When it comes to making URL structural changes to your website, it is very important to ensure you 301 redirect your old URLs to the new URLs. Common cases of doing this are migrating between pages on a site or migrating between sites.
Doing 301 redirects for migrations has SEO and usability impact and if not followed correctly, may cost your site valuable organic traffic and rankings.
4 reasons why you should and must 301 redirect your old URLs:
- Search engines (such as Google) most likely have crawled and indexed your site on the SERPs. If a user then queries and finds your site organically on the SERPs, it would be poor user experience if the link found lead to a 404 page.
- Search engines may recrawl your site via the old URLs and if stumbles upon a 404 page, will most likely drop you out of the SERPs if they can’t see the association to the new URL. This is also because of poor user experience as search engines place high importance on ensuring users find what they’re looking for.
- You will lose link juice from external sites as these trust & authority juices aren’t flowed from the old URL to the new URL. Loss of link juice means your site will lose authority & trust: 2 important factors in SEO.
- If you did not update your internal links to point to the new URLs, you will have a lot of broken links too which will negatively affect your internal PageRank flow.
You’d be surprised but I have seen websites lose 50%+ organic traffic due to this oversight. Imagine if you ran a multi-million dollar e-commerce site. What are the implications of not doing this?
What is a 301 Redirect?
The term 301 is a HTTP status code response given from a web server whenever a request is made to a page that is no longer there but mapped to another page.
The example below shows how a typical request from your web browser looks like and how responses are given from the web server.
How to implement 301 Redirects?
There are many ways to do this so here’s a good 301 redirection guide produced by webconfs.com.
How to check your 301 Redirects?
Once you’ve implemented your 301 redirects, make sure you do the following:
- Use a HTTP header scanner to ensure the server response code you’re getting is 301 for your old URLs. I personally use a Firefox plugin called Live HTTP Headers.
- Check Google Webmaster Tools for 404 errors.
- Run Xenu on your site to find internal broken links.
If you haven’t noticed, I recently updated the structure of my URL permalinks to remove the year and month components in the URL. I will share in another post on how to do exactly what I’ve talked about here for WordPress.