If you have ever visited a website, and you navigate from page to page, you may have seen a situation where that page pauses for just a second, and then goes to another page that you did not personally request. The reason why this happens is because a redirect is implemented.
And this is an example of when a redirect is properly created and working. But, what if a website doesn’t have properly-working redirects? What then? What happens when significant changes take place and you can’t exactly pinpoint why a website lost its value?
Exploring this a bit further: when you create a website, you should always include a way for visitors to access pages even after such significant changes take place.
So what happens when someone types an erroring website address into their browser? They may get redirected to another page without seeing that original page at all. This is called a 301 Redirect, and it occurs when a web server sends a request to another URL (a web page), and the new location exists, but is loaded in place of the former page. You set redirect types on the server based on what you are doing with this redirect.
There are many different ways to create 301 redirects. There are also just about as many ways to create 301 redirect mistakes.
What Are 301 Redirects, Exactly?
301 redirects are HTTP status codes that indicate that an old URL should be redirected to a new location on your site. This can happen when you move pages around on your website, or change URLs for SEO purposes.
301 redirects are useful because they allow users who arrive at one page on your site to automatically be taken to another, without having to fill out forms or perform any additional actions. They’re also handy if you want to direct traffic from different sources to the same place on your site.
301 redirects don’t work for all pages though, so it’s important to test them thoroughly before using them on live sites. It’s recommended that you only use this technique as a last resort after trying other methods first.
If you do decide to implement 301 redirects, keep in mind that Google will still index the old page content if it appears within the body text of another page. So, if you want to ensure that users won’t find any broken links, try not to place too many 301 redirects at once. Instead, add one per month, and monitor traffic to see whether it has improved.
Redirect Mistakes That Can Hurt Your Site’s Traffic
While there are best practices, if you’re not aware of all of them, you may run into 301 redirect mistakes.
The most common mistake people make is using relative paths instead of absolute ones. This will cause the browser to look at the wrong place for the page’s content.
Absolute links do not work like this. Instead, they should point to the same location regardless of where the link appears on the site (i.e., /about/contact). Relative links always assume the document being linked from is located directly below the current one.
The only exception to this rule is if you want to link to a page that has moved permanently. In this case, it would still be best to use a relative link, because you may not know exactly where the redirect may lead in the future.
Sending All 301 Redirects to Your Homepage
Don’t send any and all 301 redirects back to your homepage. It’s not uncommon for people to think that they can just send any 301 redirects to your homepage and then they are done with it.
This will result in a massive number of 404 errors which will hurt your rankings and traffic. The reason is that when you do perform a massive redirect like this, the URLs that these redirects were redirected from will be treated as 404s.
As a result, none of them will spread value.
If you want to spread value from redirected pages to other pages, it’s best to take a planned approach and make sure that you redirect from redirected pages to other relevant pages.
Don’t just redirect everything to your home page.
Sending Crawlers Through Redirect Chain Nightmares
Redirect chains are the fastest way to negatively impact your rankings and traffic. They can also cause slow site speeds and can increase your bounce rate.
A redirect chain occurs when one page redirects to another page, which then redirects to another page, etc. This is often done by people who want to manipulate search engine results pages (SERPs) so that their website appears higher than it should be in the SERPs.
Redirect chains are bad because they cause Googlebot to crawl your site multiple times, which increases your page load speed and decreases your search engine ranking. The best way to avoid redirect chains is to make sure that you’re not redirecting your pages more than once, and that you’re not misconfiguring your redirects in any way.
Why Are These Redirect Chains a Bad SEO Issue?
Redirect chains can cause crawl delays. For example: Google is going to follow around 5 redirect hops during a crawl. After doing this, Google will stop doing the crawl in order to conserve resources. What happens here is a negative impact on your crawl budget, which may also lead to indexing issues.
They also result in increased page load time. As a rule, redirects cause higher page load times for both users and search engines. This also leads to the loss of crawl budget. And when this happens, when a search engine has to request many multiple URLs, this also has to result in the request of a new, additional URL. When Googlebot has to wait, then this ends up giving it less time to crawl other pages.
The other big issue with redirect chains is that it can result in lost link equity. It’s important to note at this juncture that not all of a page’s authority or equity will be passed via that particular redirect. This means that adding just a single extra hop in the redirection process will decrease the amount of page authority that flows to that page.
Never Ending Redirect Loops
What is a redirect loop? This is different from a redirect chain in that a redirect loop is actually a closed redirect chain. Why is this bad? Because it causes Google to crawl that same redirect loop over and over and over…again. This is way worse than a redirect chain.
If you want to know what causes a redirect loop, it’s because one of those pages has code that tries to direct users back to itself. This can happen when redirects are coded incorrectly, or when someone was not paying attention when creating that redirect.
While this isn’t something we see often, if you do run into a redirect loop, it could indicate that there’s a problem with your server configuration, which would require deeper investigation.
302 Redirects Are Used Instead of a 301 Redirect
This happens all the time in developer circles. They believe that there is no difference when it comes to 301 redirects vs. 302 redirects. In fact, there is a significant difference:
301 redirects are permanent redirects. This sends a signal to Google that the redirects are permanent.
302 redirects are temporary redirects. And this sends a signal to Google that these redirects are temporary.
Often during audits, we find that certain types of redirects were used when they should not be used. And this is one of them.
Ignoring Case Sensitivity
Case sensitivity in URLs is a big one. Another mistake that we see oftentimes in SEO audits are that less savvy webmasters will ignore case when they do redirects, thinking that blanket redirects will “just work.” While in some cases this is true, it’s not always the case. This is something that is highly dependent on your server configuration.
For example, let’s say that you created a redirect from /page1.htm to /page2.htm but instead of using all lower-case, you used /pAgE2.htm. The /pAgE2.htm page will be an entirely different page compared to /page2.htm, because case sensitivity will not always be redirected. And thus, you could have accidentally introduced a 404 error when completing that redirect as well.
This is why, before performing any redirects, you should make sure that any redirects you do perform will ultimately lead to the correct case-sensitive version that needs to be displayed within the search results.
Allowing Previously Linked Pages to Just 404
Ideally, on a fully developed website, you may find linked pages that you just want to redirect to other pages, for whatever reason. Sometimes, these original pages may have 404 errors, because they were deleted and not redirects, or whatever.
But, for these linked pages, you want to make sure they are 301 redirected. You don’t want them to just 404. While in the beginning, such a configuration may make sense, as a website grows and gets more errors (which is naturally going to happen – let’s face it – nobody is perfect 100 percent of the time), then you will have more 404s.
As a stop-gap measure, it makes sense to just make sure that any and all 404s are just 301 redirected to a proper, relevant page.
Not Tracking the Redirects You Create
When you create redirects, are you tracking them? When you have a large e-commerce site, things can get out of control really fast. This is why having a tracking process in place, for any and all monitoring of redirects that are created, is necessary.
It’s important that, when in charge of a large project at scale, that one keeps an inventory and ongoing tracking list of all redirect changes that have been performed.
For example, it’s possible that a redirect chain or loop may have been created 4 months ago. But, when you’re at a point 4 months later trying to diagnose a ranking issue, it can be hard to figure out exactly where that ranking issue may have originated.
When you have a tracking system in place, then you can easily go back and find that you made a mistake over there with a redirect that caused a redirect chain or loop.
Redirecting a Page to Another Page With a Different Intent
Don’t redirect a page just for the sake of redirecting it. It’s important to consider things like: what the page is about, what is its value in relation to the other pages, and so on.
Instead, you want to make sure that you’re more strategic in your redirects. Adding redirects need to point to similar pages, and similar pages that have value and additional added context for that URL. In other words, pointing that redirect to the nearest page is preferable.
Redirecting a page that points to another page that has an entirely different intent when compared to the original is not considered a good SEO practice.
Only Using Redirects Instead of Actually Updating Internal Links
You may have run into this problem before: you have a bunch of internal links that 404. Your first instinct may be to use redirects from these 404s and really just to redirect them all to the homepage.
As mentioned previously, this is a really bad idea. Instead, you may want to consider an initiative that replaces these links with new ones.
Instead of redirecting them, just make sure that you replace the links with their nearest contextual links with significant value in the link equity department.
That way, you replace the link, and you may have added value from these link replacements, rather than redirecting all missing internal links to the homepage.
Creating HTML Redirects Instead of Server Side Redirects
Making sure you use server side redirects instead of HTML level redirects is also preferable. There are several reasons why you don’t want to use an HTML redirect.
The major difference between HTML redirects and standard server-side redirects is that this redirect runs within the HTML code.
Because you are using an HTML-based redirect, this does not allow you to transfer link equity like you would be able to do if you used the proper 301 or 302 redirect.
It’s also possible to inadvertently create more than one URL for a single page, which is often done because of the misuse of the trailing slash.
Also, there are many automated options available to create 301 and 302 redirects that it makes sense to use these, over the more cumbersome manual option: simply because doing so leads to less frustration and greater accuracy on your part.
Don’t Leave Your Old Pages Erroring Out — Be Sure to Use a 301 Redirect
While it may be tempting to take the easy route and redirect everything to the home page, this is seldom the proper way to go.
Ideally, when you have a developed site with a significant amount of links, you want to make sure that any links that you don’t have – and that are presenting 404s – are 301 redirected to their nearest relevant page.
This way, you transfer the link equity, and you don’t leave strange issues with ranking on the table.
How do you plan on correcting your own 301 redirect mistakes?