What are 301 Redirects? And Why 301 Redirects are Crucial to Website Success

Courtney-V4 Courtney Bessert | January 04, 2018 Comments
Man-Setting-up-301-redirects

Redesigning your website? Don’t neglect the 301 redirect mapping!

Here’s why it is important: 

  1. Maintain Keyword Rankings
  2. Maintain Backlinks

In this post, we will go into detail on why it is crucial to redirect existing URLs to relevant (new) URLs when redesigning a website. Ultimately, attention to detail should be given to establish a one-to-one match on old URLs to a new URL that serves similar content because it can have a significant impact on the website’s keyword rankings, backlinks (or inbound links to the site), and overall website traffic. 

Failure to properly map redirects can have a significant impact on the website’s rankings and conversions if not done correctly.

First things first… 

What is a Redirect?

A website redirect is a method to send both users and search engines to a different URL from the URL originally requested.

There are several types of redirects; it is recommended to use a 301 redirect for permanent redirects (rather than a 302 redirect, which is a temporary redirect).

What is a 301 Redirect?

A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect which passes between 90-99% of link juice (ranking power) to the redirected page. A “301” refers to the HTTP status code for this type of redirect. (Source: Moz)

Next, why it is important to map 301 redirects correctly.

Keyword Rankings and 301 Redirects

All organic search traffic (or traffic from search engines like Google) is tied back to keyword rankings. Effective organic search visibility means a website ranks for many strong keywords (or keywords / keyphrases) that are highly searched and highly relevant to the website. 

Further, when a website ranks for a certain keyword, it is tied back to a specific URL on the website. 

For example, if a gluten-free bakery website ranks in Google for a term like “gluten free chocolate muffins” the ranking page shown in the search result is not always the homepage, but rather the chocolate muffins page. It might be a page like this: http://www.examplebakery.com/gluten-free-deserts/gluten-free-chocolcate-muffins/. 

Now, let’s say the website undergoes a redesign and the navigation is changed, resulting in changed URLs. 

The new URL is: https://www.examplebakery.com/muffins/gluten-free-chocolate-muffins/ 

In order to maintain the existing keyword ranking for the keyphrase “gluten-free chocolate muffins” it is important to redirect the old page to the new URL using a 301 redirect. This will help ensure search engines continue to show the website as a result for the keyword search: “gluten free chocolate muffins.”

If the page was removed and not redirected, it’s very possible the website would no longer rank for the term, meaning there would be a drop in website traffic for the visitors who access the site (and made purchases) via the search term “gluten free chocolate muffins.”

Backlinks and 301 Redirects

High-quality inbound links to a website (other websites linking to your website) are one of the strongest ranking signals to Google. When many highly relevant, highly regarded websites link to your website, Google sees it as a quality signal that your website has strong authority. These authority factors help the overall likelihood to show up higher in search results. 

When changing URLs during a redesign, it’s also key to establish a relevant 301 redirect because if you remove a page that has a strong backlink (without redirecting it), the backlink is then lost. This has a negative impact on both referral traffic (or visitors accessing your website via the backlink) and also the backlink “juice” from the other domain. Further, it results in a 404 error page when a visitor or bot hits a URL on the website that no longer exists.

To maintain backlinks during a redesign, be sure to establish redirects and then check for 404 errors in Google Search Console after the redesign to catch any backlinks that were missed. 

How to Do 301 Redirects

Typically, the website developer will handle the actual 301 redirect itself. However, it is key to take control when it comes to the mapping. In order to properly redirect all existing URLs to new URLs start here:

  1. Obtain a list of all existing URLs or the existing XML sitemap (often provided by the developer).
  2. Obtain a list of all current keyword rankings (to know which pages have strong keywords and are crucial to redirect).
  3. Obtain a list of all current backlinks (again, to know which existing pages are especially important to redirect).
  4. Map existing URLs to new URLs
  5. After the website is live, check Google Search Console for any 404 errors (or redirects that were missed).

There you have it! 

Be mindful of 301 redirects during a redesign and ask for help from your website developer if needed. 

Feel free to reach out to the SEO Team at Americaneagle.com for additional assistance with any of the items mentioned above.

Thanks for reading!

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