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What is a 301 Redirect?

by Mark Croft on February 13, 2020

We’ve all experienced a time when we clicked on a website link that was broken. Typically you’ll see a “404 message” or “Page Not Found.” A lot of times this is caused when a page is moved to a new URL and the old link wasn’t directed to the new page. 

How frustrating!

Think about the lost opportunity when your customers or potential buyers want information that they can’t locate. 

Maintaining redirects are important for your website’s technical SEO strategy.

What is a 301 redirect?

A 301 redirect tells web browsers and search engine spiders go from page A to page B. You should define a redirect in your web server configuration, such as the .htaccess file on the Apache webserver.

A redirect should not be handled with server-side scripting software such as PHP or client-side by Javascript. Using these methods are slower and will dilute your crawl budget.

When should a 301 redirect be used?

A 301 redirect should be used when a URL changes, and to direct visitors to a page’s canonical URL. Using a redirect will ensure that visitors and search engines will be able to find your page, enabling you to maintain your website's search rankings which prevents dips in website traffic.

Sometimes pages are removed or combined during a content audit or link pruning exercise. This is a normal part of website and content maintenance, but you need to make sure you don’t leave any URLs broken.

When pages are combined, all of the pages that are no longer necessary should contain a 301 redirect to the remaining page.

If a URL needs to change for a page, a 301 redirect should be created from the old URL to the new URL.

301 Redirects for Canonical URLs

You should use a 301 redirect to direct visitors to canonical URLs for each page. Every page on your site should only have a single URL that displays the content for that page.

One easy mistake to make is to have a page available at "https://www.domain.com/page" and "https://domain.com/page". In this case, you need a redirect to the canonical URL for that page. Which version of the URL that needs the redirect is dependent on if your site uses www or non-www URLs. 

URLs with a trailing slash like "https://domain.com/page/" and URLs without a trailing slash like "https://domain.com/page" should be handled the same way. This again is solved with a 301 redirect to the canonical URL.

How to Create 301 Redirects

Create 301 redirects in your web server configuration with the fewest number of jumps from page A to page B. You do not want to create a redirect chain that takes visitors and search engines from URL A to URL B then to URL C.

The wrong way to redirect webpages

The Wrong Way to Redirect a URL

For instance, you DON'T want to create a redirect chain that looks like this from "www.domain.com" to "domain.com".

301-Redirect-Wrong-Text


The right way to redirect a URL.The Right Way to Redirect a URL

What you want is to create a single redirect that goes from the original URL to the destination URL in one step.

301-Redirect-Right-Text

Rules to keep in mind for single hop redirects

There are two decisions for you to make related to your site architecture that effect URL structure and redirects.

  1. Are you using "www" in your domain? Example: www.domain.com
  2. Are you using a trailing slash at the end of your domain? Example: www.domain.com/page/

Once you've decided the answers to these two questions, use the guide below to create single-hop redirects for your site.

"www" and trailing slash

  • HTTP, non-www, trailing slash http://domain.com/page/ ➡️ https://www.domain.com/page/
  • HTTP, non-www, no trailing slash http://domain.com/page ➡️ https://www.domain.com/page/
  • HTTP, www, trailing slash http://www.domain.com/page/ ➡️ https://www.domain.com/page/
  • HTTP, www, no trailing slash http://www.domain.com/page ➡️ https://www.domain.com/page/
  • HTTPS, non-www, trailing slash https://domain.com/page/ ➡️ https://www.domain.com/page/
  • HTTPS, non-www, no trailing slash https://domain.com/page ➡️ https://www.domain.com/page/
  • HTTPS, www, trailing slash https://www.domain.com/page/ ⏹ No redirect needed
  • HTTPS, www, no trailing slash https://www.domain.com/page ➡️ https://www.domain.com/page/

"www" and no trailing slash

  • HTTP, non-www, trailing slash http://domain.com/page/ ➡️ https://www.domain.com/page
  • HTTP, non-www, no trailing slash http://domain.com/page ➡️ https://www.domain.com/page
  • HTTP, www, trailing slash http://www.domain.com/page/ ➡️ https://www.domain.com/page
  • HTTP, www, no trailing slash http://www.domain.com/page ➡️ https://www.domain.com/page
  • HTTPS, non-www, trailing slash https://domain.com/page/ ➡️ https://www.domain.com/page
  • HTTPS, non-www, no trailing slash https://domain.com/page ➡️ https://www.domain.com/page
  • HTTPS, www, trailing slash https://www.domain.com/page/ ➡️ https://www.domain.com/page
  • HTTPS, www, no trailing slash https://www.domain.com/page ⏹ No redirect needed

No "www" and trailing slash

  • HTTP, non-www, trailing slash http://domain.com/page/ ➡️ https://domain.com/page/
  • HTTP, non-www, no trailing slash http://domain.com/page ➡️ https://domain.com/page/
  • HTTP, www, trailing slash http://www.domain.com/page/ ➡️ https://domain.com/page/
  • HTTP, www, no trailing slash http://www.domain.com/page ➡️ https://domain.com/page/
  • HTTPS, non-www, trailing slash https://domain.com/page/ ⏹ No redirect needed
  • HTTPS, non-www, no trailing slash https://domain.com/page ➡️ https://domain.com/page/
  • HTTPS, www, trailing slash https://www.domain.com/page ➡️ https://domain.com/page/
  • HTTPS, www, no trailing slash https://www.domain.com/page ➡️ https://domain.com/page/

No "www" and no trailing slash

  • HTTP, non-www, trailing slash http://domain.com/page/ ➡️ https://domain.com/page
  • HTTP, non-www, no trailing slash http://domain.com/page ➡️ https://domain.com/page
  • HTTP, www, trailing slash http://www.domain.com/page/ ➡️ https://domain.com/page
  • HTTP, www, no trailing slash http://www.domain.com/page ➡️ https://domain.com/page
  • HTTPS, non-www, trailing slash https://domain.com/page/ ➡️ https://domain.com/page
  • HTTPS, non-www, no trailing slash https://domain.com/page ⏹ No redirect needed
  • HTTPS, www, trailing slash https://www.domain.com/page ➡️ https://domain.com/page
  • HTTPS, www, no trailing slash https://www.domain.com/page ➡️ https://domain.com/page

Your website and web server configuration will determine exactly how to implement these redirects. The guide above will give you all of the types of redirects to create and test. Giving this list to your web developer will be very helpful. If you need help implementing the redirects on your website, we can help as part of an SEO Technical Audit.

Just don't forget! Redirects can effect multiple aspects of your website, so stay on top of it and get more people to your website - and driving them further into your sales funnel! Check out more ways to improve your website, plus 10 things NOT to do on your website in our free guide 25 Website Must-Haves.

25 Website 'Must-Haves'

Topics: SEO

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