301 Redirect Guide
A 301 Redirect Explained
A ‘301 Redirect’ is a server instruction given to all requests for a page by a browser (an Internet user), a search engine bot, or any other server request for that matter. A 301 redirect means, essentially, “this page has permanently moved, it has moved to…”.
As there is now a permanent instruction that the page address has moved, this also means that backlinks to your pages will also continue to count towards your backlink profile.
301 Redirects and SEO
The backlink profile around each of the pages on your website form part of the analysis of Google’s ranking algorithm when determining the value (or authority) of each page.
With the 301 redirect instruction implemented, the value of existing backlinks pointing to the old URL will still be retained. This is sometimes referred to as ‘301 redirect link juice’ — essentially, you’re retaining the value of the external link to the old page by redirecting it to the new one.
301 Redirects Link Juice Loss
301 redirects will retain most of the value of the original, but not all.
- Google’s Matt Cutts explains that Google’s crawler drops around 10% of the value for each redirect of a URL.
- Redirecting from URL A to URL B retains around 90% of the link juice.
- Redirecting from URL A to URL B, URL B to URL C and then from URL C to URL D would dilute the value by 10% at each stage, leaving only around 66% of the value for URL D by the time that redirect chain has completed.
- Multiple 301 redirects are generally not good practice and should be avoided wherever possible.
301 Redirects: Benefits
- Google will pass the authority of those old pages to the new pages on your site.
- It will help with rankings and bring organic (FREE!) traffic to the new pages.
- 404 pages are bad for user experience (you’ll lose some fans who think your site has disappeared.
- 404 pages are bad for organic ranking of your new site.
- Anyone linked to those old pages will get directed somewhere similar.
How to Set Up 301 Redirects
A step by step guide to 301 redirects: If you’re upgrading your website and URLs will change.
Step One: URL Research
- Create a spreadsheet where you’re going to list all of the page addresses (URLs).
- You’ll need a list of all of the URLs in the current website (or the one that has now been replaced). Hopefully you’ll have access to a sitemap for your site — this is the easiest method, or possibly a backup of the site somewhere.
- Add all of the URLs to the first column of your spreadsheet.
Whether you have that list or not, you should also check Google search results to see which of your pages are in the index. Check Google index of your site by searching site:mydomain.com (example). Google will return all of the pages from your site which are currently in its index.
- Add every URL from Google’s index AS SOON AS POSSIBLE as they’ll gradually be removed from the index as Google crawls them and discovers the missing pages.
- If you don’t have one already, create a Webmaster Tools account as some pages might be listed there too.
- Add any URLs you find in Webmaster Tools to your spreadsheet of URLs.
- You should now have a list of as many URLs as you can find, all in a single column.
Step Two: Working with Your 301 Redirect List
- De-duplicate the list so that you only have one instance of each URL.
Next, check every page on the list, noting which are 404 errors (missing pages).
- Remove any live URLs from your list, leaving you with a list of only the broken links.
- Now you have a list of broken links, in the next column, make a note of an equivalent URL on your NEW site — ideally one which has similar content or purpose. If there isn’t an equivalent page, a category page or search results page is OK. Worst case, redirecting to the homepage is better than nothing at all.
- You now have a complete list if broken URLs and their new destination.
Step Three (A): 301 Redirect htaccess
If you’re not particularly tech-savvy, editing your htaccess file could easily cause a heap of problems. You’ll need FTP access to your server, or a friendly php developer or possibly even your web host.
The .htaccess file is generally found in the root of your domain and is a plain text file which you can edit with notepad or any number of other editors. The .htaccess file does a number of things, but think of it as a 301 redirect page.
Keep a backup of the .htaccess file at every stage just in case you make a mess!
301 Redirect Syntax
For a 301 redirect for each page, each URL will need a single line in the .htaccess file.
301 redirect code example:
Redirect 301 /Page1.html http://www.domain.com/NewPage.html
The 301 denotes a permanent redirection. The command will work without it, but will default to a 302 redirect which is temporary.
There is no need to use the full ‘http://domain.com/’ version of the link. URLs are relative so you can just use everything from the forward slash ‘/’ onwards in the URL. The server knows which domain it is on.
Test the first redirect to make sure you have the 301 redirect syntax correct before implementing the remaining URLs, testing each one as you go.
Step Three (B): Alternative 301 Redirects
Depending on the CMS platform you use and your host, it is quite likely that you’ll be able to implement 301 redirects without getting your hands mucky via FTP and editing server files. If you’re not confident with that, it is best avoided.
Content Management Systems such as WordPress, Joomla, Magento and others will typically have an option in the admin or you might need a third-party plugin for 301 redirects which you can access more simply.
Alternatively, you will find that some web hosts provide access to cPanel or Plesk which may also have an option to add the 301 redirect. Check with your web host if this access is available.
301 Redirect Best Practice
The 301 redirect instructions are always implemented on the server where your domain is hosted. Typically, you’ll have created a new website with your existing host. The 301 redirects should be implemented on that same domain.
If you’ve moved an entire site from one host to another, but not changed any URLs, no action is necessary.
There are further options for redirecting pages contained with subfolders of a domain and options for redirecting every page from a domain to a single page (a homepage, for example). You can find more technical 301 redirect syntax here.
Make sure that you take a backup before you do anything and continue to take backups of the .htaccess file at every opportunity. It’s pretty easy to screw it up with disastrous (albeit temporary) consequences.
Here’s an example, for reference:
http://tillison.co.uk/curry — it redirects to a slightly different page address on our site. The old URL still works and any links around the web which reference it still have value.
Further Reading on Migrating Websites
301 redirects, How Long do You have, by Adam Futer: http://tillison.co.uk/2013/01/15/301-redirects-how-long-do-you-have/
New Website Checklist, by Mark Tillison: http://tillison.co.uk/2014/03/17/new-website-checklist/
Originally published at tillison.co.uk on February 25, 2015.