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What are Redirects? | A Complete Guide to Redirections [2023]

301 redirect sign

Do you want to avoid broken links and outdated URLs hurting your website’s traffic and user experience? Do you need help navigating the confusing world of website URL redirections? 

Fear not, because this comprehensive guide will teach you everything you need to know about redirects and how they can transform your online presence for the better. 

In this guide, we’ll explore what redirects are, why they’re important, the different types available, how to implement them on various platforms, and best practices for using website redirects effectively.

What is a Redirect?

To understand redirects, you need to be familiar with URLs. We don’t have time to go into detail on URLs in this article, but here’s a basic explanation.

A URL, or Uniform Resource Locator, is the address you use to access a particular webpage or resource online. Every webpage on the internet has a unique URL, which consists of several different components that identify the location of the resource.

As a website owner, you may have encountered the term “redirect” before. In simple terms, a redirect link is a way of sending users and search engines from one URL to another (sometimes called link forwarding). This is particularly useful when you’ve changed the URL of a page, moved a website to a new domain, or need to consolidate several pages into one. 

Why are Redirects Important?

Redirects are a crucial aspect of website maintenance and optimisation, and they play a key role in ensuring that your website remains accessible and valuable to your audience. 

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Here are some reasons why redirects are so important:

They ensure that users can find the content they’re looking for

Redirects are essential for ensuring that users can find the content they’re looking for, even if the URL has changed or been removed. Without redirects, visitors to your website may encounter broken links or error pages, leading to a negative user experience and a drop in traffic.

They help you maintain your search engine rankings

Redirects can help you maintain your search engine rankings by ensuring that search engines can find and index your pages correctly. When you implement a redirect, search engines will transfer the SEO value of the old URL to the new URL, which can help maintain your search engine rankings over time.

They enable you to consolidate content and resources

Redirects can be used to consolidate multiple pages or resources into a single URL. This can help simplify your website’s structure and make it easier for users and search engines to navigate. Additionally, consolidating resources can help ensure users are always directed to the most up-to-date and relevant content.

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They allow you to perform routine maintenance and updates

Redirects are essential for performing routine maintenance and updates on your website. Whether you’re moving a page to a new URL, changing the structure of your website, or performing other maintenance tasks, redirects can help ensure that users are always directed to the correct URL.

In short, redirects are essential for maintaining a positive user experience, maintaining your search engine rankings, consolidating content and resources, and performing routine maintenance and updates on your website. 

Brief History of Redirects

Redirects have been around since the early days of the internet. In 1996, the web took a major leap forward with HTTP 1.1, giving us our first taste of HTTP redirection and allowing servers to lead browsers safely along different URLs at lightning speed. Since then, different types of redirects have been developed to accommodate different scenarios, and they’ve become an essential tool for website owners and developers.

Types of Redirects

There are several types of redirects, each of which serves a specific purpose. 

Here are some of the most common types of redirects:

Temporary Redirect (HTTP 302)

A temporary redirect, also known as an HTTP 302 redirect, temporarily moves a page or resource to a new URL. Temporary redirects are often used for website maintenance or when a page is only temporarily unavailable.

Permanent Redirect (HTTP 301)

A permanent redirect, also known as an HTTP 301 redirect, is used to move a page or resource to a new URL permanently. Permanent redirects are often used when a page has been permanently moved to a new location or when a website has been permanently restructured.

Meta Refresh Redirect

A meta refresh redirect is a type of redirect that uses a meta tag to redirect users to a new URL. This type of redirect is less commonly used and is generally not recommended for SEO purposes, as it can negatively impact your search engine rankings.

JavaScript Redirect

A JavaScript redirect is a type of redirect that uses JavaScript code to redirect users to a new URL. This type of redirect is often used for tracking purposes or when a user needs to be redirected after completing an action on a webpage.

Canonical URL Redirect

A canonical URL redirect is a type of redirect that is used to consolidate multiple pages or URLs into a single canonical URL. This type of redirect is often used to ensure that search engines can correctly identify the canonical URL for a particular page or resource.

Understanding the different types of redirects and when to use them is crucial for website owners and developers. Choosing the appropriate type of redirect for each situation ensures that your website remains accessible and valuable to your audience.

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301 vs. 302 Redirects: Which one to Choose?

When choosing between a 301 and a 302 redirect, it’s important to understand the differences between the two and when to use each one. 

Here’s what you need to know:

What is a 301 Redirect?

An official redirect known as a 301 alerts search engines that a URL has been changed permanently to a new destination. This type of redirect is generally preferred for situations where a page has been permanently moved to a new URL, such as when a website has been restructured or when a page has been moved to a new domain.

Benefits of using a 301 redirect include:

  • It transfers the SEO value of the old URL to the new URL, which can help maintain your search engine rankings.
  • It ensures that users and search engines are directed to the correct URL, which can improve the user experience on your website.

What is a 302 Redirect?

An HTTP 302 redirect notifies search engines that an old URL has been temporarily moved to a different address. This type of redirect is generally preferred for situations where a page is only temporarily unavailable, such as during website maintenance or when a page is being updated.

Benefits of using a 302 redirect include:

  • It allows you to redirect users and search engines to a temporary location while you work on the original URL.
  • It ensures that users are still able to access your website during temporary periods of downtime.

Which One to Choose?

When choosing between a 301 and a 302 redirect, it’s key to consider the nature of the change you’re making to the URL. If the change is permanent, such as when moving to a new domain, a 301 redirect is generally the best choice. If the change is temporary, such as during website maintenance, a 302 redirect is the preferred option.

Ultimately, choosing the right type of redirect is crucial for maintaining a positive user experience and ensuring that your website remains accessible and valuable to your audience. By understanding the differences between 301 and 302 redirects and when to use each one, you can make informed decisions about managing changes to your website’s URLs.

How do Redirects work?

Redirects work by intercepting a user’s request for a particular URL and sending them to a different URL instead. 

Here’s how it works:

Understanding HTTP status codes

When a user enters a URL into their browser or clicks on a link, their browser sends a request to the server hosting the website. The server responds with an HTTP status code, which tells the browser whether the request was successful and, if not, why it failed.

Some common HTTP status codes include:

  • 200 OK – the request was successful, and the server is returning the requested data.
  • 404 Not Found – The requested URL does not exist on the server.
  • 301 Moved Permanently – the requested URL has been permanently moved to a new location.
  • 302 Found – the requested URL has been temporarily moved to a new location.

What is a redirect URL?

When a user requests a URL that has been redirected, the server responds with a new URL to which the user should be directed instead. 

This URL contains several components that determine where the user should be sent, including:

  • The protocol (HTTP or HTTPS)
  • The domain name (e.g. www.example.com)
  • The path (e.g. /blog/post)
  • Any additional parameters or data

How to Implement Redirects on Different Platforms: WordPress, Apache, Nginx, IIS

Implementing redirects on different platforms can be a bit different. 

Here are some examples of how to implement redirects on 4 of the most popular platforms:

WordPress

WordPress is one of the world’s most popular content management systems (CMS). 

Here’s how to implement redirects in WordPress:

  1. Install a plugin such as Redirection or Yoast SEO.
  2. Set up the redirects using the plugin’s interface.
  3. Test the redirects to ensure that they’re working correctly.

Apache

Apache is a popular web server software commonly used for hosting websites. 

Here’s how to implement redirects in Apache:

  1. Edit the .htaccess file in your website’s root directory.
  2. Use the mod_rewrite module to set up redirects.
  3. Save the file and test the redirects to ensure they work correctly.

Nginx

Nginx is a lightweight web server software known for its speed and performance. 

Here’s how to implement redirects in Nginx:

  1. Edit the configuration file for your website.
  2. Use the return or rewrite directives to set up redirects.
  3. Save the file and test the redirects to ensure they work correctly.

IIS

IIS is a web server software that is used primarily on Windows servers. 

Here’s how to implement redirects in IIS:

  1. Open the IIS Manager and navigate to the website you want to set up redirects for.
  2. Click on “URL Rewrite” and then “Add Rule(s)”.
  3. Set up the redirects using the interface.
  4. Test the redirects to ensure that they’re working correctly.

By understanding how to implement redirects on different platforms, you can ensure that your website remains accessible and valuable to your audience. 

Best Practices for Redirects

Now that we’ve covered the different types of redirects and how to implement them, let’s explore some best practices for using redirects effectively.

When to use redirects and when not to

Redirects can be a powerful tool for managing changes to your website’s URLs, but using them appropriately is important. 

Here are some situations when you should use redirects and when you should avoid them:

When to use redirects:

  1. When you’ve moved a page to a new URL: If you’ve moved a page to a new URL, it’s vital to set up a redirect so that users and search engines are directed to the new location.
  2. When you’ve changed your domain name: If you’ve changed your domain name, it’s crucial to set up a redirect so that users and search engines are directed to the new domain.
  3. When you’re restructuring your website: If you’re restructuring your website and changing the URLs of multiple pages, it’s important to set up redirects so that users and search engines are directed to the correct locations.
  4. When you’re consolidating content: If you’re consolidating multiple pages or URLs into a single page or URL, it’s important to set up a redirect so that users and search engines are directed to the new location.

When to avoid redirects:

  1. When the old URL is still valid: If the old URL is still valid and accessible, it’s generally best to leave it as is rather than setting up a redirect.
  2. When the new URL isn’t substantially different: If the new URL isn’t substantially different from the old URL, setting up a redirect is generally unnecessary.
  3. When the redirect chain is too long: If the redirect chain is too long (i.e. multiple redirects are required to reach the final destination), it can slow down your website and create confusion for users and search engines.
  4. When the new URL is less valuable: If the new URL is less valuable than the old URL (e.g. it has less content or fewer backlinks), it may be better to leave the old URL as is and avoid setting up a redirect.
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Common Redirect Errors to Avoid

Redirects can be a powerful tool for managing changes to your website’s URLs, but they can also be prone to errors. 

Here are some common redirect errors to avoid:

Redirect loops

Redirect loops occur when one URL redirects to another URL, which then redirects back to the original URL. These loops can cause problems for search engines and users, so avoiding them is crucial.

Broken or incorrect redirects

Broken or incorrect redirects occur when the redirect URL is invalid or incorrect. This can cause users and search engines to be directed to the wrong URL or to an error page.

Missing redirects

Missing redirects occur when a URL has been removed or deleted, but no redirect has been set up to direct users and search engines to the new location.

Slow redirects

Slow redirects occur when the redirect takes too long to load, causing users and search engines to become frustrated and potentially abandon the page.

Redirect chains

Redirect chains occur when multiple redirects are needed to reach the final destination. These chains can slow down your website and confuse users and search engines (more on that below).

Avoiding these common redirect errors ensures your website remains accessible and valuable to your audience.

Redirecting Multiple URLs at once: Bulk Redirect Methods

Redirecting multiple URLs can be time-consuming, but several bulk redirect methods can make the process much easier. 

Here are some methods for bulk redirecting multiple URLs at once:

Redirect chains

Redirect chains can be used to redirect multiple URLs at once by creating a chain of redirects that ultimately direct users and search engines to the new URL. For example, you can redirect all URLs that contain a certain string to a new URL by setting up a chain of redirects.

Regular expressions

Regular expressions can be used to redirect multiple URLs at once based on a pattern. For example, you can redirect all URLs that contain a certain pattern (e.g. /product-category/*) to a new URL using a regular expression.

CSV file uploads

Some redirect plugins or tools allow you to upload a CSV file containing a list of old and new URLs to be redirected. This can be a fast and efficient way to redirect multiple URLs simultaneously.

Server-side redirects

If you’re comfortable with programming and have access to the server, you can use server-side redirects to redirect multiple URLs at once. For example, you can use the mod_rewrite module in Apache to redirect multiple URLs based on a pattern.

Updating Internal Links After a Redirect

After implementing a redirect, updating any internal links on your website to point to the new URL is essential. This can help ensure that users and search engines are directed to the correct URL and can prevent broken links and errors. 

Here are some best practices for updating internal links after a redirect:

Use absolute URLs

When updating internal links, using absolute rather than relative URLs is critical. This ensures the link always points to the correct URL, regardless of the current page’s location.

Use a search-and-replace tool

If you have many internal links to update, using a search-and-replace tool to automate the process can be helpful. This can save time and reduce the risk of errors.

Update all links, not just the ones on the same page

When updating internal links, it’s important to update all links that point to the old URL, not just the ones on the same page. This can include links in navigation menus, footer links, and links in blog posts and other content.

Check for broken links

After updating internal links, it’s important to check for broken links and ensure all links point to the correct URL. Use a tool such as Google Search Console or a broken link checker to identify any issues that need to be addressed.

SEO Impact of Redirects

Redirects can have a significant impact on your search engine rankings. 

How redirects affect search engine rankings

Here’s a closer look at how redirects can affect your search engine rankings:

Preserving link equity

Redirects can help preserve the link equity of a page that has been moved or deleted. Link equity is a page’s value or authority based on the number and quality of links pointing to it. When a page is moved or deleted, any link equity built up can be lost. 

However, by setting up a redirect, you can ensure that the link equity is passed on to the new URL, helping to maintain its search engine rankings. This is particularly important if you have pages that have built up significant link equity over time.

Avoiding duplicate content

Redirects can help avoid duplicate content issues, which can harm your search engine rankings. Duplicate content occurs when multiple URLs have the same or very similar content. 

This can confuse search engines and cause them to choose one URL over another, potentially resulting in a lower ranking for the affected pages. By setting up redirects, you can consolidate multiple URLs into a single URL, helping to avoid duplicate content issues.

Slow page load times

Redirects can slow down your website, harming your search engine rankings. When a redirect is set up, it adds an additional step to the page loading process, which can increase the page load time. 

Search engines consider page load time an essential factor in ranking websites, so ensuring your redirects are optimised for speed is critical. This can include using server-side redirects instead of JavaScript redirects and minimising the number of redirects on your website.

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Handling Redirect Chains and Loops

Handling redirect chains and loops is a key aspect of redirect management that can impact your search engine rankings and user experience. 

Here’s what you need to know:

Redirect chains

A redirect chain occurs when multiple redirects are set up in sequence, with each redirect directing the user to another URL.

Here are some of the main reasons to avoid Redirect Chains:

  • They can slow down page load times, negatively impacting your search engine rankings and user experience.
  • They can increase the risk of errors and issues, especially if one of the redirects in the chain is broken or misconfigured.
  • They can reduce the link equity passed on to the final URL, as each redirect in the chain reduces the amount of link equity passed on to the next URL.

Minimise the number of redirects you make and optimise each one for quick, accurate navigation. Instead of multiple links to the same final destination, set up just one so users can get there quickly.

Redirect loops

When a seemingly endless loop of page redirects occurs, it results in what is known as a “redirect loop.” This perplexing issue can happen when one web address is redirected to another and back again – creating an elusive cycle with no escape point.

Redirect loops can be harmful for several reasons:

  • They can create an infinite loop that prevents users and search engines from accessing the content on the affected pages.
  • They can slow page load times and increase the risk of errors and issues.
  • They can negatively impact your search engine rankings and reduce the visibility of your website.

To handle redirect loops, you need to identify the source of the loop and correct it. This may involve changing the URL structure, removing one of the redirects in the loop, or adjusting the redirect settings to ensure the loop is broken.

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Redirecting an Old Domain to a New One: Implications and Best Practices

Redirecting an old domain to a new one can be a complex process.

Here’s what you need to know:

Implications

When you redirect an old domain to a new one, you are telling search engines that the content from the old domain can now be found at the new domain. 

This can have several implications for your search engine rankings:

  • You may experience a temporary drop in rankings as search engines re-crawl and re-index your website under the new domain.
  • Your new domain may inherit some of the authority and link equity from the old domain, which can positively impact your search engine rankings.
  • If the old domain has any negative associations or penalties, these may be passed on to the new domain.

It’s important to carefully consider these implications and weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks before redirecting an old domain to a new one.

Best Practices

To ensure a smooth and successful domain redirect, it’s helpful to follow these best practices for redirect implementation:

  • Use a 301 redirect to permanently redirect the old domain to the new one. This will help ensure that search engines pass on the link equity and authority from the old domain to the new one.
  • Set up the redirect for every page on the old domain to ensure that users and search engines can find the content on the new domain.
  • Use a 404 error page to inform users and search engines that a page no longer exists on the old domain.
  • Update all internal and external links to point to the new domain to ensure users can access your website without issue.
  • Monitor your website’s analytics and search engine rankings to identify any issues or drops in traffic after the redirect.

Troubleshooting Redirects

Redirects sometimes encounter issues or errors that negatively impact your search engine rankings and user experience. 

Here are some tips for troubleshooting redirects:

Use redirect testing tools

There are several tools available that can help you test and troubleshoot your redirects. These tools can identify issues such as redirect loops, chains, and errors. 

Some popular redirect testing tools include:

  • Google Search Console
  • Bing Webmaster Tools
  • Redirect Checker by SmallSEOTools
  • Redirect Path by Ayima
  • HTTP Status Code Checker by Search Engine Reports

Check for misconfigured redirects

Misconfigured redirects can cause errors and issues that negatively impact your search engine rankings and user experience. 

Common misconfigured redirects include:

  • Redirect loops, where two or more pages redirect to each other in a continuous loop
  • Incorrect redirect types, such as using a 302 redirect instead of a 301 redirect
  • Redirect chains, where multiple redirects are set up in sequence, slowing down page load times and reducing link equity

Monitor website analytics

Monitoring your website’s analytics can help you identify any issues or drops in traffic after implementing redirects. If you notice a significant decrease in traffic or a change in user behaviour, it may indicate a problem with your redirects that needs to be addressed.

Work with an SEO professional

Suppose you’re having difficulty troubleshooting your redirects or are experiencing significant issues with your search engine rankings or user experience. 

In that case, it may be time to work with an experienced SEO professional. An SEO professional can help identify and address issues with your redirects and provide guidance on best practices for redirect implementation and management.

How to Diagnose and Fix Redirect Errors

Diagnosing and fixing redirect errors is an essential aspect of redirect management that can impact your search engine rankings and user experience. 

Here’s what you need to know:

Diagnosing redirect errors

When diagnosing redirect errors, you need to identify the source of the issue and determine the type of error. 

Common redirect errors include:

  • 404 errors: Occur when a page cannot be found on the server
  • 500 errors: Occur when there is a server error
  • 302 errors: Occur when a temporary redirect is set up incorrectly
  • 301 errors: Occur when a permanent redirect is set up incorrectly

You can use tools like the ones mentioned above to diagnose redirect errors. These tools can identify issues such as redirect loops, chains, and errors.

Fixing redirect errors

Fixing redirect errors will depend on the type and source of the error. 

Some common solutions include:

  • Correcting the redirect settings to ensure that the redirect is set up correctly
  • Updating internal and external links to ensure that they point to the correct URL
  • Updating the URL structure to ensure that the right content is being displayed
  • Resolving any server errors that may be causing the redirect issue

Working with an experienced SEO professional to diagnose and fix redirect errors effectively is often the right way to go. An SEO professional can help identify the source of the issue and provide guidance on best practices for redirect management.

Common Issues with Redirect Implementation

Redirect implementation can impact your search engine rankings and user experience. 

Aside from the already discussed Redirect loops and Redirect chains, here are some other common issues with redirect implementation to be aware of:

Incorrect redirect types

The incorrect redirect type can negatively impact your search engine rankings and user experience. For example, using a 302 redirect instead of a 301 redirect can signal to search engines that the redirect is temporary and not a permanent change. This can result in lost link equity and lower search engine rankings.

Broken redirects

Broken redirects occur when a redirect is set up incorrectly, or the destination page no longer exists. This can result in a poor user experience and lost traffic. It’s best to regularly monitor your website’s redirects and fix any broken redirects promptly.

Missing redirects

Missing redirects occur when you change your website’s URL structure but fail to set up redirects for the old URLs. This can result in lost traffic and negatively impact your search engine rankings. Set up redirects for all old URLs to ensure users and search engines can access your content without issue.

Final Thoughts

Redirects are an essential tool for website owners and developers. By understanding the different types of redirects, how to implement them, and best practices for using them effectively, you can ensure that your website remains accessible to users and search engines alike. 

Whether moving your website to a new domain, consolidating pages, or performing routine maintenance, redirects can help you achieve your goals and maintain a positive user experience. By following best practices and regularly testing your redirects, you can ensure your website remains a valuable resource for your audience.

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