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101 Guide to 301 Redirects for SEO

Change is a part of life and while it can be inconvenient, if we have the right tools, we will learn to adapt faster and without losing precious belongings.

Let’s take moving for instance. It’s a tedious process that requires a lot of planning and hard work.

You need to take care of packing and transporting your things, closing the affairs with the old place, and forwarding your mail to the new address.

However, most of the times, we tend to forward the mail, which results in the loss of important information (notifications, letters, coupons, and so on).

Now, let’s apply the same thinking to a website that’s being moved to a new domain. When you do this, you want to make sure that you take everything with you, including current page rank and SEO results.

For this, you’ll need to perform a 301 redirect to the new pages, as this is the best tool to move a site or page to a new location without leaving anything behind. Since site/page relocation can be a bit of a confusing task, we put together a detailed 101 on 301 redirects for beginners.

What is a 301 Redirect?

In short, a 301 redirect tells a search engine crawler that the page was permanently moved to a different location. The 301 action is important from an SEO point of view as it can affect page rank, content, and link building efforts.

 

So, when a user visits the www.your-site/a-page.com, it will be redirected to the www.new-site/new-page.com that will have the same content and same SEO status as the old page.

Other Redirects

For clarification purposes, we’ll also mention the other 30x redirect tools you can use. So, besides the 301, there are two others:

  • 302 – The situation with this redirect is not clear as in HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) 1.0 it used to mean “Moved temporarily” but in HTTP 1.1 it means “Found”. Also, it is not clear if 302 redirects transfer Page Rank. So, the safest route is to use 301 redirects.
  • 307 – This is the new “Moved temporarily” (or 302 redirects) in HTTP 1.1. Basically, search engines will treat it like a 302, but only if the server is identified as being compatible with HTTP 1.1. Since you can’t be sure that the server is considered 1.1 compatible, 301 remains the safest tool to use even for pages that were moved temporarily.  

Put in short, the safest way to redirect the crawler to a new page without losing any of the SEO juice is through a 301 redirect.

Step-by-step 301 Redirect

Before we start talking about performing a redirect, you need to know that the method is different from one web server to another. The most common web servers are Apache, Windows/IIS, and Nginx and we’ll go through the specifics of redirect for each.

301 Redirects on Apache

The simplest way to do a redirect is via the site’s .htaccess file (located in the root folder of your site). If you can’t find the file, make sure your site is running on an Apache web server (go here to check). If it does, and the .htaccess file is missing, you can create it using a regular .txt file (in Notepad) that you save as .htaccess (without the .txt extension) and upload on the root of your site.

 

Quick note: If you’re using WordPress, things get a bit easier as you can use a free plugin such as Redirection. This eliminated the need to edit the .htaccess file.

 

Now, to redirect an old page to a new one, add the following line of code in the .htaccess file:

___________________________________________________

Redirect 301 /old-page.html /new-page.html

___________________________________________________

 

To redirect an entire domain to a new one, add the following snippet:

 ___________________________________________________

RewriteEngine on

 RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^oldsite.com [NC,OR]

 RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.oldsite.com [NC]

 RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://newsite.com/$1 [L,R=301,NC]

___________________________________________________

If “RewriteEngine on” is already part of your .htaccess file, just copy the rest of the code.   

 

For more examples of 301 redirects, have a look here.

301 Redirects on Nginx

There are several methods you can use in an Nginx server (detailed here), but the simplest is to add the following line of code in your server block:

301 Redirects on IIS

In a Windows server, the easiest method is to access the web.config file (located in the root of the site) where users can make edits to implement changes.

 

Just like in the case of an Apache server, if the web.config file is missing you should create it and then implement the redirect as described here.

 

Keep in mind: The methods mentioned above were successfully implemented on various sites, but each situation is unique. As such, we recommend creating a complete backup of your site and performing several tests before choosing the best redirect tool.

How Does a 301 Redirect Affect SEO?

Depending on the type and complexity of the action (change of domains, the merger of sites, or just re-locating content), the redirect impact on the SEO efforts can vary.

Keep the Rankings When Changing the Domain

For instance, if you’re moving content from one page to another, the impact won’t be propagated to the entire site and you shouldn’t see the ranking plummet.

 

On the other hand, if you move the entire domain, the operation is more complex and requires a great deal of attention. Still, if everything is done right, the rankings on the new domain should be similar to the ones on the old domain.

 

Back in the days, you could expect some drop in the Page Rank regardless of the type of link you used. More about this in the video below:

https://youtu.be/Filv4pP-1nw  

 

But modern search engines recognize the 301 redirects and don’t apply the same rules as with regular linking. In conclusion, your rankings will be left unchanged (which is a big deal SEO-wise).

 

Still, you should know that it takes a while for search engines to find the 301 redirects and credit the new page/domain with the trust and rankings of the old page/site. So, don’t be alarmed if the new location doesn’t get the same recognition right away.

Increase Ranking by Merging with Other Sites

301 redirects aren’t just for when you move your site or page. This type of linking can be used to increase the ranking of your current domain by merging with other sites on the same niche.

 

For instance, if you acquire an old site that’s well-established on the market and has a serious following, you can use 301 redirects to inject that power into the main domain. Still, this technique won’t work if the domain you’re redirecting doesn’t have content that’s relevant to your main domain (for instance, redirecting a car website to a domain that sells shoes doesn’t make sense and you risk lowering the ranks instead of improving them).

 

This is called the Merger Technique and you can learn more about it here.

HTTP to HTTPS

One of the easiest ways to get better ranking and more trust from customers is to make sure your site uses HTTPS, which shows you have a valid SSL certificate.

 

If you have such a certificate, you also need to make sure people visit the HTTPS version of the site and not the HTTP. This problem can be easily solved with a 301 redirect that takes visitors from the HTTP version to the HTTPS one.

 

To make sure the redirect is working, simply type the HTTP address of your site in the browser’s address bar. If everything is in place, it should take you to the https page, where you’ll also see the lock icon right beside the address.

Wrap Up

As you can see, 301 redirect is a useful tool that you can use to increase Page Rank and help your domain to get a better position in search engines. Of course, this type of redirect also works wonders when you’re moving a page or even the entire site, as it lets you take the Page Rank from the original location and move it to the new one.

 

But you also need to know how to use this tool to get the best possible results and avoid any unfortunate consequences. This is why we recommend that you do the research before you make the first move on the site. The 301 redirect is not a tool to be used lightly!

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Danielle Canstello

Danielle Canstello is part of the content marketing team at pyramidanalytics.com. They provide enterprise-level analytics and business intelligence software. In her spare time, she writes around the web to spread her knowledge of marketing, business intelligence and analytics industries.

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