Ultimate Guide to Redirects

Redirecting is something anyone who owns/manages a website will have to deal with. Essentially, redirects are a technique used to redirect visitors from one URL to another. Redirecting needs to be done for a number of reasons, so here’s all that you should know about it.

Redirections can be useful in situations such as changing the structure of your site, switching domains, removing a page, merging sites, and a series of other situations.

Having to redirect your visitors is an essential part of the lifecycle of any site, it is not in any way an indication that your site is faulty but that it is growing and changing over time.

Whatever the reason might be, without the redirecting making these types of changes to your site might lead to more harm than good. When proper redirects aren’t set up, anyone visiting your site using an old URL will be redirected to the dreaded 404 page. This will have a very negative impact on the SEO of your site and the UX it gives to its visitors.

Achieving a certain level of SEO and perfecting your UX takes a lot of time, effort and money, but a thing as small as a broken link or a bad redirect can tarnish it in a moment.

To help you avoid getting yourself in this type of situation through this article we will attempt to educate you on the most important things about redirects, what they are, why they are so important, different types of redirects, and how redirecting is done in WordPress.

What is redirecting?

Think of redirecting as something similar to moving to a new house. Anyone who has ever changed addresses knows that that process includes updating your address at a number of services and institutions. By doing this you are making sure all your mail, packages, notices and whatever else it might be, start coming to the new address and are not being shoved in a mailbox that is no longer yours.

Redirecting is similar, just that now it’s not physical addresses we are talking about, but web addresses of websites and their pages, better known as URLs.

When your site or one of its pages changes its web address, all the traffic previously leading to it now has to be redirected to the new address. Otherwise, it will be going to a page that is no longer being used. Just like mail needs to end up at the right physical address, traffic of a website needs to end up at the right Web address.

People could have been led to your site in a number of ways, through internal or external links, by browsing search engine results, clicking an ad or a social media post, basically through anything that contains a link leading to your site and its pages.

If you make any changes to your site that involves changing the URL of a page or post every link leading to that page has to be either updated or redirected.

Updating all of the links is impossible since you don’t have the access or the ability to change a link that is for example on an external website. This is where redirecting comes in.

After it has been set up, a redirect will lead your visitors to the right place no matter if they clicked on a link that hasn’t been updated. In the eyes of your visitor, everything will be running smoothly, if the redirect is done right, they won’t even know it’s happening.

Someone who has to know that the address of your site or page has been changed is Google and other search engines. Redirecting also takes care of that. It lets the search engines know that a change has been made and that they will be now leading people to a brand-new address. Depending on the type of redirect, whether it is permanent or temporary (more on that later) after a redirect is set up Google will do re-crawling and indexing of your site so that the page with a new address can eventually be treated as the original one.

Example of redirecting

Everything said so far was quite vague, so here is an actual example of when a redirection and how a redirection would be done.

Let’s say you are in the retail business, selling various tech products and accessories through your website. Your sales of phone cases have significantly risen, and you have decided that this product category deserves its own page and should no longer be displayed on the same page as the rest of your accessories. A page dedicated just to phone cases was created and now has its own URL, “https://www.mytechshop.com/phonecases”.

Previously every link (internal or external) or ad for your phone case catalog was leading to “https://www.mytechshop.com/accessories”. What needs to be done now is for all of those links intended to advertise or to lead to your phone case catalog to be redirected to the new URL, “https://www.mytechshop.com/phonecases”.

The type of redirect will depend if you want the dedicated page to be a permanent or temporary situation, but again, we will talk about the different types of redirects and their usage scenarios later in this article. Now that a redirect has been put in place your new page will be getting the desired traffic and your visitors will be ending up at a page displaying exactly what they were looking for.

Why are redirects so important?

If you have gotten this far into the article, I think you have an idea about the importance of redirects. In this paragraph, we will give a bit more specific reasons why they are so important.

Loss of traffic

A page that is badly or not at all redirected will most likely lose all of its traffic and become basically useless. For you to visualize how bad this can be, here is a graph showing how steep the drop in traffic rates can be if redirecting is not done properly or not at all.

Source: Croud

From looking at this picture, it appears as if the page disappeared off the face of the internet completely, but it didn’t. It just didn’t have any redirects leading its traffic back to it.

Loss of credibility

For the successful functioning of any business nowadays, a website is one, if not the most essential part. Most of the businesses heavily rely on the website to be the place where the sales are made, and where sales are made has to be smoothly running and trustworthy place.

If your site constantly has people ending up on 404 pages because of links that aren’t redirected, it will certainly not give your visitors a reliable or trustworthy feeling or make them want to do business with you.

Loss of domain authority and SEO

Domain authority is in a way your reputation on the internet, how popular your site is and how highly it will rank in the search results. It is achieved by having links to your site placed on a site with an already established high level of domain authority.

If you have a significant number of those links, and they are all working seamlessly, to Google this will be an indicator that your site has relevance and popularity and that it deserves to have a certain level of domain authority itself.

If on the other hand these links are broken, not redirected when necessary, Google won’t hesitate to take away your domain authority and with that stop your site from ranking highly, if at all, in the search results.

Domain authority is a part of SEO, often mentioned but not always fully understood term. SEO has a lot of metrics allowing you to measure the performance of your site in terms of search results rankings and traffic rates, a performance which is highly impacted by the way you handle your redirects.

Bad redirecting will drive your SEO to the ground, and when you aren’t aware that bad redirecting is happening on your site, monitoring your SEO metrics can help you spot it before it is too late.

For a better understanding of SEO, what it takes to rank on Google and more, “Why is my site not ranking on Google?” article can be of great assistance.

Types of redirects

There are quite a few types of redirect. Temporary and permanent, with different usage scenarios. The following are the most common types of redirects:

·      301 redirect

Probably the most frequently used type of redirect, and great for keeping your SEO from declining. This type of redirect is server-side and should be used when the change of URL is permanent, in cases when a page/post is moved, deleted, the previous address is inaccessible and a new one is created for its replacement.

When a 301 redirect is used all the SEO “juice” will be transferred from one URL to another, and search engines will take a 301 redirect as a sign that the site should be recrawled and indexed. Use the 301 redirect only if you are sure you won’t be using the old URL anymore, because by putting a 301 redirect on it will lose all its previous value with the transfer of SEO “juice”.

·      302 redirect

This type of redirect is used in cases when the move is only temporary, which means none of the SEO “juice” will be transferred nor will the new page be recrawled and indexed. The cases in which a 302 redirect is most often used are under maintenance situations, seasonal or temporary pages/posts/content, A/B testing, and similar.

In case you leave a 302 redirect up for more than 6 months it will be regarded as a 301 redirect because it is basically a permanent redirect now. 302 redirects are also server-side.

Source: https://www.gomage.com/blog/302-redirect/

·      303 redirect

Like the 302 redirect, the 303 is a redirect of temporary nature and also server-side. 303 redirected pages can’t be cashed, bookmarked, or refreshed; this makes them very useful in online payments. They will prevent unnecessary resubmissions of form data and repeated refreshing of the page. Using a 303 redirect won’t affect your SEO since search engines don’t do POST requests.

·      307 redirect

An HTTP/1.1 equivalent of a 302 redirect. When created it was intended to replace the 302 redirect. 302 is preferred since it is a bit more stable, due to the fact that some servers won’t support a 307 redirect, and if they do it’s quite hard to determine it. Like the 303 redirect it ensures that the POST method used to make the request doesn’t change when it is redirected.

·      308 redirect

Could be seen as a 307 redirect but permanent. It shares similarities with the 301 redirect in the sense that it is permanent, but also with 307 because it ensures that the request method stays the same. It is good for migrating a site that contains a large number of forms using the POST method, and in all the same cases using a 301 redirect would work. Like a 301 redirect It will pass SEO “juice” to the new site.

How to set up a redirect in WordPress

The last part of this article will teach you two methods of creating a redirect, using the .htaccess file, and using a plugin. The plugin method is more geared towards people who want the process to be as straightforward and simple as possible, while the .htaccess method is for the ones who don’t mind writing a bit of code, but both are very easy.

The .htaccess method

The .htaccess file is in charge of approving or denying redirect access to a site, so logically, editing it will allow you to set up the wanted redirects. This is how that is done:

  1. Use an FTP program to locate the .htaccess file. It will be in the root directory of your WordPress site.
  2. Before making any changes to the file, make a copy of it, so you have a backup. This file plays a large part in the functionality of your site so any errors might compromise that.
  3. Open the file in a text editor and insert your redirect rule in it. For example, “Redirect 301/previous-page.html http//new-page.html/”. The structure of the redirect rule will vary depending on if you are redirecting a page, post, a whole site, etc.
  4. The last thing to do is to save the file and you are done.

The plugin method

For those too afraid to mess with the .htaccess file or just not looking for the extra hassle, using a plugin will be the best option. There is definitely an abundance of WordPress plugins, especially redirect plugins, on the market, so you might find yourself wondering which one is the right choice.

One that is proven to get the job done is WP 301 Redirects. This plugin will monitor every change in the URL of your posts or pages and will automatically create a redirect rule once it spots one. This way you have no worries about setting up the redirects in time. It will protect you not only from broken links but also bad bots by sending them to the 404 page.

It will also give you insight into how well your redirects are working using a built-in chart, so you won’t even need to use Google Analytics. The plugin also comes with fast and reliable support and in different price packages. To learn more about those and other features of this plugin, visit http://wp301redirects.com/.

When you use a plugin to set up redirects by yourself, the process is very easy.

In the admin dashboard of WordPress, there will be a section dedicated to the plugin where you can find input fields for the old and new URLs. The WP 301 Redirect plugin will also give you a dropdown menu containing pages already on your site in case you want to be redirecting to one of those.

Use dropdown menu to quickly select “Redirect to” URL

After typing in the old and the new URL in their fields, or choosing them from the dropdown menu, just click save and your redirect is set up. Some plugins, including WP 301 Redirects, will offer the possibility to set up redirections in bulk by simply uploading a CSV file of the desired redirects, simplifying the process even more.

Import/Export feature allows you to handle redirects in bulk

Whether you choose to do it through the .htaccess file or a plugin, redirecting shouldn’t be something that intimidates you. It’s just something that needs to be done right and on time.