You may sometimes hear reference to ‘301 redirects’ as these can be an important tool as part of an SEO strategy. They have become more important in the last few years as more sites migrate from an http domain to a more secure https version – so what are 301s, and why are they significant for SEO?
301 redirects are an HTTP response status code, used to indicate the permanent redirection from one URL to another, so that website visitors or search engines will be automatically redirected to a different URL than the one they originally typed into their browser or selected from a search engine results page. (There are also 302 redirects, but these are intended as temporary changes rather than permanent.)
From a website visitor’s perspective, if there is a 301 in place they will still arrive on the page they expected, without experiencing a 404 error page if the original page has moved. And from a search engine perspective, the indexing ‘spider’ or bot will be redirected to the correct page for the active site, and retain the various signals that are important for SEO.
Therefore a 301 redirect is essential in maintaining a website’s domain authority and search rankings when the site’s URL is changed for any reason. These redirects also link various URLs under one primary domain so that search engines will rank all of the addresses based on the domain authority from inbound links.
Any small change in a domain – such as upgrading from http to https, or revising the URL format from www to non-www, will require a 301 redirect from the old version to the new one. Google will effectively view the revision as a change in the domain, and there is the danger that any domain history and ‘link value’ will be lost if the 301 is not implemented, or users may also experience an error when trying to visit the site.
Moving a website from one domain to a completely different one is not usually recommended from an SEO perspective, but if the need arises, then a 301 redirect is the only way to preserve the optimisation value that the old domain had established and to transfer this to the new version.
The use of a 301 permanent redirect is ideal for search engine optimisation because any inbound links that have been established are transferred from the redirected domain to the new one. This will enable the website to maintain its search rankings and prevent any drop in search traffic.
It’s important to set up the redirect as soon as any change to a domain or page URL is implemented, to ensure that users or search engines are managed correctly and find the new version without any interruption. Ideally redirects should point from individual URLs on the old version to the equivalent ones on the new version, but if there are a high volume of pages, this can just be done at the top level domain change. However, pages that rank well and drive significant search engine traffic should be individually redirected.
If you’d like to know more about the use of 301 redirects and if you should be using them for your website at any time, please contact us for details.