Loops

A redirect loop is a type of redirect chain, but in this case, the destination URL is also the starting URL. This creates an infinite redirect cycle.

Here’s an example of a simple redirect loop: URL A > URL B > URL A

How Do Redirect Chains Affect SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) makes your website easier for search engines to find, crawl and rank. In turn, that makes it easier for potential customers and readers to find your site when they’re looking for something you offer.

The quality of your SEO impacts how high your website shows in search rankings. The higher the ranking, the more likely it is that a user will find and click on your link.

Overall, it may be hard to get a high page ranking if you have redirect chains. Redirect chains negatively impact SEO because they make it difficult for search engines to crawl your site.

Also, users get frustrated when they try to click on your content only to be redirected two or more times until they actually land on it. One redirect often goes unnoticed. But two or more slow down how quickly they get to the page they want.

Here are specific ways that redirect chains are bad for SEO:

Redirect Chains Search Engine Crawling

During a crawl, search engines typically only follow up to five hops in a single redirect chain. If you have more than that, the search engine will abort the crawl to preserve resources. This can result in indexing issues for your pages. The worst-case scenario is that your pages won’t be indexed at all, and they won’t show up in searches.

Redirect Chains Lose Link Equity

While redirects help preserve link equity, they don’t save all the link equity from the original URL (it’s still much better than archiving a page without setting up a redirect, though). The more hops in a chain, the more link equity is lost with each one.

It’s commonly believed that redirects maintain 85% of the link equity from the preceding link. So, in a typical redirect, the destination URL will get 85% of the link equity from the original URL. In a redirect chain, though, each subsequent link only carries over 85% of value from the link before it.

If there are four URLs in a link chain (which means three redirects), you’ll end up with a little more than 60% link equity in the end. And that means you’re unnecessarily giving up roughly 25% of the link equity you could’ve maintained.

Redirect Chains Slow Page Load Time

Redirects make pages take longer to load as the user is redirected from one link to another. The more redirects there are in a chain, the longer the page will take to load.

First, this creates a poor user experience. Second, this affects your crawl budget. The longer a search engine bot has to wait for a page to load, the less time it has to crawl the rest of your site.

Most importantly, site performance is an important piece of the SEO puzzle. When site performance is underwhelming, your pages will rank lower.

How To Find Redirect Chains

If you have a tiny website, you could go through it to evaluate every single link and redirect to make sure there aren’t any chains. That’s not the wisest approach, though. Not only is it taxing on both your brain and your time, but you could easily miss a redirect chain and be no better off.

Instead, when you need to hunt down redirect chains on your site, take advantage of dedicated online tools. Here are a few to consider:

Moz

Moz’s Site Crawl tool lets you audit your website to find and fix technical problems. That includes seeing any pages that follow redirect chains.

Moz Site Crawl tool to find redirect chains.
Source: Moz

Redirect Path Chrome Extension

This Chrome extension from Ayima will tell you all of the URLs that a browser visits to get from the original link to the destination link.

Chrome extension to find redirect chains.
Source: Chrome Web Store

Sitebulb

Sitebulb generates reports that tell you how crawlable your website is, and that includes pointing out redirect problems.

The website audit tool from Sitebulb.
Source: Sitebulb

How To Fix Redirect Chains

Once you find a redirect chain, update the redirect so that it points only to the destination URL. Remove the defunct redirects in between to get rid of the extra hops. Here’s an example:

The redirect chain is URL A > URL B > URL C. Remove URL B so URL A goes directly to URL C.

Pay attention to this type of situation, though: If URL B is linked to from other websites, you don’t want to get rid of this redirect entirely. If you do, visitors will find an error page. Instead, create a redirect that goes from URL B to URL C.

How to Prevent Redirect Chains Moving Forward

Usually, redirect chains are created accidentally. Saying “don’t create a redirect chain” is too simplified a solution — you probably won’t notice they’re happening. Instead, regularly audit your site with tools like the ones mentioned above to sniff out redirect chains.

Final Thoughts About Redirect Chains and SEO

You may have a strong community out there on social channels, but when it comes to website traffic, SEO does the heavy lifting. According to a 2019 report from BrightEdge, SEO makes up 53% of website traffic, with organic social only accounting for 5% of traffic.

Having a solid SEO strategy is a must if you want to increase web traffic. Avoiding redirect chains (and limiting 301 redirects overall) is a basic SEO technique that you don’t want to ignore. When you can’t get rid of a redirect chain completely, the next best option is to limit how many hops it has.

Do you have any website audit tools you rely on? Tell us about them!

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