A 301 redirect permanently redirects one URL to another. The question, what is a 301 redirect, is very important in the world of SEO. Here’s why.
The Importance of 301 Redirects in SEO
One of the most expensive mistakes in SEO is starting over. SEO is a long-term marketing proposition. It can take months or even years to establish high organic Google rankings for pages of your website. Once you accomplish that — having spent a great deal of time and money to do so — you’ve gotten yourself into a position where you are getting a steadily increasing flow of website sales leads or online revenue from organic search engine traffic.
Your success in SEO extends beyond sales leads or online revenue. Your high rankings improve brand awareness and credibility, and also slow your competitors’ efforts to improve their lead or online revenue growth.
So, what happens if you decide to rebrand your company with a new website domain? What if you decide to rebrand a product that necessitates creating a new URL for a product on your website? Does this mean you have to start your SEO over from scratch? Does this mean all of your work to optimize those scrapped web pages has been for nothing?
The answer to those questions is no — not if you set up 301 redirects, which point Google crawlers from your old web page(s) to the corresponding new one(s). This is the great value of 301 redirects; they enable you to retain most of the SEO value of your old pages by keeping that organic search engine traffic flowing to your new website or web pages. The SEO value of those old pages — the relevance of the content, the inbound links that were created to those pages, etc. — passes to the new pages.
All too often, companies fail to set up 301 redirects prior to shifting to a new domain or overhauling product/service URLs on their existing domains. These companies don’t ask, what is a 301 redirect, probably because it never occurred to them that such a thing exists.
The Value of SEO-Savvy Web Developers
As an aside, this situation is why it is so valuable to partner with a web developer that is SEO-savvy. Even if you don’t have an aggressive SEO campaign underway, it pays to consider website changes from an SEO perspective. Even without an SEO campaign, your exiting web pages are likely to have some ranking value on Google — value that can easily be retained by using 301 redirects. Moreover, if you decide to launch an SEO campaign down the road, your starting point will be that much further ahead if you don’t squander the ranking power you’ve naturally built over the life of your old domain or URLs.
Issues With 301 Redirects
301 redirects are intended for permanent changes. If you are temporarily changing the location of a page, then you need to do what is called a “302 temporary redirect.” These temporary redirect situations occur, for instance, when your website is down for maintenance and you want to temporarily direct traffic to another site or single web page.
Another 301 redirect issue to watch out for is piling up redirects, something that can occur over time with a website that undergoes multiple changes. When page A redirects to page B that redirects to page C, etc., you’ve got what is called a “redirect chain.” Redirect chains dissipate the SEO value of your current destination page, and should be remedied.
Especially from a user experience perspective, it’s important to redirect an old page to the most relevant new page. For instance, if you move your site to a new domain, you should set up 301 redirects page by page rather than redirect all of the old website pages to the new website’s home page. When users click on pages that differ from their expectations, or do not seem fully relevant, they are not happy. Unhappy website visitors seldom turn into sales leads or online customers.
301 Redirects and Customer Satisfaction
This last point about happy customers brings up an extremely important aspect of 301 redirects. In addition to preserving the SEO value of your website content, 301 redirects keep customers and prospects properly oriented when they visit your new website. The last thing you want is for prospects to click on a web page for your product or service they’ve bookmarked and find … nothing. If they think the page no longer exists, they may think your company no longer exists. Even if you overcome that rather large hurdle, such prospects are likely to think your organization is a bit, well … disorganized.
301 redirect chains can also be disorienting to prospects and customers, since a current version of a page, three brand revisions removed from the page they’ve bookmarked, may be quite foreign looking to them. As with all things SEO, what is good for website users is good for SEO — 301 redirects are a prime example.