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How (and Why) to Redirect a URL

Jan 22, 2018
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So you just changed the name of one of your website pages and now you have a "404 Page Not Found" error popping up in your crawl stats. This can not only frustrate your users, it can also harm your site's search presence. In the video below, I'll share how and why you should redirect certain URLs on your website.

 

Here is the slidedeck from the video

 

Video Transcription 

Hey, what's up, everybody, and welcome to Hack My Growth. In today's episode, we're going to talk about the importance of redirecting old URLs to the new correct URL. Thanks so much for watching this video. If this is your first time, please hit the subscribe button below. We would love to have you as part of our community. We're talking about redirects, and this is what we do when maybe we've changed the URL or maybe we've updated a page and we no longer need an old page on our website, so we're going to need to redirect that to a new position or tell, at least, the search engines, the crawlers, as well as the users on our site, where that new content can be found. Now, this is a little bit more in the technical SEO aspect, so now we're going to jump into a slide deck to go a little bit deeper into everything I'm talking about. Let's go.

All right, let's talk about how and why to redirect a URL. What is a redirect? Redirects are typically used to indicate that content has moved from one URL to another. Let's say you wanted to optimize your URL string for search, so you've changed the way your URL is structured. Maybe it's the same content, but you've changed the path of that structure, so maybe the old structure was your site/old-content.html, and now you've moved that to a keyword-optimized page, and now that keyword is behind there as the URL string. Well, you need to redirect that link, that old link, to the new link.

Why do we use redirects? They're essential in really letting the search engines know that you've moved your content. See, even if you've moved content, the old URL string and the content will still live within that index, and that page can still show up in the search results even if you don't want it to anymore, so what you want to do is redirect that content, and that will help the search engines know that the old content has moved to a new place and that the new place should take the primary spot in the index. It actually will eventually help the search engines to remove the old content and completely replace it, and redirects really help speed up this process. It can happen on its own, but if you do a redirect, it's going to speed up that process quite a bit. 

When should you be using a redirect? Well, if you have old content, maybe it's expired. Right? You ran a contest, and that's no longer valid, and now you need to move that URL or push that URL to a new page. Maybe you find that you've had a broken link on your website that's getting links and getting traffic. Well, if there's nothing there, you're going to want to make sure that you redirect that to a page that's actually going to be user-friendly and has content for the search engines to crawl. Maybe you've changed your host or your content management system, also known as a CMS. Maybe you want to implement a canonical redirect, so maybe you have pages that are similar, but you want to say, "Hey, this is the primary page. This is the canonical page," you would use a redirect for that. You also want to use it when you change a URL where the existing content's found, which is what we discussed in the example on the slide before.

Let's look at this. Expired content. This is a page that still a lot of you can find it in the search results. It's about the 2006 World Yo-Yo Contest. Obviously, this is not valid content anymore. This is about 11 years old right now, or more than that now, right, 12 years old? The live event stream, none of this is relevant, so the right thing to do would probably be to take this whole domain and push it to whatever the 2018 World Yo-Yo Contest is, because this page is no longer valid whatsoever. This would be a good example of a page that needs to be redirected.

Maybe you have a broken link. One of my favorite tools for this is Ahrefs, their broken link tool. Maybe you have backlinks. Here is just, you see Toys "R" Us. They have a lot of pages that are pulling up this 404, so these are pages that aren't found, but people are linking to them. They're actually losing some really high-quality domains like you see, like Politico even linked to that. Well, they're not getting the link equity from that link because it's going to a 404, so they're missing out on some really big opportunities.

What Toys "R" Us should be doing is scanning their backlinks, finding those broken backlinks, and then taking that link that's wrong and having it direct to a link that is correct. That way they actually get the backlink equity from the links that are pointing to their site. As you can see, there's a number of them here that are very high-quality, and this happens a lot. Maybe you've moved this content and moved the site around. You have pages that are 404ing, and you're losing a lot of the link equity that you may have built or acquired on those pages that are no longer valid.

Maybe you changed your CMS. Maybe you were building a site that was a static site with HTML, and now you're deciding to go to WordPress and maybe all of your domains have a .html at the end when now they don't anymore. This is another great example and where you should be using a redirect and make sure that those sites, those pages, those URLs, are being redirected to the right place. We talk about canonical URL. Maybe you have sites that are common. Maybe they're like-minded pages, but they're getting links, and they're driving traffic, but they're not really the page that's the one you want to rank for that's your primary page. Well, you would use a 301 redirect, and we'll talk about that here in a second to make sure that that main page gets the canonical link and it's seen as the main page or the right page to show up in the index.

Maybe you've changed your URL structure. This is looking at Quick Redirects, 301 Redirects for WordPress. What you do is, you have the old one, and you have the new one, and you push the old URL to the new URL to make sure that it's being redirected the right way and that the traffic from the old URL no longer goes there, because that would now be dead and have a 404, and that will go to the right page. There are a couple of different types of redirects, and we're going to talk about the two prominent kinds. They're not created equal. While the user may not know the difference between a 301 or a 302, they won't really see it, there is a very big difference when it comes to the search engines, so the two main types of redirects are 301s and the 302s.

A 301 redirect is known as a permanent redirect, and this tells the browser that the content has been permanently removed and put on a new URL. When you use a 301 redirect, it passes all of the link equity, all the link authority and trust of the old link, to the new link, and will actually eventually replace the old URL and the index. This is the one that we want to primarily use when we're really changing pages on our site and we want to make sure that we get all of the SEO benefits. The other type of redirect is called a 302, and this tells a search engine that the content has temporarily moved. It assumed that maybe the page will eventually be reinstated, and because of that, it's saying, "Don't pass the link authority to the new page." The old link will still stay in the index, so when you use a 302 redirect, you're not getting the SEO benefits, because you're not getting any of the link equity passing to the new URL.

As I said, the best for SEO is a 301 redirect. Let's say you spent a lot of time, and you built a lot of equity links behind this one old page, and you want to make sure that when you redirect it, maybe you're optimizing URL, that you use a 301, because if you don't, all that work you did for that page won't matter, because if you use a 302, none of that equity's going to pass, and that new page will just be like a brand new page on your website, and you'll have to start all over again from square one. Now, you could go back and change it, so if you've done a 302, it's okay. Don't worry too much. You can go back and change that, but make sure if you have those, you want to look at why you have those, and there are only certain purposes for using 302s. That's if you know you're going to have that page up again. Otherwise, make sure that you're using the 301.

How do we correctly redirect a URL? Now, there are a lot of different ways to approach this, and we're going to talk about a couple. I'm going to share four here, but we're only going to talk about two, because two of them really, one of them is very technical, and the other one really breaks the rule that we talked about before. The first way is using the .htaccess file. The .htaccess file is a configuration file on an Apache server that really tells how the website is supposed to be run, what's kind of going on with the files on that server. You can also use page-level redirects. Now, the problem with a page-level redirect, it uses 302 redirects only, so don't recommend using 302 page-level redirects if you really want to move the content to where it should be.

You can also use mod_rewrite with Apache, and then there's another way to do it with Microsoft. I'm not a Microsoft guy. I'm not even going to pretend that I'm a Microsoft guy, so this is a very technical way to do redirects, and we're not going to get into that in this video because I want to give actionable insights that you guys need to use. The last way is through your CMS. There are a lot of CMSs now that help you do redirects a lot more efficiently to where it's not so tech-heavy and can be done with relative ease. 

Using your .htaccess file, again, it's a file in an Apache server. It's a configuration file. Be very careful if you're going to use this for doing your redirects. If you've never used an .htaccess file, and never been involved in an .htaccess file, and never seen one, most of the time you don't see them because they're often hidden, if you're FTPing in, because these files are so important, so be careful if you've never done it before. You can easily break a website if you change something or delete something that shouldn't be changed or put a period in the wrong place. Your whole site can go down. I know that from experience.

What you do here is, if you have a single URL redirect, you want to use a 301, so as it shows right here, this is exactly what you would type into the .htaccess file, Redirect 301 /old-page, and then you would put the new page right next to it. If you want to do an entire domain, you can do that on the old domain server. Maybe you're moving your whole old domain to a new domain. You want to access the .htaccess file on that page, and then you can just add the code that's shown right here. There's a number of resources online. There's a number of places you'd go and just copy and paste this stuff right in, just change out your domain information, but this is an easy way to do it. It's a good way to do it. It's a clean way to do it, but again, if you don't have a lot of access or experience with .htaccess files, I don't recommend touching them.

The easier way is to use your CMS. Now, we use a lot of WordPress for our sites. We have some websites on HubSpot. We've built static sites as well, but for the sites on WordPress, these are four plugins that are good plugins that really help you do this with relative ease. The one I showed before in the screenshot was Quick Page/Post. There's also Simple 301 Redirects. There's a plugin called Redirection, and then there's another one called 404 to 301.

Let's say you may have a lot of 404s, but you don't really know what they are. You don't really know how to find them, but you want to make sure that all your 404s redirect to a certain page. You can actually install this plugin, and you can have all your broken links point to your homepage. It's an easy way to fix all your 404 errors. Now, if you're using HubSpot, they auto-redirect the old URL to the new URL, so this is a really helpful and easy way to approach this where you change a URL, it's already taken care of for you, and they use a 301 redirect. A lot of CMSs are moving in that direction as well.

Let's recap. We use redirects to point old URLs to newer URLs, and this is helpful because you want to make sure that people can find your content in the right place, but more importantly, you want to let the search engines know that your content's moved and where the correct place is to find your content. This is a technical part of SEO, but it's an extremely important part. There's a lot of people that don't do this correctly, and they lose a lot of the work that they put in, so make sure that you're using 301 redirects. Only 301 redirects are going to pass link authority of the old page to the new page. I hope this was helpful. If you guys have any questions, please comment below. We would love to help you out, love to point you in the right direction. Until next time, Happy Marketing.

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Ryan Shelley

By Ryan Shelley

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works has also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing solutions.

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