Our Complete Guide to SEO Redirects

  • Felix Rose-Collins
  • 18 min read
Our Complete Guide to SEO Redirects

Table of Contents

The Basics of URL Redirects

Redirecting Your Web Pages Successfully

When you redirect someone, you’re essentially forwarding them to another URL, especially if the first one is not available. By using a redirect, you can make the user experience more seamless. Instead of having someone know that a page is no longer available, they’ll be redirected, allowing them to easily transition from page to page.

One issue with redirects is that they’re certainly capable of affecting more than just how someone experiences your site. A redirect can affect your site’s SEO strategy, as well as the usability of the site itself.

If you work in SEO, then you should understand the inner workings of redirects. Being able to use them properly will make it easier to have authoritative links, traffic, and rankings.

For this reason, we’ve gone ahead and created this guide.

In this guide, we’ll explore things like what redirects are, how they work, when you should use them and why, the various kinds of redirects, when they’re used and when they’re not used, as well as some common mistakes and top tips.

When we get to the end of the guide, we’ve created an FAQ so that you can troubleshoot some of the usual issues you may face when using redirects.

However, we’re going to start with the basics before delving into more complicated topics.

What Are Redirects?

When you set up a redirect, you’re essentially connecting an older URL that may not be working with one that replaces it. You can easily do this with a bit of code (we’ll give you some more details later on), though this is usually done by a webmaster who determines the specifics of the connection and the people who are trying to access the page.

Your usual redirect is relatively simple, and it looks like a browser or server command that will forward someone from one page to another.

Here is an example of a redirect code that will permanently move people who are trying to access page 1 on a site to page 2:

301 redirect - https://www.mysite.com/page1.html to https://www.mysite.com/page2.html

This kind of command will allow any visitor who is heading to page 1 to get directly to page 2 instead of having to manually make their way over to it.

We’ll go over these elements and the code later on, so no worries if you’re not exactly acquainted with any of the specifics.

When are Redirects Used?

There are a few cases in which you should use redirects, including when a page is permanently or temporarily inaccessible, though there are other reasons to use a redirect.

One thing to keep in mind is that a redirect can affect the user experience as well as the way that the search engine finds the site, especially if content has been moved.

When you create a redirect with the intent of helping visitors, you’ll be able to maintain a good experience for them. For example, a redirect will allow a user to get to the page they’re looking for without having to hit a 404 and find things themselves. This allows a webmaster to keep their experience fluid.

On the other hand, redirects used with the goal of ensuring that search engines can find pages will ensure that crawlers don’t have to go through broken internal links and URLs. This allows the search engine to save its crawl budget seeking broken content, instead making it to the live content faster.

We’ll look at what we mentioned above in further detail momentarily but let’s start off by giving you some examples of when redirects are used.

Redirect Usage Examples

  • If your site is migrating, you’ll have to redirect the pages from the old site to the new counterparts on the new domain.

  • On the other hand, you can use a redirect to merge two websites together. If this is the case, the URls can be redirected from each of the two sites into the one domain that you’re creating.

  • If you have a store that has products that are unavailable, discontinued, or out of stock, you’ll want to redirect the product links to products that are suitable alternatives so that customers know which option is the best substitute.

  • If you have a page that is seasonal, such as one designed around Black Friday and it’s usually empty when not in use, you can redirect these pages temporarily so that you can keep people going to other pages and assets, reactivating the pages when they’re needed once more.

  • If you’re deleting content or old pages that you’re no longer using, you’ll want to redirect URls to other pages. This will ensure that you don’t lose the SEO value of the assets that you’re redirecting.

The Various Redirect Types

There are several different kinds of redirects that we’ve gone over, and each of them has a few differences. Some of these redirects will work permanently while others will only temporarily forward your visitors to another URL.

In other cases, a redirect may apply to a website’s full contents while others will only affect specific assets.

We’re going to take a look at all of the available types of redirects.

Redirects are divided into two different types:

  • Server-side redirects which are sourced from the server and features 30x status codes

  • Client-side redirects which are activated when a file is requested by a browser, these include javascript redirects and meta refresh

Server-Side Redirects

A server-side redirect is one that happens on the server level. When an HTTP request is received by the server for a file, it will be answered by a particular code. This tells you whether it will be permanent or temporary.

There are many different server-side redirects and the most common of them include:

301 Redirects

301 redirects are redirects that will permanently redirect you. They essentially move you from one URL to the other. These redirects are crucial if you’re trying to maintain your SEO.

These redirects are permanent because they are designed to let the search engine know that the original URL is unusable and that it has been permanently replaced by the new page.

With this info, Google will be able to replace the first URL in their indexer with the new URL, pointed out by the redirect.

A lot of the time, this kind of redirect will also assign the original URL’s link equity to the new page.

When Does One Use 301 Redirects?

If you want to retain a page’s rankings, traffic, and links while permanently deleting it and replacing another one, use a 301 redirect.

301 Redirect Usage Examples

  • If you’re trying to transition from one domain to another seamlessly, then use a 301 redirect.

  • If your visitors reach your site from a range of different URLs. If you have a range of different options, you’ll need to make sure that one of the options is canonical or preferred. At that point, 301 redirects will allow you to move traffic from the other URLs to the preferred one.

  • If you’re bringing two sites together and you want to make sure that the links that are outdated will go to the right pages.

  • 404s and broken pages

  • Getting rid of duplicate content problems

When Are 301 Redirects Not Used?

If you’re planning on publishing the original content on the URL again in the future, you should avoid using 301 redirects.

Here are some examples of times where you may wish to avoid using the 301 redirect:

  • If you’re hosting a seasonal product

  • If a product is out of stock temporarily

  • If you have a landing page for a special temporary offer

  • Geotargeting

  • A/B testing

  • Device targeting

How is SEO Impacted by a 301 Redirect?

One of the best things about 301 redirects is that they can help you maintain your SEO value. This will allow you to forward your original page’s PageRank to the one that you’re replacing it with. This will ensure that you don’t lose any authority when you redirect the original content.

Before you start working with redirect, you need to ensure that RewriteEngine module is turned on. You can turn load it using below code:

<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
  RewriteEngine On
</IfModule>

Implementing 301 Redirects

To implement one of these redirects, you’ll merely have to specify what is redirected in the .htaccess file in the root folder of the server. There are two different ways to write the code, as you’ll find outlined down below.

RedirectMatch 301 /old/ /new/

The first part of the code will define the kind of redirect you’re using, which is either redirect 301 or redirectpermanent. After that, you’ll want to add in the slug of the older URL. You won’t need to use the full URL because the command will be in the domain’s root server.

After that, you’ll need to add in the redirect destination’s full URL.

When redirecting a single folder to a new location, you would use the following:

RewriteRule ^/?old/(.\*)$ /new/$1 [R,L]

If you’re redirecting pages on the same domain, you’ll still need to provide the destination’s full URL.

302 Redirects

If you’re trying to temporarily forward your traffic to a new URL, then a 302 redirect will allow you to do so. This will ensure that users won’t be able to access a specific page for a short amount of time. 302 implies that the file itself has only been moved to the URL temporarily.

When Does One Use 302 Redirects?

If you want to use one of these redirects, it’s usually a good idea to make sure that you want to make the original destination unavailable for a short time and you’ll want to make it live once again. Here are the circumstances in which you may wish to do so:

  • Geotargeting

  • A/B testing

  • If you want to redirect users based on mobile or desktop devices

  • Creating a redirect for pages that are special offers or momentarily out of stock

When Are 302 Redirects not Used?

If you’re moving a page permanently, then you will want to use 301 redirects instead of 302s.

Implementing 302 Redirects

301s and 302 work very similarly in terms of implementation. The only difference is the response code that you’re going to use, replacing the 301 with a 302 to indicate that the redirect is temporary. Here’s an example:

RedirectMatch 302 /old/ /new/

How is SEO Impacted by a 302 Redirect?

Due to the temporary nature of these redirects, you will not get the page authority from the original page in the new one. This will ensure that the original page doesn’t lose links or authority and that search engines will consider both of them separate pages.

303 Redirects

A 303 is very similar to a 302 redirect with a few key differences. What this says is that a page that they attempted to access has been replaced by another page.

Keep in mind that there is a crucial difference between these two redirects. For example, you can’t cache the 303 redirect, meaning that this won’t happen with the search engine. For example, if you’re changing the destination target, you will likely want to ensure that those pages aren’t cached.

When Does One Use 303 Redirects?

If you’re using a 303 redirect, it’s probably in many of the same cases when you’d use a 302. One thing to consider is that you should use a 303 if you’re planning on changing the redirect target for a temporary redirect.

When are 303 Redirects not Used?

If you’re trying to redirect something permanently, then you should never use a 303.

How is SEO Impacted by a 303 Redirect?

There is no SEO impact from a 303 redirect because it will not forward any internal links or page authority and it can’t be cached by the search engine.

307 Redirects

This type of redirect is another form of temporary redirect that has a few key differences when compared to the other options. This is commonly used instead of a 302 if the destination URL’s request method is not changeable.

This essentially means that the POST method will replace the GET method when the redirect is initiated in the first place.

When Does One Use 307 Redirects?

You use these redirects with form actions that will require you to use a specific kind of POST redirect.

When are 307 Redirects not Used?

Since this is a temporary redirect, you will want to avoid using it if you’re trying to forward traffic permanently from one URL to another.

How is SEO Impacted by a 307 Redirect?

307 redirects will not impact SEO.

308 Redirects

308s are essentially the permanent version of 307 redirects. The original request’s request method will be used when the redirect is a 308.

When Does One Use 308 Redirects?

If you’re trying to use the POST method to move a site that is extremely complex, this method will work a lot better than many of your other choices.

When are 308 Redirects not Used?

You should try to avoid using this method if you’re going to experience issues because of the site’s cacheability.

Client-Side Redirects

These redirects are not decided on the server, but they occur in the browser whenever it tries to access a particular file.

This means that the redirect will work best when a webmaster lacks the ability to control or set up the server’s behavior. For example, if you can’t access the .htaccess file, you won’t be able to specify the kind of redirect that you want to use.

These redirects do have a few cons, including the fact that they can negatively impact SEO. For example, these redirects are not supported by all browsers, which may result in an error. With these redirects, a search engine also won’t pass its page authority over to the redirected page from the original one.

Another issue is that a client-side redirect will typically make it so that the back button no longer works, bringing the user right back to the redirected URL.

Here are the types of client-side redirects you’ll come across:

Meta Refresh Redirect

This redirect forwards the browser to an alternate destination when it tries to access a file, and it can be found in the <HEAD> section of that file. When a certain number of seconds have elapsed, this tells the browser that it either needs to refresh the page or load the other URL.

This is the layout of the redirect code:

<meta HTTP-equiv="refresh" content="0; url=http://site.com/other-url/">

One of the most common ways that these redirects are used is to get users away from doorway pages that are often more commercially oriented than the page that the user was trying to access in the first place.

Keep in mind that this goes against Google guidelines, and not without reason. Here’s why they don’t recommend using these kinds of redirects:

  • They affect the user experience because the user’s browser history will contain the original page, even if the user doesn’t end up seeing it.

  • The browser will need to process the original URL and then both extract it and initiate it in advance, before the person will be able to see the page that is being forwarded.

Javascript Redirects

These redirects are similar to a meta refresh, though they have a few differences. The most significant difference is that the browser has to process JavaScript before heading to the next URL.

Much like with a meta refresh, the code can be found in the HTML file’s <HEAD> section. This is what it looks like:

<script>location.href='[<u>http://www.site.com/</u>](http://www.site.com/)';</script>

When Does One Use Javascript Redirects?

There are two common times when you’d use a Javascript redirect. For example, if you want to make it so a redirect is based on how a user interacts or target it based on their device. This means that the redirect will bring you to a page that is optimized for the device that you’re using.

These redirects are a little more legitimate than meta refresh redirects. Another use case is if you want to get a user to another internal page once they’ve logged in. Consider the reason why you’re using the redirect if you want to make sure that it sticks to Google guidelines.

If you’re moving your site, you can potentially use a Javascript redirect but you’ll be better off using a 301. However, if you don’t have access to your site’s server, this is also a valid option.

How do Client-Side Redirects Impact SEO?

One of the main issues about these redirects is that they don’t inform onlookers why the redirect is taking place. This means that search engines can’t tell enough about the redirect when it comes to SEO.

When to Use URL Redirects

Even though the two methods that we mentioned above aren’t standard SEO strategies, you can still use redirects if you’re working in SEO. Here are some of the most common reasons why you may end up using a redirect if you’re working in SEO and some examples of their use cases.

New Website Launches and Migrations

You likely know that a website migration is a pain in terms of SEO and through a technical standpoint if you’ve done it before.

When things go wrong, you’ll end up losing traffic, rankings, and potentially conversions.

By establishing proper redirects, you can make sure that this doesn’t happen because Google is able to index the site. This ensures that Google knows the relation between newer content and older content and helps pass the links from one to the other.

Here are some of the most common reasons why you’d use a redirect when migrating a website:

  • Making sure your site is SSL-compatible and migrating a URL from HTTP to HTTPS

  • Moving your old mobile version of your site to responsive pages

  • Changing domains

  • Changing up the site architecture

  • Changing how sections on your site are divided by URL structure

  • Swapping out old pages for new content assets

In these cases, you’ll often find yourself using 301 and 302 redirects, based on the type of redirect you’d like to make.

Geolocation Redirects

If your site serves worldwide visitors, you want to be sure that the content is relevant to the location that the visitors are coming from. A geolocation redirect can make sure of that by serving the right content to a user based on their language settings or their location.

One thing that you’ll have to note is that Google advises against using a user’s IP address to redirect them.

Another issue is that the crawler may end up confused and unable to index your content. Google instead recommends that you use Google Search Console settings and ccTLD to figure out where users are coming from.

In these cases, you’ll often find yourself using 302 redirects.

Device Targeting

This is one of the more common types of redirects that are used on sites that have a separate site for mobile visitors. This redirect figures out the type of device a person is using and then redirects them to the suitable site for them.

PPC and Affiliate Marketing Redirects

If you’re running an affiliate marketing or PPC campaign, you may want to get redirects to the original landing page instead of using a direct URL. When it comes to affiliate marketing, this may end up creating more references to the URL.

One thing to consider is that Google may see these links as being purchased because of the affiliate agreement, and the site may be penalized for flaunting webmaster guidelines.

To ensure that the site doesn’t get penalized, it’s a good idea to use a temporary redirect that is not cacheable.

A/B Testing Redirects

If you’re testing out a few different versions of a page, it’s a good idea to use a temporary redirect to funnel some people to the different variants and see how they are received.

It’s a good idea to use an uncacheable and temporary redirect to stop the alternate version of the site from being indexed. This will ensure that the proper version of the page is used to rank the content.

In their own guidelines, Google recommends that you use a 302 redirect to perform this kind of test.

Typical Redirect Implementation Mistakes that Impact SEO

While we’ve gone over the theory, now’s the time to cover the practical. We’re going to look at some of the most common mistakes that people make when it comes to SEO and using redirects.

Not Setting up the Redirect Before Moving Domains

One of the most common issues is migrating a site to the new domain, launching it, and letting the SEO experts handle everything else. There are a few issues with this.

For example, if the new domain has been crawled and indexed during the transition period, Google might see the new domain as a duplicate and apply a penalty. This is because no redirects were added in advance.

If you’re going to move a site over, you’ll want to make sure that all of the redirects are ready. You can then send the site to Google through their index by using the Google Search Console. This will allow the search engine to follow the redirects and understand them.

Redirecting to URLs that Aren’t Relevant

Topical relevance is crucial if you want a redirect to work in SEO terms. You won’t be able to affect your SEO by redirecting to a page that is not relevant.

If Google doesn’t see how the two pages are related, it will likely not pass the link authority over to the new one, reducing the positive effect that the redirect has on SEO.

If you’re redirecting, you’ll want to forward your traffic to the most relevant and closes alternative to the page that you’re coming from.

Redirect Chains

A relatively common mistake is creating a chain of redirects, moving from one redirect page to the next, and so on and so forth.

As this happens, the original redirect becomes a redirect chain of three or more redirects. While your visitors likely won’t care about this, Google will take issue with it.

Some crawlers may stop following a redirect chain after two in a row, meaning that it won’t be able to index the most relevant page.

Redirect Chain Example

High Redirect Latency

If you have a larger number of redirects, you may find that the latency is affected. This is due to each redirect being a server request that requires processing.

If someone has slower internet, the page load time may end up increasing for them. As we’ve already mentioned, it may also trigger an error if there are too many redirects in the first place.

Redirecting a URL Within a Sitemap

If a lot of your site is made up of redirects, it’s not necessarily bad but it can cause some issues with Google’s crawler.

These crawlers don’t have a long time to go through your site’s content. This time is known as the crawl budget. Redirects can “distract” crawlers by using that crawl budget for redirect jumps that weren’t required in the first place.

If you’re moving pages, it’s a good idea to use a 301 redirect from the previous page and ensure that they remain active for a year.

Migrating a Site that Already has Redirects

We’ve already mentioned how you need to ensure that your redirects are ready immediately when you’re migrating sites. One mistake that you can make, however, is failing to account for existing redirects on the site that is being migrated.

For example, failing to add in these new redirects will certainly result in either a 404 or an HTTP 500 error.

Another issue is if the redirects are maintained, then you’ll likely end up with redirect chains when you redirect the existing ones to the new site.

If you want to stop this from happening, you’ll need to consolidate the existing redirects, which can take a bit of work, but it ensures that your site doesn’t end up getting sloppy, potentially earning you SEO penalties.

SEO Redirect Tips

Here are some of the best ways to implement redirects if you want to ensure that you don’t end up getting penalized in SEO terms. As long as you follow these, you shouldn’t have any issues.

Redirect to the Site URL that is Preferred

If you’re setting up a redirect, you want to be sure that it targets the most recent and relevant version of the target URL. This is particularly crucial if your site can have multiple URLs for the same page due to dynamic URL generation.

Redirecting to Alternate URLs that are Relevant

Make sure that you’re always redirecting to the relevant URL if you want to make sure that you retain your topical relevance.

Don’t Set up Redirect Chains

Avoid going above two redirects at the same time. To avoid this, consolidate any existing URLs to stop a chain from forming.

Make Sure Your Redirects Are Clean

If your site is always changing and you have a lot of redirects, you may need to go back over them. You may be able to remove temporary redirects, or if one has been around for a long time, you can make it a permanent redirect to make sure that the link equity is exchanged between the two.

Your sitemap should avoid including redirected content. You’ll only want to feature the destination URL for every redirect. Go over your sitemap and ensure that it contains only the most recent URLs. This is especially crucial if your sitemap is made by your CMS.

URL Redirects With Ranktracker

Ranktracker can help you ensure that your redirects are handled properly with its website audit tool.

Ranktracker can also show you your associated URLs so that you can get a better idea of site rankings and analytics based on the page itself.

If you’re trying to analyze or report on the URLs that are used in your redirects, you can take a short look through the web audit tool and you’ll be able to easily identify them.

FAQ

Is it possible to have too many 301 redirects?

Only if you’re redirecting an identical URL too much. It’s best to avoid redirect chains.

Will a crawl budget be affected by redirects?

Yes, a crawl budget will indeed be used by redirects. This is because every redirect is another request. These requests can go on to affect your crawl budget.

Keep in mind that the crawl budget won’t be entirely used up by redirects, but you may find that some parts of your site will be more difficult for the search engine to index.

Will Google crawl and index redirects?

Google will not crawl and index redirects, meaning that the original page’s content won’t be indexed. If you want something to be indexed, be sure that it’s contained in the target URL.

What is the maximum duration you should keep a 301 redirect?

Since 301 redirects are permanent, you’ll have to keep them forever. This is largely because Google may take between six months and a year to realize that a page or a site has been moved.

Will Google treat a 301 like a soft 404?

One thing to consider is that Google will consider a 404 page that is 301 redirected to your home page will still count as a soft 404 because it confuses your users.

If a page is dead, it makes no sense that you’re redirecting it to your home page because your home page is irrelevant to the content that was on that page in the first place.

Only use a 301 redirect for a page that is associated with the page that has been retired.

What is the length of time it takes Google to recognize a 301 redirect?

Google will take between six months and one year to recognize that a page or site has been moved using a 301 redirect.

What are sneaky redirects and why are they bad for SEO?

Sneaky redirects are those that try to trick search engine crawlers by showing them something different than what a visitor will see.

You can easily be penalized for this because it is in direct violation of the webmaster guidelines.

Will all 301 redirects get a 100% PageRank?

No, Google will not be able to pass 100% of the PageRank between pages when you use a 301 redirect all the time. You may lose a small amount of the original PageRank.

How does Google PageRank 301s?

By using redirects, Google is able to figure out the page’s canonical URL. This allows Google to ensure that the signals that normally go to the original URL will end up at the canonical one.

How do I choose between 301 redirects and canonical ones?

A redirect will ensure that your visitors are forwarded either permanently or temporarily from a page that is no longer existent. Canonicals are a better choice if you have duplicate content or content that is similar on your site.

A canonical will essentially tell the search engine which content that it should consider genuine.

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