301 Redirects: How They Work and Why They’re Important for SEO

Table of Contents

What is a 301 redirect?

A 301 redirect (status code 301), also known as a permanent redirect, is a necessary step when redesigning or partially updating a website. This technique is highly valued by website managers, as it allows them to change the location of an internet page easily and quickly. The permanent redirect is even more appreciated because it transmits PageRank (search engine ranking) to preserve the natural referencing of pages during migration.

It notably prevents the loss of “SEO juice” when changing domains or when redesigning a website, for example. You can do a 301 redirect for an entire site (in the case of changing domain names), a category (a directory), or a specific page (URL).

The permanent redirect applies to both search engines and internet users. Indeed, when a user tries to access the old content of a website, their browser uses the 301 code to redirect them to the new web page. The user will not even notice the change that has occurred.

On the other hand, the 301 redirect aims to inform search engine robots that the visited page has definitively changed address and that they must now indicate the new URL in their results. In this way, the 301 redirect opposes the 302 redirect, which rather indicates a temporary redirection.

302 Redirect or 301?

Unlike a 301 redirect, the 302 is temporary. It tells robots that the “move” is not permanent, which makes their job more difficult. They must determine whether the old page should be retained or replaced and if so, for how long. And  Google doesn’t like changes and confusing situations. In concrete terms, there aren’t many situations where the 302 redirect is appropriate.

Therefore, 302 redirects should be used when webmasters need to evaluate performance or collect user feedback.

Google claims that many sites wrongly use the 302, which is faster to set up than the 301. The question of whether search engines continue to index the old page while ignoring the new one. Is the popularity of the links distributed between the two URLs and therefore divided in half?

If Google claims that its robots can handle the 302, it would still be a shame to risk losing the positioning of its pages due to simple confusion.

What are the Effects of 301 Redirect on SEO?

When discussing 301 redirect SEO, it is important to remember that all information about SEO is derived from experiences and the results of certain actions. In reality, Google will never reveal anything about its algorithms and how different things affect SEO.

If you go back a few years, tests and experiences of several users have shown that the use of a 301 redirect could lead to a certain loss of ranking power.

Fortunately, that was a few years ago and it is no longer the case. You can use 301 redirects without losing any SEO performance on your web pages.

You just need to remember to properly set up the 301 redirects and not create multiple jumps. Whenever there are 4 or 5 jumps between URLs, robots will stop following them and your page will not be analyzed. Therefore, this results in poor SEO.

Multiple redirects also tend to slow down loading speeds, which is also an important SEO ranking factor.

So, don’t hesitate to use 301 redirects. Just use them correctly!

When to Implement 301 Redirects?

1. After modifying a URL

There are cases where a URL needs to be changed due to incorrect optimization or simply changing the hierarchy of pages.

Usually, when you modify your URL, only some CMS will automatically add the redirection. So, check the URLs after updating them and see if there is already a 301 redirection in use.

2. After creating a new website

These days, most servers open a website without the www in front of the domain name. If not, you need to add the URL variants of your domain like these:

http://webrsite.com

http://www.website.com

https://website.com

https://www.website.com

Use 301 redirects to ensure they all lead to the same page.

3. After adding an SSL certificate

SSL certificates are necessary; without one, your website can be vulnerable to breaches or violations by third parties. Adding an SSL certificate and an HTTPS connection will make your website more secure.

So, if your website’s URL changes from http://website.com to https://website.com, you need to add a 301 redirect.

4. Recreating a page

You may encounter some occasions where you need to recreate an entire page with a newer theme or modified layout. If so, you need to redirect the old page’s URL to the new one to maintain SEO performance.

5. Switching from one domain to another or merging domains

Assuming you have changed domains or want to merge two domains; redirecting the pages with a 301 is a must. Your content and SEO efforts can be transferred without having to redo everything.

If you use 301 redirects for any of the above cases, you should also have some understanding of the effects of 301 redirects on your pages.

Things to Avoid While Implementing 301 Redirects

Now that we have covered everything there is to know about 301 redirects and how to use them, it is also essential to understand what you should not do.

301 redirects can harm your SEO if you are not careful. So, make sure to avoid these mistakes:

1. Creating redirect chains

As mentioned earlier, redirect chains harm your SEO.

If you have multiple chained 301 redirects, you risk losing your SEO performance as Google bots stop following redirects after 5 jumps.

The exact way this affects performance is by slowing down loading speeds. Google and your visitors will have to wait longer to reach the destination URL, which could increase the overall bounce rate of your website.

2. Adding 301 redirects to outdated or irrelevant content

If you add a 301 redirect to outdated content, you are not solving the visitor’s query in the best possible way. It’s even worse when you redirect to a completely unrelated page whose content doesn’t match the visitor’s requirements.

This can be easily understood by Google bots, which will decrease your ranking due to irrelevant content, and your visitors will not be exactly satisfied either.

3. Adding unnecessary redirects

Adding unnecessary redirects will bloat the .htaccess file. As a result, every time your website is loaded, all redirects will be checked to see if the entered URL should be redirected elsewhere.

This long and tedious loading time will only slow down your website for no good reason.

Make sure not to make these mistakes and use 301 redirects more wisely, only when necessary, and you will have no issues.

Conclusion

301 redirect is frequently used in SEO because it allows search engines to know when a URL has permanently moved to another address and to transfer a significant portion of the old URL’s SEO history (the “SEO juice”) to the new page.

However, creating redirects also comes with risks. From a technical standpoint, even a small mistake can cost your site’s visibility. It is essential to ensure that none of these redirects change.

Finally, note that the 301 redirect is not a magic wand and that certain complications can arise.

Request a
free website audit

Tags
What to read next