6 questions about redirects for SEO
A redirect happens when someone asks for a specific page but gets sent to a different page. Often, the site owner deleted the page and set up a redirect to send visitors and search engine crawlers to a relevant page. A much better approach then serving them an annoying, user experience breaking 404 message. Redirects play a big part in the lives of site owners, developers, and SEOs. So let’s answer a couple of recurring questions about redirects for SEO.
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1. Are redirects bad for SEO?
Well, it depends, but in most cases, no. Redirects are not bad for SEO, but — as with so many things — only if you put them in place correctly. A bad implementation might cause all kinds of trouble, from loss of PageRank to loss of traffic. Redirecting pages is a must if you make any changes to your URLs. After all, you don’t want to see all the hard work you put into building an audience and gathering links to go down the drain.
2. Why should I redirect a URL?
By redirecting a changed URL, you send both users and crawlers to a new URL, therefore keeping annoyances to a minimum. Whenever you perform any kind of maintenance on your site you are actually taking stuff out. You could be deleting a post, changing your URL structure or moving your site to a new domain. You have to replace it or visitors will land on those dreaded 404 pages. If you make small changes, like delete an outdated article, you can redirect that old URL with a 301 to a relevant new article or give it a 410 to say that you deleted it. Don’t delete stuff without a plan. And don’t redirect your URLs to random articles that don’t have anything to do with the article you’re deleting.
Bigger projects need a URL migration strategy. Going from HTTP to HTTPS for instance — more on that later on in this article, changing the URL paths, or moving your site to a new domain. In these cases, you should look at all the URLs on your site and map these to their future locations on the new domain. After determining what goes where, you can start redirecting the URLs. Use the change of address tool in Google Search Console to notify Google of the changes.
3. What is a 301 redirect? And a 302 redirect?
Use a 301 redirect to permanently redirect a URL to a new destination. This way, you tell both visitors and search engine crawlers that this URL changed and a new destination is found. This the most common redirect. Don’t use a 301 if you ever want to use that specific URL ever again. If so, you need a 302 redirect.
A 302 redirect is a so-called temporary redirect. This means that you can use this to say this piece of content is temporarily unavailable at this address, but it is going to come back. Need more information on which redirect to pick?
4. What’s an easy way to manage redirects in WordPress?
We might be a bit biased, but we think the redirects manager in our Yoast SEO Premium WordPress plugin is incredible. We know that a lot of people struggle to understand the concept of redirects and the kind of work that goes into adding and managing them. That’s why one of the first things we wanted our WordPress SEO plugin to have was an easy to use redirect tool. I think we succeeded, but don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Lindsay recently said:
#SEO pointer. Overwhelmed by 404 errors in the Google Search Console? Look for patterns and then use regex. And if you have a #WordPress website, get Yoast Premium. The redirect manager rocks! Thanks, @yoast!
— Lindsay Halsey (@lindsay_wpseo) June 27, 2018
The redirects manager can help set up and manage redirect on your WordPress site. It’s an indispensable tool if you want to keep your site fresh and healthy. We made it as easy as possible. Here’s what happens when you delete a post:
- Move a post to trash
- A message pops up saying that you moved a post to thrash
- Choose one of two options given by the redirects manager:
- Redirect to another URL
- Serve a 410 Content deleted header
- If you pick redirect, a modal opens where you can enter the new URL for this particular post
- Save and you’re done!
So convenient, right? Here’s an insightful article called What does the redirects manager in Yoast SEO do, that answers that question.
5. What is a redirect checker?
A redirect checker is a tool to determine if a certain URL is redirected and to analyze the path it follows. You can use this information to find bottlenecks, like a redirect chain in which a URL is redirected many times, making it much harder for Google to crawl that URL — and giving users a less than stellar user experience. These chains often happen without you knowing about it: if you delete a page that was already redirected, you add another piece to the chain. So, you need to keep an eye on your redirects and one of the tools to do that is a redirect checker.
You can use one of the SEO suites such as Sitebulb, Ahrefs and Screaming Frog to test your redirects and links. If you only need a quick check, you can also use a simpler tool like httpstatus.io to give you an insight into the life of a URL on your site. Another must-have tool is the Redirect Path extension for Chrome, made by Ayima.
6. Do I need to redirect HTTP to HTTPS?
Whenever you plan to move to the much-preferred HTTPS protocol for your site — you know, the one with the green padlock in the address bar — you must redirect your HTTP traffic to HTTPS. You could get into trouble with Google if you make your site available on both HTTP and HTTPS, so watch out for that. Also, browsers will show a NOT SECURE message when the site is — you guessed it — not secured by a HTTPS connection. Plus, Google prefers HTTPS sites, because these tend to be faster and more secure. Your visitors expect the extra security as well.
So, you need to set up a 301 redirect from HTTP to HTTPS. There are a couple of way of doing this and you must plan this to make sure everything goes like it should. First, the preferred way of doing this is at server level. Find out on what kind of server your site is running (NGINX, Apache, or something else) and find the code needed to add to your server config file or .htaccess file. Most often, your host will have a guide to help you set up a redirect for HTTP to HTTPS on server level. Jimmy, one of our developers also wrote a guide helping you move your website from HTTP to HTTPS.
There are also WordPress plugins that can handle the HTTPS/SSL stuff for your site, but for this specific issue, I wouldn’t rely on a plugin, but manage your redirect at a server level. Don’t forget to let Google know of the changes in Search Console.
Redirects for SEO
There are loads of questions about redirects to answer. If you think about it, the concept of a redirect isn’t too hard to grasp. Getting started with redirects isn’t that hard either. The hard part of working with redirects is managing them. Where are all these redirects leading? What if something breaks? Can you find redirect chains or redirect loops? Can you shorten the paths? You can gain a lot from optimizing your redirects, so you should dive in and fix them. Do you have burning questions about redirects? Let us know in the comments!
Read more: ‘How to properly delete a page from your site’ »
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