What is a 301 Redirect?

When you move an existing website to a new URL, you need a way to let your visitors know where they can find your new digital digs. This is also the case if you move or remove a single page from your website.

If you were moving to a new home, you’d contact the post office to forward your mail. The online version of this is setting up a 301 redirect.

Either way, the point is the same: People want to find you, and you have to let them know how to since you’re not in the same place.

In this article, we’ll explain what a 301 redirect does, how to create 301 redirects and different ways to get the most out of your efforts.

What Does a 301 Redirect Do?

A 301 redirect is a type of HTTP status code. It sends anyone who’s trying to access an old URL to the new URL you set up.

Generally speaking, an HTTP status code is a message that a server sends to a browser. The server is where your website lives. HTTP is how the server communicates with the web browser so that people can see your website when they visit the URL.

Here are a few different error-related HTTP status codes you may have seen on a website:

  • 403 — Forbidden
  • 404 — Not Found
  • 500 — Server Error

When everything is working normally, the HTTP status code attached to the page is 200, which means all is well.

What is the Purpose of a 301 Redirect?

When you change the URL for a page or website (or if you remove a page), the HTTP status code becomes 404, which means “page not found.” To keep your visitors happy (and your website SEO in the green), you can set up a 301 redirect so they land on actual content instead of an error page.

Then, when a visitor tries to go to the old URL, the server will return a 301 status code and send them to the new location. This happens fast — the visitor will have no idea what’s taking place behind the scenes. All they’ll see is that they landed on the content they wanted.

(It’s possible that they’ll realize the URL is different from what they navigated to, but chances are they won’t notice. It’s also possible that the visitor has a browser extension that tells them when they’re redirected. But as long as the user lands on the content they want, none of this should matter.)

Importantly, a 301 redirect also passes ranking power from the ex-URL to the new one. That means that all the traffic you worked so hard for doesn’t get lost — the new URL gets all of that prestige.

Here’s another benefit of setting up 301 redirects: Search engines will be able to find where your content moved to, which makes it easier to update their index. We explain why that’s important in this article.

What is an Example of a 301 Redirect?

Redirects are set up by adding code to your server’s .htaccess file. To redirect a single webpage to a new URL, the code looks something like this:

Redirect 301 /redirect page.html https://www.websitename.com/newpage.html

Here’s a big list of 301 redirect samples if you’re interested in seeing more.

You’ll probably use a WordPress plugin to create 301 redirects for you. Here’s an example of what it’ll look like when using the 301 Redirects and 404 Error Log plugin:

WordPress plugin that helps you learn what is a 301 redirect.
Source: 301 Redirects and 404 Error Log

Different plugins will have their own way of creating 301 redirects, but this is a more reliable option than trying to set them up on your own.

When Should You Use a 301 Redirect?

There are a lot of instances when it’s smart to use a 301 redirect. Common uses cases include when you:

Consolidate or Recreate Content

Let’s say you have several pages with information on a related topic or with overlapping keywords, and you want to consolidate them into one page. If you simply move content from one page to another, you’ll lose the search engine visibility for the old pages that you’re getting rid of.

Instead, create your new page, then redirect each of the old pages to the new URL. Unpublish and archive the old pages when you’re done with them.

You’ll do something similar when recreating content. Sometimes, you’ll want to create a new page instead of updating an existing one, like if you’re using a new page template. In this case, you’ll create a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new URL, and then you’ll unpublish the old page and send it to the archive.

Delete a Page

When you want to delete a page from your site, create a 301 redirect so that visitors find something relevant in its place. If the old page continues to come up in search results or it’s linked to on another website, visitors will be met by a 404 error. By creating a redirect instead, they’ll at least land on something they may be interested in, which reduces the bounce rate.

Move Content or an Entire Website to a New URL

If you’re moving several pages or even an entire website to a new URL, you’ll need to set up several page-to-page redirects that go from the old content to the new content. The same concept applies when you’re merging domains.

When possible, try to keep the structure and layout of the new domain the same as the old domain. This will make it a lot easier to set up all those 301 redirects.

In the event that the structure isn’t copying the old site’s layout, at least make sure that the redirects are sensible. The goal here is twofold: You want visitors to find the information they’re after, and you want the visibility of the old pages to be passed along to the new ones.

Optimize or Restructure a URL

If you’re optimizing or restructuring URLs, you’ll need to direct visitors to the new URLs. For example, you may be designing a smarter internal link structure to create a sensical hierarchy of content. We dive into this topic in our article about performing an internal link audit.

Resolve Capitalization, Duplication or Trailing Slash Issues

Search engines can be finicky, and you may have URLs on your site that are damaging its SEO without you realizing it. 301 redirects can solve the following issues:

Capitalization: Search engines consider a URL with uppercase letters to be a different page than a URL with lowercase letters. For example, mywebsite.com/Page vs. mywebsite.com/page. Create 301 redirects as needed.

Duplication: Your site should either be www or not. For example, www.mywebsite.com vs. mywebsite.com. If some URLs have the wrong prefix, create 301 redirects to keep everything consistent.

Trailing Slashes: Like with capitalization, search engines see pages with trailing slashes as different from pages without them. For example, mywebsite.com/page/ vs. mywebsite.com/page. Add 301 redirects as needed.

Switch From HTTP to HTTPS

HTTPS is more secure than HTTP, and it’s one of Google’s considerations when ranking websites. After installing an SSL certificate on your site, you can use 301 redirects from HTTP pages to HTTPS pages.

What’s the Difference Between a 301 and 302 Redirect?

The main difference between these two types of redirects is that a 301 is permanent, and a 302 is temporary. If a page permanently moves, you’ll use a 301. If the page will eventually go back to its original URL, you’ll use a 302.

How to Create a Redirect in WordPress

WordPress doesn’t have built-in functionality for creating 301 redirects. That means you’ll either have to do it manually or with the help of a plugin.

Should You Apply the Redirect via the Server?

From a technical viewpoint, the best way to create 301 redirects for the sake of speed is via the server. However, the software stack that the server uses isn’t the same across the board, so the process of adding 301 redirects will vary.

If you’re not experienced with 301 redirects or making changes to your site’s root directory, we don’t recommend that you handle this on your own. Should you try to do this and something goes wrong, it could interrupt your website’s functioning or affect its performance.

You can hire an IT professional, ask for customer support from your host or use a WordPress plugin instead.

Using a WordPress Redirect Plugin

Every plugin functions a bit differently. Let’s walk through how to create 301 redirects using the 301 Redirects — Easy Redirect Manager plugin.

To install a new plugin, first log in to your WordPress site. Select Plugins from the left sidebar. Click Add New on the top-left of the page. Type “301 redirect” in the search box.

Select the plugin, then click Install Now. Wait a few moments, then click Activate.

Once installed and activated, you can access the plugin by going to Settings > 301 Redirects in the left sidebar.

To create a redirect, all you have to do is add the old URL to the box on the left and the new URL to the box on the right, then click Save:

Adding a 301 redirect in a WordPress plugin.

Is a 301 Redirect Good for SEO?

As we’ve discussed, 301 redirects help your site maintain and grow organic visibility. Search engines and visitors will have an easier time finding the content on your site while avoiding irrelevant pages.

Aside from the basics, how can you use 301 redirects to improve SEO? We have a few suggestions.

Avoid Keyword Cannibalization

Keyword cannibalization occurs when multiple pages rank for the same or very similar keywords. The pages end up competing against one another, and Google can’t figure out which one to rank for those competing keywords. Even if one page ends up performing well, you miss out on the chance to have both pages rank highly for their own keywords.

You could update the keywords on the lower-performing post so they’re no longer in competition. Or, you could update the higher-performing post with missing information from the other post and then redirect the low-performing page to the other one.

Prune Your Content

Audit your content to discover the pages that have little traffic and few (or zero) backlinks and social shares. Then, merge that thin content with a page that’s doing better and covers the same topic. Redirect the old page to the new page.

It’s smarter to harness the power of a high-performing page than continually try to drive traffic to a page that’s not rich enough.

Merge Multiple Websites

If you run multiple sites with overlapping themes, consider merging them into one site to combine the link juice. For example, if you have a restaurant chain with multiple locations, you don’t need a standalone website for each location. Instead, you could have one website with pages dedicated to each location.

This combines the authority and equity of individual websites into one property that’s stronger as a whole.

Switch a Subdomain to a Subfolder

An example of a subdomain is blog.mywebsite.com, while a subfolder may be mywebsite.com/blog. Even though both are part of your website, search engines often treat subdomains as separate entities. That means that any valuable content on your subdomain isn’t considered when ranking your primary domain. Redirecting subdomains to subfolders can solve that problem.

Best Practices for a 301 Redirect

Since 301 redirects are so important to your website’s SEO, as well as the user experience, here are best practices to adopt and mistakes to avoid.

Do Always Redirect to the Correct Page

This one seems obvious, but you always want to redirect users to a page that’s related to the link they clicked on. For example, if a visitor clicks a link to one of your website templates, but you no longer offer that template, you don’t want to redirect them to your contact page. Instead, redirect them to a page with several templates they can choose from.

Don’t Redirect to a Dead Page

Often, 301 redirects are used to send people away from a dead page. But if the redirect link goes to a dead page, you’re going to hurt search engine crawls and increase the bounce rate. Update broken 301s as needed so that people (and Google) are always able to find relevant information.

Do Set Up the Redirect First

Create the 301 redirect before you create the new page or website. That way, the new page will have inbound links from the old page from the start. If you do it the other way around and search engines crawl the page before the 301 goes up, your SEO can be negatively impacted.

Don’t Create Redirect Chains and Loops

A redirect chain occurs if there are multiple redirects between the original URL and the target URL. A redirect loop occurs when the original URL redirects to the new URL, which then redirects to the original URL. Both scenarios are bad for SEO and the user experience.

Update redirect chains and loops so that there’s only one redirect URL between the original and new pages.

Do Check for 404 Errors in Google Search Console

Use Google Search Console to check for 404 “not found” pages. Assume that if Google can find these pages, visitors can too. Create 301 redirects for those pages so that visitors will find content that’s similar to what they were searching for.

Don’t Use Redirects as a Replacement for Updating Broken Links

If your website has broken links, you’ll want to use a 301 redirect to send visitors from the broken URL to the correct page. However, you’ll also want to update those broken URLs to point to the new URL. Link Whisper has a URL changer that you can use for this.

Depending on 301 redirects for site navigation isn’t a savvy long-term plan. Check out our article about finding and updating broken links fast.

Conclusion

Whether you’re revamping a couple pieces of old content or you’re migrating an entire site, 301 redirects should be a component of your project. They’re a consequential part of keeping your website healthy and the user journey fulfilling. Your site visitors will continue finding what they’re after, and you’ll maintain the integrity of your SEO at the same time.

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