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Understanding 301 Redirects

A 301 redirect is basically a permanent redirection of one URL to another. Whenever site visitors or search engine bots land on a redirected page, the redirection code sends them to a specified URL from the one they typed in or selected from the SERPs.

Search engines in particular are given express instructions to index the new page instead of the old one. Any rankings accrued by the old pages are retained as long as the 301 redirect is done correctly. It also prevents any possible duplicate content from being shown, especially if both versions of the page were to be indexed.

Why Use 301 Redirects?

There are two factors to consider on why you should use 301 redirects: your site’s visitors and the search engines. You don’t want your site to receive poor user experience, especially when your visitors land on pages with 404 errors or erroneous links. Similarly, you don’t want all your new pages to retain all of your previous page’s ranking influence – making it imperative to point search engines to the newly updated pages.

There are a few scenarios where setting up a 301 redirect for your pages makes sense. Here are just a few typical cases when 301 redirects are commonly used:

  • When you decide to rebrand your website and want to retain the traffic from your old pages to the new site.
  • If you ever decide to change to a different root domain or change up some subdirectories, all of which affect the original URL of some pages.
  • Consolidate various web conventions into one URL. Have you ever noticed that the URL of some sites includes the http:// convention while others don’t? This is because of 301 redirects and useful if you want to set up the domain authority from inbound links to point to a single URL.
  • An external site that links to you uses an incorrect URL. Instead of wasting all the traffic on a 404 page, you can redirect users to the correct URL through a 301 redirect.

And if you’re worried about these redirected pages losing some of their link juice, then there’s really nothing to be afraid of. Last year, Gary Illyes from Google confirmed that using 301 redirects won’t affect their respective PageRank. Even if there are any fluctuations noted in the PageRank, this is most likely to be temporary and should eventually stabilize on its own.

Gary Illyes tweet on 301 redirects

Common 301 Redirect Mistakes

  1. Moving to a new domain without setting up the 301 redirects first – This is a commonly overlooked mistake that many site owners forget. There is a huge danger of your new site’s rankings from getting off the ground because the original inbound links aren’t pointing to the new pages. To avoid this problem, always make sure to set up your 301 redirects before migrating your new site’s content.
  2. Confirm that your page is using a 301 redirect instead of a 302 temporary redirect – Some website management software uses 302 temporary redirects as its default setting rather than 301 permanent redirects. So unless you’re temporarily migrating your website’s content, make sure to use a 301 redirect to retain your inbound links and search rankings.
  3. Not setting up 301 redirects for the different web conventions of your domain – Not many site owners realize that the http:// and http://www versions of your site are completely different domains. As such, the inbound links pointing to each one can be diluted if not set up with a 301 redirect. This also applies to all iterations of your brand’s domain.

Proper Implementation of 301 Redirects

There are essentially three ways to implement 301 redirects:

Using .htaccess for Apache

To implement the redirects on your server using an Apache configuration, you’ll need access to the .htaccess file that will allow you to change your server’s configuration on a directory level. This file should be located in the root web folder of your site.

Once you have access, you can log-in to your site via FTP and then start editing the .htaccess file. You basically need to add code that sets the redirection rules for the affected pages. Here are some examples for the 301 redirect action:

  • Single pageRedirect 301 /oldpage.html
  • Entire domainRedirect 301 /

Using Internet Information Services (IIS) on a Microsoft Windows Server

Once you’ve selected the site on the Administrative Tools section of the IIS Manager, make sure that the URL Rewrite module is active. This will allow you to create additional rules where you will insert the redirection code. From here, you can then set up specific redirects for either a single page, several pages under a directory, or the entire domain.

Each type of redirect can be entered or tweaked in the Match URL panel. Under the Pattern field, make sure to apply the following syntax:

  • Single page redirection – simply enter the exact URL of the page
  • Multiple pages in a directory – input name of directory/(.*)
  • Entire domain – just type in (.*)

Once you’ve set the rules for redirection here, you can then choose the Redirect action in the drop down menu of the action panel. You should be able to enter the new URL here afterwards. For single pages, it’s a pretty straightforward input. However, for redirecting a domain or a group of pages, you have to add a back reference string named {R:0} to keep all page URLs intact in the newly redirected pages.

For instance, if we were to move all our blog posts from Glen Demands to the GDI company page, we would input{R:0}

Finally, make sure that the setting for the redirect action is set to Permanent (301). Once you’re done, all the redirection rules that you’ve set up will be stored in an output file called web.config, which you can edit at any time.

Direct Coding of Page Headers

For some sites, it’s possible to directly insert 301 redirect codes into the page header itself. If you have a page that runs on Java, PHP, or any other language, just check if it’s possible to modify the response headers for your pages. If so, then you can just insert the code at the top of each page to implement the redirects that you want.

Take note that many site management systems now allow you to install plug-ins that allow you to redirect pages more easily. Just browse through whatever suite of plug-ins are available on your platform and you’re sure to find one that will get the job done.