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Answers to Your Top Questions About Redirects #semrushchat

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Answers to Your Top Questions About Redirects #semrushchat

Becky Shindell
Answers to Your Top Questions About Redirects #semrushchat

URL redirection is a way to move your website visitors to a different webpage than the one they originally requested. It usually happens when the page requested is unavailable. Redirection is a very important step to make sure that your visitors get send to the right place.

There are various types of redirects, such as 301, 302, and other redirects that can help you to maintain your site’s reputation that you have earned through SEO traffic and backlinks. Without it, your users will receive a 404 Not Found error message; this is not the experience you want your visitors to have.

During our latest SEMrush Chat, we discussed the details of redirects with our special guest Joe Williams, Founder of Zen Optimise, managing director and SEO trainer. The goal of this chat was to figure out why websites use redirects, how to maintain your SEO traffic when moving it to a new domain, as well as other important issues. To find out more, check out the following chat recap:

Q1. Can redirects really make or break your SEO campaign?

This question bothers all site owners. How do redirects affect their SEO efforts? Many of our chat participants pointed out that redirection should be done smartly. If done well, redirects can help you to save your search optimization efforts, however, poorly executed redirection strategies can hurt your SEO campaign. “The right ones can make; the wrong ones can break. I'm looking at you, 302s,” tweeted ThinkSEM‏ @ThinkSEM.

Our special guest agreed that changing your URLs without proper redirects can hurt your SEO. If you’re considering creating a new website or changing your old site, you need to figure out how to do it in an SEO-friendly way and plan a successful redirection strategy. “If set well, redirects contribute to a sustainable SEO strategy. If not, you lose valuable rankings in SERP,” pointed out Fanny Heuck‏ @FannyHeuck.

Praveen Sharma drew a good analogy with a real-life trip. Imagine, you’re going to New York, you get on a plane and wait for the plane to land in the city, but instead of landing in New York, you end up in Seattle. Or let's say you and your friends are going to visit a restaurant that you've heard about a lot, you drive over there to have a nice evening, but when you get there, you see a sign on the door which says the restaurant has moved. I bet you will be frustrated.

Of course, a 404 Not Found error is not the same as landing in a wrong city. However, landing on a 404 Not Found error can be especially frustrating as a site visitor. 

Bill Slawski also mentioned that redirects are similar to when you move and sign up to have your mail forwarded to your new address. If you don’t do this, you may lose some valuable information that’s sent to you.

It's important to understand the difference between a 301 and a 302 redirect because search engines handle different types of redirects differently. A 301 redirect means that the webpage has been permanently moved to a new location, while a 302 redirect refers to the status code “Found,” which means that the page has been moved temporarily. “Redirect HTTP to HTTPS with a 302 redirect instead of a 301 redirect and you end up with a secure non-ranking website (goodbye PageRank),” tweeted Bill Slawski‏.

In a nutshell, redirects are necessary to send your site visitors to the right web address to provide them with what they’re looking for. However, incorrect redirects can break your SEO campaign. Therefore, you need to plan ahead and redirect your URLs strategically.

To redirect strategically, you can create a redirect map.

SEMrush Chat Recap Q1

When it comes to redirects, the right ones can make your SEO campaign, and the wrong ones can break it. Nevertheless, as Corey‏ @CoreyW85 remarked, redirects can hurt you, but if it’s the only thing destroying your campaign, it means your redirection strategy is poor and you need to rethink it.

Q2. If a site is moving to a new domain name, how could they maintain their SEO traffic?

When moving your website to a new domain, you need to make sure that the transition of the site goes smoothly. Here are the steps you need to take in order to maintain your SEO juice while moving your migrating your site:

1. Map out a site migration path

As our chat guests have already mentioned, you need to plan and map out a careful migration path to a new domain name. This includes creating a sitemap of your new site, building a list of all your site pages, and making a list of all the URLs on your current site. Then, you need to compile a list of all the URLs that are planned for your new site and map each URL from your current site to the URLs of the new one.

Also, Andy Drinkwater‏ recommended looking at external links and see if there are opportunities to change to the new domain.

2. Use a 301 redirect

After moving your content to the new domain, you should implement a 301 permanent redirect domain to make sure that when both users and Google are coming to your site from older links, they know where to find your content.

3. Make sure your users are aware of the change

Besides technical aspect, it’s also worth making sure that your users know about the move well in advance. It will help you to better maintain brand recognition and prevent your site visitors bounce back to search results, once they’ve landed on your new, unfamiliar website.

4. Inform Google about the migration

Once you’ve moved your site to a new domain, you need to inform Google about it by using the “change address” option in the old domains account in Google Search Console.

5. Monitor your keyword rankings

It’s important to monitor your search rankings during the whole process of site migration. You need to start with the planning stage in order to understand what keywords you currently rank for. Check your positions for these specific keywords during the migration and make sure you’re not losing any terms or content that’s relevant for a specific query.

Whenever possible, try to do a page-to-page redirect, instead of directing all the pages to your homepage so you can salvage as much traffic as possible. “Your traffic will take a hit. If you do the move page by page it will take less time to get it back,” tweeted JoMarie‏ @JoMarieT.

SEMrush Chat Recap Q2

By following these steps you can mitigate your losses during site migrations.

Q3. Let’s say a site moved to HTTPs but their ranking bombed. What could be the reason why?

We’ve listed some easy and useful tips to maximize the chances that your site changes will be smooth, but what if after moving your site to HTTPS your rankings bombed. Our chat guests shared their opinions on why it could happen:

  • Lack of permanent redirects

A 301 permanent redirect is key to maintaining your website’s search rankings and domain authority when your site’s URL is changed; this happens during a site migration from HTTP to HTTPS. 301 permanent redirects help to send both the search engines and your users to a different URL from the one they initially requested. As Joe Williams‏ pointed out, a lack of 301 redirect can be a reason for your site rankings bombing after the migration. “The HTTP URLs are still indexed (no redirects in place), so pages could be flagged as duplicate content,” pointed out Lucas Vos‏ @lucasvos.

Also, using a 302 redirect instead of a 301 permanent redirect can cause the issue. “Make sure you are using 301 instead of 302 redirects when you redirect to https or rankings can suffer,” recommended Bill Slawski

  • Robots.txt doesn’t allow search bots to crawls your webpages

The robots.txt file tells web crawlers, such as Googlebot, if they should or should not crawl and index the pages on your site. You need to make sure you don’t implement any new redirects that conflict with those already existing. Otherwise, you can create a redirect loop, which is when A points to B and B points to back to A. As a result, the webpage can not be displayed.  

  • Canonicalization issues

In the SEO world, canonicalization refers to redirecting multiple URLs to a single main version. Canonicalization issues arise when your website can be accessed by search engines from several different URLs. This means that the search crawlers can potentially index your site under different URLs. It can confuse them and, as a result, create duplicate content. To improve link and ranking signals for content that’s available through multiple URLs, you can use canonical URLs, and HTML elements that help webmasters to prevent duplicate content issues.

  • The HTTPS property isn’t added to Search Console

When migrating your site from HTTP to HTTPs, you need to add the HTTPS version to Search Console. The data for these properties isn’t shared in Search Console, so if you have webpages in both protocols, you should have a separate Search Console property for each one.

  • Organizational conflict

Sometimes, the technical issue itself could be the reason why your ranking bombed. JP Sherman pointed out that the problem can happen because of the lack in communication and collaboration in a company. Your teams need to learn how to work together and find solutions to improve communication.

You can check out a few other answers in the following recap:
 

SEMrush Chat Recap Q3

As you can see, there are multiple reasons for your ranking to bomb after moving your site HTTPS. Make sure to follow our chat guests’ recommendations to avoid this issue.  

Q4. What’s the easiest way to implement a redirect?

Now that we know that a 301 redirect can help you to improve your chances of keeping the rankings earned by the old page, let’s figure out the easiest way to implement a redirect:

  • Set a redirect via .htaccess

You can implement a 301 redirect by using .htaccess for Apache. An Apache web server can implement permanent redirects through script code modifications to one of two of the text-based configuration files: .htaccess or httpd.conf. Usually the .htaccess configuration method is used. Val Vesa pointed out that httpd.conf is a bit faster, but is possible, if you have a dedicated server.

  • Create redirects using WordPress plugins

Another easy way to create and manage 301 redirect is by using one of the many WordPress redirect plugins like Redirection plugin. Once you’ve installed and activated the plugin, you not only can setup redirects, but you can also find out 404 errors on your WordPress site.

However, some of our chat participants don’t recommend using WordPress plugins as your first choice: “It depends on your server and how its set up. Some can be worse than others. I don't recommend plugins (WP) as a first choice,” tweeted Rachel Howe‏ @R8chel_Marie.

  • Use a CMS plugin

Depending on your content management system, you can use a CMS plugin to implement a redirect. With the plugins installed, you can manage redirects directly from your CMS.

Also, our chat participants pointed out that your choice of a way to implement a redirect should depend on several factors, such as a content delivery network (CDN) level, server level, header responses, and webpage level (e.g., JavaScript or meta refreshes).

Let’s sum up!

SEMrush Chat Recap Q4

Many of our chat guests recommended using the .htaccess file, as an easy way to implement a redirect. Also, if you are not sure how to do it properly, it’s worth delegating it to a professional web developer.  

Q5. What are the most important pages to redirect?

When migrating your site, you’ll definitely want to make sure that all important pages and relevant content are redirected to the new website. Some website owners ask themselves: “What pages do they need to redirect?” If you also have some doubts on this matter, pay attention to the following pages:

  • Webpages that drive the most traffic

First of all, you need to redirect the URLs of pages that has already earned a lot of traffic in order to maintain as much traffic as possible.

  • Webpages that are linked the most

To retain as much link building efforts as possible and keep the SEO value passed through these links, you need to redirect URLs that have received the most inbound links. They are where the largest part of the site’s link juice can be found. To check out backlinks to your site, you can use Google Search Console or Open Site Explorer. “Your top linked pages according to Google Search Console plus any important pages users find valuable,” tweeted Danny Ray Lima‏.

  • Webpages that are important to your site visitors

Many of our chat guests remarked that you need to pay attention to what’s important to your users. Make sure that your site visitors can easily find what they’re looking for and no one lands on a page of your site that no longer exist. “It's important to understand what your customers (not traffic) look for, and keep the purchase funnel intact,” suggested Tim Mohler‏ @TimothyMohler.

  • High converting product pages

If it’s an ecommerce site, you should also use a permanent redirect from the older high converting product pages to the newer URL versions. Both your SEO value and value for your users will be retained.

Dario Zadro‏ @DarioZadro also suggested looking at the GSC crawl errors (not found) section to find out pages that may need redirects.

SEMrush Chat Recap Q5

As Express Writers‏ pointed out, “any essential pages need a redirect in place so people don't wind up with broken links.”

Q6. What are some of the best tools to use for testing if a redirect is setup correctly?

Last, but not least, let’s find out what tools can help you check your URL redirect for accuracy.

Here they are:

  • Fetch as Google in GSC. Joe Williams‏ suggests using the Fetch as Google tool in Google Search Console to test how the search engine crawls and renders URLs on your site. “After entering the URL to check, click the redirects text to see the type of redirect and the destination URL,” tweeted Joe.

  • httpstatus.io.  This tool allows you to check status code, redirect location, redirect chain of a HTTP connection, and response headers.

  • headerchecker.com.  This easy-to-use tool helps you to check your headers. Simply enter the URL of the page you want to check and hit “Check, please.”

  • Screaming Frog. The Screaming Frog SEO Spider (both the free and paid versions) enables you to check redirects by crawling your website or uploading a list of URLs in bulk. You can check out the status code, the destination of the redirect, and the redirect loops.

  • Redirect Checker. Redirect Checker is a tool that analyzes all of your redirections. Once you’ve inserted the URL, you can check the redirection. This tool supports various browsers and search engine bots and allows you to check redirects on mobile devices.

  • SEMrush. The SEMrush Site Audit tool crawls your website and provides technical audit results, including redirect issues.

Let’s sum up!

SEMrush Chat Recap Q6

Without the right redirects in place, you may be at risk of frustrating your site visitors, and causing them to move on to another company’s website. Hopefully, the tips from this post help you to get a deeper insight into URL redirection.

Thanks again to Joe Williams and our other chat guests for their valuable tips!

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Becky Shindell is the Communications Manager at SEMrush and host of the weekly #SEMrushchat. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter. You can find Becky at many of the US Digital Marketing Conferences, feel free to say hi!
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This is completely over my head. If I had the time to study it all in detail, I would. But I am also trying to learn marketing to get my Children's Nature books noticed. And that takes as much time as studying about Semrush. Last time I looked there is still only 24 hours in a day. How can I get help with this?
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