301 redirects: the why, how and what of implementing redirects for your site
Written for Wakefly.com in April 2010
When a searcher types a query in a search engine, the search engines respond to the query by displaying URLs that best meet the searchers criteria. In simple words search engines index millions of sites (store them in a data pool) and pull up sites that have content that responds to specific search keywords. Sometimes a website can have two versions of the same page indexed by the search engine. Search engines treat http://yoursite.com and http://www.yoursite.com as two different websites, resulting in both URLs being indexed and traffic going to both separately. This could result in the sites search rankings being comprised and domain equity being divided. In such circumstances it becomes important to carry out a server side redirect commonly known as a “301 redirect”.
There are several other circumstances where having a 301 redirect becomes important. For instance, if you created a landing page that was no longer valid – it was generating a lot of traffic when created and had many inbound links (sites linking to it) but the offer on the page had expired and search engines were still sending traffic to that page. Instead of deleting the landing page you can 301 redirect it to another page on your site. This would ensure that the value and equity generated from that landing page stays in place. It also solves the problem of having redundant content on your site. The page could still be indexed by search engines but with a 301 redirect in place a searcher would be redirected to an active page on your site.
A 301 redirect is a way of re-directing or forwarding traffic from your site to another URL. With a 301 redirect you can direct traffic to your preferred URL (e.g. you want Search engines to treat http://yoursite.com and http://www.yoursite.com as one webpage thus, when you set up a 301 redirect, search engines will send traffic to your preferred URL).
It is particularly important for SEO purposes because: It is one of the most efficient and spider/search engine friendly strategies. It groups together your various sites and sends traffic to your preferred URL. It helps preserve your search engine rankings for a particular page.
Other scenarios where 301 redirects are very important include situations where you want to move your existing site to a new domain. Placing redirects allows old URLs to be “redirected” to the URL of your new site so that your visitors don’t get an HTTP 404 error (page not found message). Google Webmaster central explains the most useful circumstances for 301 redirects on its website and states that, “301 redirects are particularly useful in the following circumstances:
- You’ve moved your site to a new domain, and you want to make the transition as seamless as possible.
- People access your site through several different URLs. If, for example, your home page can be reached in multiple ways – for instance, http://example.com/home, http://home.example.com, or http://www.example.com – it’s a good idea to pick one of those URLs as your preferred (canonical) destination, and use 301 redirects to send traffic from the other URLs to your preferred URL.
- You’re merging two websites and want to make sure that links to outdated URLs are redirected to the correct pages.”
The kind of Web server you have dictates how your Webmaster will implement a 301 redirect. The most common Web server is Apache, for an Apache server the Webmaster will need to modify the .htaccess file. For implementing a 301 redirect on a Windows Server check out Bruce Clay Inc.’s post.
301 redirects are important for Search Engine Optimization purposes. They are placed to make sure that pages from your site are indexed properly, value from your old site is transferred to your new site and any content or page duplications are removed from your site.
You can place 301 redirects for any page of your site – product pages, landing pages, home page etc.