Change is inevitable, but if you don’t handle it correctly, you SEO status can suffer. If you need to change the URL of a page, you run the risk of searchers clicking on a broken website link. And nothing will chase away a potential website visitor faster than the dreaded “404 message” or “Page Not Found.” If you want to keep your customers, and your SEO juice, you need to use a permanent 301 Redirect to change old URLs into new ones.
Broken links happen when pages are moved and old links haven’t been redirected. There are multiple options for redirecting a page, such as permanent 301, or even temporary 302 redirects. The best method, however, is the 301.
When and why to Redirect
According to Moz, a 301 indicates to both browsers and search engines that the page has moved permanently. The search engines will look to your new URL for updated content, and will carry over any link weight from the original page to the new one.
Redirects can come in handy for a new website, too.
When you set up a website and direct multiple domain extensions (.com, .net, .info, etc.) to point at your web hosting, you will need to make sure the additional domains are being forwarded through 301 redirects.
When you setup your domains in this manner, Google will crawl through the domains as separate websites. And, according to Hubspot, Google will think that these websites are showing duplicate content in an attempt to hijack their way into search results. The search engine will proceed to penalize each of the domains and their page ranking will deteriorate.
The solution is to use 301 redirects as a sign to the search engines of a permanent move, so that Google bots won’t penalize you later on when multiple domains are still pointing at the same site. Only one domain should be assigned to a single website so search engines can tell the content is original and belongs to your site.
Google recommends you use a server-side 301 redirect to point users and search engines to the correct page in the following circumstances:
- When your site has moved to a new domain
- When your site can be accessed through several different URLs (http://example.com/home, or http://home.example.com)
- When you are merging two websites
If you were going to move your physical business to a new address, you would have your mail forwarded, your customers notified, and your directories and collateral updated to reflect the new location. If you didn’t do that, customers couldn’t find your new location and your business would suffer.
A 301 redirect does the same for your website. It helps keep visitors coming to your site, instead of serving them up with a “Page Not Found,” and helps you keep the link juice that you have worked so hard to build.