301 Redirect in Detail – What Is, How to Install It, and How It Helps SEO

A world of SEO is full of terms you should be familiar with if you want to become a part of a big SEO society. One of such terms includes 301 redirect, and even though it might seem complicated, it is not. This article will provide you with the necessary facts about this process, and you’ll see the actual examples of it.

The World Wide Web is an endless spot in which can occur a lot of unpredictable things. Many times we can’t access to a particular page, the sites we need can’t load, and the message ‘404 – not found’ can be one of the most seen and the most annoying ones.

Even though we might think these things happen for no reason, the truth is a bit different. Even the most negligible error in code or server can cause a breakdown, and while you're trying to detect the bug, the users will already choose another result found on Google.

An essential concept of website building lies in webpage redirects, and it’s vital to know it if you want to provide people who visit your site with the best experience. It also has a significant impact on SEO, and the article below will give you all the info about it.

What is a 301 Redirect?

When visitors request a particular link from your website that has been removed, it's essential to include 301 redirect and send them to a valid URL.

A redirect should lead to relevant and similar page to the one that you removed since that is the way of providing the best user experience on your site.

Here is a 301 redirect example – if the URL of the link you no longer need is https://www.theexampleofanoldlink.com/old, you’ll need to use 301 redirect and send visitors from that page to a new one – for instance, https://www.theexampleofanewlink.com/new.

Once you implement a 301, you’ll stop anyone from landing to a page that no longer exists, and you’ll pass the value to the new page. Even after the redirecting, you should check and update all the backlinks you have on other sites so that you can be sure that all the value is transferred.

301 vs 302 Redirect

The term of 301 often goes together with 302, which is a bit differentiates a bit.

301 redirects refer to a permanent redirect, while 302 redirect tells the search engines that the link has been moved temporarily.

Unlike 301, which is used for permanent transfers, 302 is convenient when you’re redesigning or updating your website, and you’re planning on bringing the old page back.

Implementing both of the redirects means that you care about your site’s architecture and visitors in terms of stopping them from landing on irrelevant, old, or broken pages.

When To Use 301 Redirects?

Many people are confused when it comes to implementing 301, which means that they either go for 302, or they do nothing at all.

So, here are a few situations when it’s recommended to use permanent redirects if you want to preserve your reputation and keep website value:

  • You’re reconstructing your website: Even though site redesign falls under the 302 redirect, if the process takes more than several weeks to finish, you should implement a permanent redirect.
  • You’re re-branding your site: If you’ve decided to establish a new brand identity, it’s recommended to transfer your links to the new page.
  • You switched to HTTPS: If you’ve recently switched to HTTPS, make sure you “inform” the search engine’s crawlers that the HTTPS version of your site is the one that should be taken into consideration.
  • You’re moving to a new domain: In case you decided to switch from, let’s say, .com to .org, make sure you’ve implemented a 301.

  • You’re cleaning up: Cleaning up dynamic URLs and redirecting them to shorter and more search engine-friendly versions also requires 301.
  • You want to get rid of duplicate content: If you have multiple blogs written on the same subject and you want to collect them and add them into one blog post, you should consider permanent redirects.

What are the 301 Redirect SEO Benefits?

The implementation of 301 web site redirect tells the search engines that your page has been permanently moved to the new location, which allows crawlers to scan your page and offer it as one of the search results.

Besides, 301 helps you enhance your SEO experience in many other ways – for example:

  • Keeps your visitors engaged in your site: Running into a 404 page affects the users' experience on your website, and they will probably leave as soon as they see that the requested page can’t be found. By implementing 301, visitors will easily land and navigate the site, which is a significant SEO benefit.
  • “Link juice”: Link equity, also known as “link juice,” is a crucial search engine ranking factor that’s based on the idea that specific links pass value from one page to another. 301 redirects pass about 90% link equity from the redirected page, while 302 passes a lot less.
  • Removes old URLs from search engine index: As mentioned, 301 helps search engine crawlers remove the old URL from their index and replace it with the new one instead. Without 301, search engines will be served a 404 code, which means that your page may be removed from the index.

How to Redirect a URL?

Now that you’ve become familiar with the meaning of 301 and the benefits it brings to SEO practice, it’s time to learn to redirect URL.

There is no single way of redirecting URL, since the method you’ll use will depend on the code your website is written in, alongside with your experience in code editing.

Here are the 2 most common ways of implementing 301 website redirect explained step by step.

1. Coding a 301 Redirect htaccess

If your website’s running on an Apache web server, then you should implement a .htaccess method.

If you are not sure whether your site runs on Apache, you can check it by using WHM (WebHost Manager), a program that allows you to access the back end of cPanel.

Here are 4 steps of accessing the WHM directly:

  • Step 1: Type the WHM address of your website in your browser – it can be either http://www.example.com:2087 or https://www.example.com:2087. Have in mind that example.com is your domain name.
  • Step 2: Type your cPanel username in the Username text box.
  • Step 3: Type your cPanel password in the Password text box.
  • Step 4: Click Log in.

Once you log in to WHM, you'll see the section Server Status in the left menu. Click on Apache Status that’s found below, and you’ll see the necessary data.

So, if your site is built upon Apache, you can proceed with 301 redirect htaccess.

  • Step 1 – Locate and download .htaccess file: Go to File Manager and find your root directory (a place where all your website files are stored) and download the file. In case you cannot find it, check if the folder named Hidden files is enabled on your File Manager settings.
  • Step 2 – Create a .htaccess file: If there is no .htaccess file, you’ll need to create one. You’ll use Notepad or similar plain text program for that.
  • Step 3 – Create a code: Once you’ve created a text file named .htaccess, open it, and type the following code: redirect301 /old/oldURL.com http://www.newURL.com.
  • Step 4 – Add a new URL destination: Replace http://newURL.com with the actual web address you’d like to redirect your visitors to. Replace the “oldURL” with an actual domain as well.
  • Step 5 – Save the new file: Save the file as .htaccess with no extensions.
  • Step 6 – Upload the modified file: Now that the code’s modified, you need to upload it to the File Manager so that the old URL can read it and redirect it.
  • Step 7 – Test the redirect: Open a new private browser and type the old domain name into the search box. If everything works correctly, you'll be redirected to a new site. The reason why you should use a private browsing window is to make sure that it can access a new page instead of relying on cached data.

Important notes:

  • Make sure that when you save the file .htaccess, it starts with a “.”
  • There are no extensions such as “.com” or “.txt”
  • Don’t add http(s)://www. to the old URL in the first part of the code.
  • There should be one blank space between "oldURL.com" and "http://."

2. Redirect Using a Plugin

Luckily, plugins can replace most of the challenging coding activities that require a significant dose of skills and knowledge.

If you are using WordPress, you can enjoy the simplicity of webpage redirects provided by numerous plugins that allow you to set redirects in 5 minutes.

Simple 301 Redirects Plugin could be the best redirect plugin WordPress has to offer, and now you’re going to see how to implement it to your CMS back end:

  • Step 1 – Go to your WP Admin: You can access it by visiting the wp-admin directory in your web browser. For example, https://www.example.com/wp-admin/.
  • Step 2 – Find the ‘Plugins’ section: On the left side of the page, you’ll see the Plugins section. Click there and select Add New.
  • Step 3 – Search for the plugin: Type Simple 301 Redirects into the search box.
  • Step 4 – Install the plugin: Click Install Now, found next to the program. Once installed, click Activate.
  • Step 5 – Click ‘Settings:’ Now that you’ve activated the plugin, go to Settings, where you will find a new section named 301 Redirects.
  • Step 6 – Paste the URLs: The page that will open contains two fields, Request, the place where you paste the old URL and Destination, where you’ll type the URL of the new page.

As you can see, in the Request field you just need one part of the URL, and not the entire name, which is the case with Destination, where you have to paste the complete URL. Once finished, click Save Changes.

  • Step 7 – Test the redirect: Type the URL of the removed page to the search engine and see whether you’re going to be redirected to the new, destination URL.

What are the Potential Problems That Can Occur with Redirects?

Generally speaking, redirects are aimed at solving problems. However, some potential issues can arise, especially if you're still not familiar with the entire idea of 301 implementation.

1. Homepage Redirects

One of the most common problems occurs when a website owner decides to redirect all old site pages to the new homepage since it's much easier and quicker. If you're not redirecting to the relevant new page, the users may be disappointed, and your site may lose its authority.

2. Redirect Chains

Redirect chains are a series of redirects that go from one URL from another, forcing people and search engines to wait until the redirects stop.

For example:

A page www.example.com/oldpage redirects to www.example.com/newpage, which then redirects to www.example.com/newerpage.

This issue can increase page load time and affect the authority of your site. Chains usually arise in companies where someone adds one redirect, a coworker adds another, and after some time, someone else adds another one.

You can check if you have some chains by installing a Screaming Frog tool that can identify them and output them in a report.

3. Unnecessary Redirects

Websites usually collect all the 301s over the years, and if you don’t clean them up, they can affect the load time.

For example, when a URL is called by a browser, each of the redirects is checked to see whether the requested URL needs to be sent somewhere else – that way, your site will need more time to load, which severely affects your SEO practice.

3 Extra Tips on 301

Before we close the chapter on redirect 301, let’s see some of the tricks you can apply to your 301 practice in order to achieve the best SEO and user experience.

1. Keep Your URLs the Same on a New Site, If Possible

This is not always applicable, but if you can keep URLs the same on both old and new pages, you will save a lot of time. Besides, it will help you save time on mapping redirects, but it will also prevent the traffic drops when the new page replaces the old one.

Still, if your old URLs are messy, irrelevant and don’t describe the page content, you should change them.

2. Download All Your Old URLs Before Launching a New Site

It’s essential to download all the URLs before the new site is due to go live. That way, you have enough time to accurately map out old to new and find different sources for less obvious broken or old URLs.

3. Place Your URLs in Order of Length in the .htaccess 301 Redirect or Plugin

The order of URLs in .htaccess and plugin specifies which redirects will be executed first. The best would be to use a length formula and count the character length of the URLs and then sort them into categories, from the longest to the shortest one.

By putting the shorter URLs at the bottom of each category, you will prevent them from triggering before the longer URL redirects have had the chance to take place.

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