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Have you ever come across a “Sorry, not available” message when visiting a webpage? Or have you been redirected to a different webpage that you were not looking for? If you answered yes, then these were because of unwanted URL errors. However, there are SEO strategies where you can effectively tackle these errors. So, let’s dive deeper into understanding all about link redirects.

What are Redirects in SEO?

A URL redirect is a technique used for forwarding users from an outdated or non-existent URL to a functional one. For instance, suppose a website has an obsolete page, “https://www.sportswear.com/oldcollection” that they wish to phase out. 

Here, the company can implement a 301 redirect to permanently direct users from the old page to the new page with updated content, such as “https://www.sportswear.com/newcollection.” Consequently, when a user clicks the old link, they will automatically be redirected to the new one and can access the updated content. 

Redirects serve various purposes, including temporarily rerouting traffic during server maintenance or transitioning a website to a new domain. It also helps in guiding visitors from outdated content to new materials as well as consolidating duplicate content. The main purpose of an SEO redirect is to provide users with a seamless experience. Instead of landing on a page no longer in use, they are directed to another asset on the same topic that allows them to continue their search. 

For search engines, redirects mean that crawlers or search engine bots do not have to analyze and make sense of broken URLs or internal links. Instead, the engine can save the crawl budget and work on the updated content, understand it, and index it properly. But, redirects can also affect user experience and impact your SEO strategy if not used correctly. Given the variety of redirect codes available, it is crucial to understand their distinctions and determine the right usage for each. 

What are the Different Types of Redirect Codes?

The nature of all redirects differs from one another. Some redirects lead to permanent redirects while others forward visitors to another URL temporarily. Let’s understand the different types of URL redirects according to the two categories:

Server-Side Redirects

The first category includes server-side redirects that occur on the server. An HTTP request for a file is received by a server and answered with an appropriate status code which indicates the redirect and whether it is permanent or temporary. 

Here are the common types of server-side redirects: 

  • 301 Redirect URL

A 301 redirect code is employed when a web page is permanently removed or taken down from a website. It is the most prevalent and straightforward redirect code used. With a 301 code, you can successfully redirect your traffic and maintain rankings and backlinks. 

Search engines eventually index a 301 redirect that includes its new content. This method is deemed the most effective and search engine-friendly for redirection. However, it may take weeks to months for search engines to index the redirected page. 301 redirects pose no harm> Moreover, when used appropriately, they can prove to be of advantage as the new page maintains the same authority as the original.  

When to Use 301 Redirects

Implement a 301 redirect when you permanently remove or delete a page from your site’s architecture but aim to maintain its traffic, rankings, and links. Use this redirect code in the following instances:

  • Site Migration: When doing a domain redirection from an old to a new one, use a 301 redirect code to ensure a smooth transition.
  • Establishing Canonical URL: Choose a preferred URL format (canonical) for your site, especially when multiple URLs can access the same content, and utilize 301 redirects to direct traffic to the preferred URL. 
  • Website Consolidation: Merge two websites and redirect links from outdated URLs to the correct or updated pages.
  • Addressing Broken Pages (404) and Duplicate Content Issues: Implement a 301 redirect to resolve broken page errors and address duplicate content concerns.

When Not to Use 301 Redirects

Avoid using 301 redirects if there is a possibility of re-publishing the original URL in the future. For example, you should avoid this code for seasonal products on e-commerce sites, temporary out-of-stock products, or temporary special offer landing pages. You should also avoid it when conducting A/B testing, implementing device targeting, or geotargeting.

  • 302 Redirect URL

A 302 redirect is used when a page is temporarily relocated to another URL. Unlike a permanent redirect, this code does not transfer any page authority from the original URL to the new one. Consequently, search engines will continue to index the original URL and maintain its ranking. It is crucial to understand the purpose of your redirect path, as using the wrong redirect code can lead to intended consequences. 

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For instance, suppose you are promoting a new product and wish to temporarily direct users to the new page. Google recognizes this as a temporary move and therefore, won’t eliminate the original page from the search results or diminish its ranking. However, if you mistakenly use a 301 redirect instead of a 302 redirect, your original page may experience a decline in ranking and could potentially be removed from search engine indexes. 

When to Use 302 Redirects

302 redirects should be applied exclusively when the original destination is temporarily inaccessible, and you intend to restore it later. Common scenarios when a 302 redirect is appropriate include:

  • A/B Testing: Directing users to different versions of a web page to compare their performance and determine the most effective design or content. 
  • Geotargeting: Redirecting users to different versions of a website based on their geographic locations. 
  • Device Targeting: Directing desktop visitors who land on the mobile website, and vice versa.
  • Temporary Redirects: Redirecting users from product pages that contain out-of-stock products or special offer pages.

When Not to Use 302 Redirects

Avoid using 302 redirects when you are certain that the page has permanently moved to a new URL. In such instances, 301 redirects are ideal. 

  • 303 Redirect URL

The 303 redirect functions much like the 302 temporary redirects, informing the browser and search engines that the requested resource has been replaced with another one. However, there’s a clear distinction between the 302 and 303 redirects. 

The latter is not cacheable, meaning search engines won’t store it in their caches. This is crucial if you anticipate altering the destination targets for the redirect and wish to avoid Google caching those pages. Therefore, the 303 redirect does not impact SEO in any way. 

When to Use 303 Redirects

The scenario for employing 303 redirects closely resembles the 302 redirects. However, if you foresee changing the target for the redirect during the temporary redirection, the 303 method is more suitable. 

When Not to Use 303 Redirects

You should never use 303 redirects for permanent directions. 

  • 307 Redirect URL

The 307 redirect or HTTP 307 Temporary Redirect serves as another temporary redirection method, distinguished by its method of execution. This redirect URL code is often favored over similar techniques, such as the 302 redirect, particularly when changing the request method for the destination URL is not possible. 

In most cases, this means that the traditional GET method must be replaced by the POST one when initiating the redirect. Both GET and POST are HTTP methods where GET retrieves data from a server with parameters visible in the website URL. Its requests are commonly used for fetching web pages, images, and other resources. 

On the other hand, POST submits data for processing to a specified resource. It sends data in the request body, not visible to the URL, and can handle large amounts of data compared to GET requests. These requests are commonly used for submitting forms and uploading files. 

When to Use 307 Redirects

307 redirects are typically employed in tandem with a form action that mandates a specific POST redirect. 

When Not to Use 307 Redirects

Similar to any other temporary redirection, you should not use the 307 redirects when redirecting traffic permanently from one URL to another. 

  • 308 Redirect URL

The 308 redirect serves as the permanent equivalent of the 307 redirects, ensuring that the request method remains consistent with the original request. 

When to Use 308 Redirects

This form of redirection is especially effective when transitioning a highly complex website containing numerous forms utilizing the POST method. 

When Not to Use 308 Redirects

You should avoid the 308 redirects where cacheability could result in unforeseen negative behavior. 

Client-Side Redirects

Client-side redirects are not executed on the server level but happen in the browser as it tries to access a specific file. This redirect is typically employed when webmasters lack the ability to configure or oversee server behavior. An example of this limitation is the inability to access the .htaccess file on the server to specify the redirected links. 

However, there are drawbacks to this approach when it comes to SEO. Firstly, not all browsers support these web redirects. This can potentially lead to incorrect redirection of users. Additionally, search engines may fail to transfer the page authority from the original content to the redirected page. Furthermore, client-side redirects disrupt the browser’s back button functionality, often causing visitors to become trapped in a loop returning to the redirected URL. 

Let’s understand the two major types of client-side redirects:

  • Meta Refresh Redirect URL
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The Meta Refresh redirect, placed within the <HEAD> section of the file, directs the browser to another destination when attempting to access it. It is commonly used to prompt a browser to refresh a page or load a different URL after a specified number of seconds. The redirect code appears as follows:

<meta HTTP-equiv=“refresh” content=“0; url=http://domain.com/other-url/”>

One notable application of these redirects was to guide users to doorway pages featuring distinct, often commercial content compared to the expected page content. It is important to acknowledge that such practices violate Google’s guidelines. 

Additionally, the search engine discourages this redirect type for two primary reasons. The first reason is that it impacts user experience. Despite the redirect occurring before users have a chance to see the original page, it still remains in their browser history. Secondly, the browser must parse the original URL, extract the redirect, and initiate it before users can view the forwarded page, therefore, it requires processing time. 

When to Use Meta Refresh Redirects

Utilize Meta Refresh redirects when there is a need to automatically refresh or redirect users to another URL after a specific time interval. These redirects are also useful for creating temporary redirects or for implementing short-term promotional or informational messages on a web page. 

When Not to Meta Refresh Redirects

Avoid using the Meta Refresh redirects when implementing permanent redirects as they do not provide the HTTP status codes like the 301 and 302 redirects, which are preferred for permanent redirection. Moreover, these redirects are not suitable for enhancing user experience or SEO as they may disrupt the browsing experience by affecting browser history and processing time. 

  • JavaScript Redirect URL

JavaScript redirects are commonly employed in two scenarios- redirects triggered by user interaction and redirects based on device targeting, where the redirect identifies a specific device and directs the user to a page optimized for it.

You can redirect in JavaScript as it is considered a valid practice. For instance, if you wish to redirect users to an internal page when they log into a website, JavaScript can facilitate this process. When assessing JavaScript or alternative redirect methods to ensure compliance with Google guidelines, it is essential to consider the underlying purpose. 

When to Use JavaScript Redirects

You can use JavaScript redirects for site migrations instead of 301 redirects when server access is unavailable. You can also do device-specific redirects to redirect users to pages optimized for their device or redirect them after certain actions like submissions or button clicks. 

When Not to JavaScript Redirects

Avoid JavaScript redirects for permanent redirects as they lack the HTTP status codes 301 or 302 which is crucial for permanent redirection. In SEO-critical scenarios, JavaScript redirects may not be search engine friendly as server-side redirects and could potentially impact indexing and ranking. In cases where redirects require compatibility with old browsers, it may not support JavaScript, resulting in unexpected behavior.

How to Implement SEO Redirects?

301 Redirects: 301 redirects can positively affect SEO by transferring nearly all original pages’ PageRank to the new page. This ensures the new page maintains similar authority to the redirected content. 

You can easily implement a 301 redirect by specifying it in the .htaccess file in the server’s root folder. You can write code in the following ways:

  1. Redirect 301 /oldpage.html https://yoursite.com/newpage.html
  2. RedirectPermanent /oldpage.html https:yoursite.com/newpage.html

The first part defines the redirect (Redirect 301 or RedirectPermanent). Follow it by the slug of the old URL you are redirecting it from. Note that even for redirects within the same domain, you need to provide the full URL of the domain.

302 Redirects: Since the 302 redirect is temporary, it does not transfer page authority from the old URL to the new one. Consequently, the new URL won’t inherit the authority or links of the original file, and search engines will treat it as a distinct entity. 

The implementation process for the 302 redirect is nearly identical to its permanent counterpart, with the only difference being the response code used to define it. For example, 

  1. Redirect 302 /oldpage.html https://yoursite.com/newpage.html

Make sure that you use the “302” response code instead of the 301 in this scenario. 

Common Mistakes When Using SEO Redirects

As you now understand the basics of redirects and their impact on SEO, it is integral to recognize common pitfalls when incorporating them into your SEO strategy:

  • Domain Migration without Pre-Setup Redirects

Often, companies migrate their websites to new domains without configuring redirects beforehand. This can lead to issues as the new domain might already be crawled and indexed, resulting in duplicate content penalties. To prevent this, you need to set up redirects before the new site launch and ensure Google understands them via Google Search Console submission. 

  • Redirecting to Irrelevant URLs
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Redirecting to irrelevant pages can hinder SEO efforts. You need to ensure typical relevance between the original and redirect pages to maintain link authority transfer and positively impact SEO. As a guiding principle, always direct traffic to the nearest, most relevant alternative to the original page. 

  • Creating Redirect Chains

A prevalent issue arises when successive redirects create chains. Initially, a new page version prompts redirection from the old page. Subsequent iterations compound the problem, resulting in a chain of redirects. Over time, what begins as a single redirection, evolves into a convoluted series of many redirects. 

While users remain unaware of the multiple redirects, Google’s crawler encounters challenges. In fact, the search engine’s crawler may halt its journey after encountering two redirects, thereby failing to reach the intended latest page iteration. 

  • Neglecting Existing Redirects During Migration 

Overlooking existing redirects during site migration can lead to 404 errors or outdated URLs. To avert this issue, you need to consolidate existing redirects to prevent chains and maintain a smooth user experience during migration. However, retaining old redirects alongside new ones without consolidation can result in redirect chains. To tackle this issue, thoroughly reassess existing redirects and consolidate them to prevent potential chains. 

  • Increased Redirect Latency

Excessive redirects can increase latency, impacting user experience with longer page load times. Too many redirects may trigger errors, preventing users from reaching the desired content and also resulting in increased loading times.

For users on slower connections, this delay can lead to prolonged wait times. Additionally, an accumulation of redirects may trigger a “too many redirects” error, impending users’ progress through the redirection chain.

  • Redirects within Sitemap or Internal Links

While redirecting a significant portion of your site is technically feasible, it can impede crawlability and exhaust the crawl budget allocated by search engine crawlers. Redirects diver crawlers from evaluating essential content, potentially squandering the crawl budget on unnecessary redirections. To mitigate this issue, you can implement 301 redirects for relocated pages and maintain them for a minimum of one year. 

Best Practices for Redirects

Here are some of the recommended practices for URL redirection to ensure smooth website management:

  • Direct to Relevant and Similar Pages

Opt for redirecting to pages that are closely related and pertinent to the original content. Avoid redirecting to entirely different pages, as it is considered poor practice in terms of SEO.

  • Steer Clear of Redirect Chains

Redirect chains are a common error to avoid. Though users may not perceive the multiple redirect jumps, search engines like Google notice them. You can utilize online tools to identify redirect chains, as Google’s crawling may stop after encountering multiple redirects. 

  • Update Internal Links Regularly

Maintain the accuracy of internal links to prevent website slowdowns. You need to minimize redirects where possible to uphold SEO authority and streamline Googlebot crawling. Diligently manage redirects to avoid potential website issues stemming from outdated redirects.

  • Clean Redirects 

Redirects are something you may set and then forget. However, your website changes constantly due to which you may need to reevaluate the redirects. Remember to lift or change the redirects which are not needed anymore. These can be some temporary redirects that are no longer necessary or converted into permanent redirects to transfer link equity between two URLs.

  • Dodge Soft 404 Errors

Try to stay away from soft 404 errors, wherein redirects lead users to irrelevant pages. Google treats such redirects as soft 404s, disregarding them and withholding page authority transfer. Ensure that redirects direct users to relevant content to maintain SEO integrity.

  • Strategically Use 404 Errors

Occasional 404 errors are acceptable, particularly when there is no equivalent page on the new site. Here, you can consider crafting a custom 404 page with helpful information or links to guide users, enhancing user experience and site engagement.

  • Avoid Using Meta Refresh Tags

Refrain from implementing meta refresh tags as they create a countdown message before redirecting users to another URL. Not only is this practice spammy, but it also leads users to pages with disparate content, undermining user experience and SEO efforts. 

Conclusion 

Thus, properly understanding redirects can help you elevate your SEO strategy. Although there are many types of SEO redirects, by understanding their utilization for specific purposes, you can prevent negative implications for your website. Follow the best practices and avoid the common mistakes so that you experience an increase in traffic and user experience.