Ideally, your website would never need to move or change the web address of a well-ranked page. URL’s would never break. In the best of all worlds, you started your web business with the hottest domain name ever. In a perfect world, you’d hit the Powerball numbers on your first ticket.
Until that happens, we’re here to explain web page redirect codes and help you play the right numbers with your web page redirects.
"404: Page Not Found"
This redirect is a dead end. It’s what you don’t want to happen. “404: Page Not Found” appears when a site or page has been deleted from the server, but the page or site is still out there indexed by the search engines or is accessed through old backlinks or browser bookmarks.
When a search engine returns a 404 redirect, customers or search engine crawlers have scratched the filmy coating from your URL only to find there’s no content underneath. This redirect code yields a blank page bearing the unlucky number 404 with a message that says, “Page Not Found”. With the rest of the Internet a breath and a microsecond away, customers will likely click elsewhere in search of greener pastures.
Too many 404’s and search engines will penalize you and de-index the page, effectively wiping it and its ranking from existence. If you’ve created killer content and worked hard to cultivate traffic and ‘backlink juice’ for that page, it’s just taken a whirling spiral down the drain.
Luckily, with the right redirect codes, it doesn’t have to be this way. A little planning and preparation, careful tracking and due diligent follow-through enable you to make money moves that ensure your site and all its pages stay properly indexed and ranked, reaching and retaining your target audience.
301 and 3012. What do they do?
A 301 redirect code sends both users and search engine indexing bots to the new link address. The 301 redirect also tells search engine crawlers that a page has been relocated to the new URL: permanently. It prompts them to de-index the old page and re-index the new page as the proper home for that content.
Conditions under which you would employ a 301 redirect include:
moving your site to a different domain
moving or deleting content
altering the architecture, coding or navigational functions of your site
301 redirects are also helpful in accommodating the different ways a user might enter a URL into the address bar, for instance whether they include the “www.” element or not. Many users go with the shorter version omitting the “www.” entering yoursite.com rather than www.yoursite.com. While it may not make much difference to the user, each unique URL is a separate page entity unto itself in the eyes of the almighty search engine.
However, you won’t want to leave all of your old pages 301 redirected indefinitely. 301 redirects are a necessary part of transitioning search engine established content, but they shouldn’t be a forever feature of your site. Leaving them up could cause problems with duplicate indexing and slower site resolution speeds.
301 redirects do require a tad more server resources given that the server must respond twice. First to redirect from the old page, then again to load the new page. Of course, today’s servers move fast - mere microseconds - but if your site has enough redirects, they can add up creating an undue burden, resulting in slower load times. Once those 301 redirects are no longer necessary, get rid of them.
That’s why you’ll want to keep careful tracking documents that note which pages point where and do your due diligence to check whether the old page has been de-indexed and the new, permanent page has been re-indexed by the search engines. A prudent length of time to allow for search engine indexing bots to crawl your site and re-index the new page at the new URL would be around 6 months.
To make things easier when you’re dealing with multiple redirects and ensure you’re in the clear with new page re-indexing, create and upload an XML site map of the URL’s to be redirected into your Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster tools. Doing so will push the search engines to crawl your outdated URL’s, leading them to their redirects, and thus begin their de-indexing and the process of conferring link authority to the new, permanent page links.
Rel=“canonical” vs. 301 Redirects
Sometimes duplicated content is a necessary or desirable occurrence. The multitude of reasons why is a longer, more complex matter, but here, we’d like to dispel the rumor that the canonical tag functions in the same way as a 301 redirect code. The rel=“canonical” tag indicates the original or primary source for a particular piece of content. When moving content, SEO best practices dictate that you use the 301 redirect code.
Let the PageRank Flow
The crucial benefit of the 301 redirect is that it confers PageRank and traffic value of the old page URL to the new page URL. You’ve put time, money and effort into creating killer content that’s garnered SEO value over time. You’ve put the same into pushing it out there to your target audience through social media and to the search engines by cultivating quality backlinks. You don’t want to lose that hard earned SEO juice and start back at square one just because you’ve moved domains or changed the navigation of your site.
Employing a 301 redirect keeps the PageRank, authority and search traffic flowing to your new page or site’s URL.
302 and You
302 redirect codes do not confer PageRank and SEO value to a new page/site URL. There are still reasons to use them, though.
You would deploy a 302 redirect code when the content move is only intended to be temporary. Say you’re re-working a portion of your site and need to point users to a different page for a couple of days. You don’t want to tell the search engines this is a permanent move for this content. You don’t want them to de-index the old page you plan to bring back and you wouldn’t want it to re-index the new page if it’s just for a short period of time. Site maintenance is a prime example of when to use a 302 redirect code.
Maybe you’re doing A/B testing to determine which content, functionality or design elements are a better fit for your client? Nothing’s set in stone, yet, so 302 it.
If you do decide to make a 302 redirected page permanent, best practices indicate you should make it official with a 301 redirect until the search engines get a good grip on the new page link. Google has said they’ve programmed their crawlers to try to determine when a 302’d page is in error and that page’s content has found its permanent home at the new link. However, you do run the risk of leaving the original site or page indexed. Safer, sharper shooting would be to change that temporary 302 code to the more accurate, permanent 301 for SEO’s sake.
Use 302 redirects for pointing users and search engines to URL’s that will be used for a short period of time.
Use 301 redirects to guide users and search engines to URL’s intended to become the permanent address. Only 301 redirects ensure continuity of PageRank authority and SEO value from the old to the new URL.
When you’ve ensured your 301 redirected pages have been indexed right, then it’s out with the old, in with the new! You can remove your 301 link and keep your site map fast and accurate.
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