What Are 301 Redirects and Why Do They Matter
301 Redirects are the most important action that can be taken when moving content from one URL to another while maintaining PageRank as well as search rankings. If done properly, the value will be transferred over slowly, meaning the value from the old URL will not be apparent immediately after the redirect has occurred. Through the slow transfer of old value to a new URL, bots are able to determine if the new page correlates in context with that of the old URL. If the context between the two URLs is not the same, the value should not be switched over since they are not, in fact, the same.
Proper use of 301 redirects increases user experience by not showing a 404 error when attempting to land on a page that is not available. A 404 error page for a user essentially means they’ve found a dead end and need to choose a new path. It is also important for your overall site health to fix any 404 errors. This can be done by either setting the Robots.txt file to no-follow for that URL, or implementing 301 redirects to the correct functioning URL the user would have intended to land on.
301’s, beyond increasing the user experience and overall site health, tells search engines that any link juice being given to the old URL should now be given to the new URL. In essence, it makes it so you don’t have to do the work of building up PageRank for a URL from the start, since some previous value of the old URL will be transferred over to the new one.
There is no limit to the number of 301’s that can be done for a website, however, Google does limit the number of “steps” it will take down a 301 path. For instance, let’s say you want site A to redirect to site G. It’s best if you simply redirect A to G, and Google bots will even follow you if you redirect site A to B to G. However, Google bots will not follow site A to B to C to D to E to F before finally reaching G. Google bots understand this is excessive and will simply end the silly goose chase. These excessive redirects gives warning that something fishy or Black Hat is occurring since rarely is there a need to redirect a site 2 or 3 times before reaching the actual intended URL.
How To Do 301 Redirects in WordPress
Considering that there are different ways to do 301 redirects for different development programs, we are just going to focus on one, that being WordPress. Essentially, the two methods that are used for WordPress to do redirects are the Redirection WordPress Plugin, or manually redirecting from the .htaccess files.
WordPress Plugin Redirection: This plugin found on the wordpress.org site is one that manages 301 redirections and tracks any 404 errors that may be present on your site. This plugin is especially useful when attempting to migrate pages from an older site or when changing the directory location of your WordPress installation files. The WordPress Plugin redirection can be found Here.
If you view the features included in the plugin, you will soon realize its awesome versatility and how it makes 301 redirects quick and easy. It also gathers information that would otherwise need to be done manually, such as giving statistics on how many times a redirection of a specific URL has taken place, the dates and times when those redirects occurred, who issued the redirect, and where that URL is being found which generates the traffic to your site. Overall, it’s a rather useful and crafty tool, one where if you have a WordPress website, it would behoove you to install the Redirection plugin. The only word of warning for the plugin is that if there is a WordPress update, and the plugin was not updated by the developer along with it, the plugin may very well fail you. In that case you would have to do the redirects through the .htaccess file manually, which is what we will get into next.
.htaccess File For Static Redirects: For those of you who would rather do it manually, perhaps for the sake of thoroughness, perhaps so as not to rely on plugins, but either way, it is definitely a bit more difficult to write them all in by hand as well as time consuming. With that said, let’s jump right into it by first discussing a few important aspects of using .htaccess to do redirects.
- Before editing begins, make a backup of your .htaccess file. You don’t want to make any mistakes that couldn’t be undone.
- On a single line, you are able to insert as many redirect statements that are necessary, but it’s easier to discern them individually if you write them on separate lines.
- 500 internal server errors frequently occur when the code written for redirects is wrong or incorrectly stated. A 500 internal server error is essentially a generic message that is given when no other message to be given was specified. Essentially being the error message for an error message.
- Ensure that after you have completed your redirect, that the URL was indeed redirected properly.
Once these above points have been recognized, it’s time to do the redirects themselves. To start you open up the .htaccess file. At the end of the file, or next to other redirects if they are present, you write in exactly how it is written below, so as an example:
redirect 301 /(error URL)/ /www.url.com/(redirected URL)/
Notice the space between /(error URL)/ and /www.url.com/(redirected URL)/, without that space, you would essentially be saying the URL you want redirected is /(error URL)//(redirected URL)/ and did not state the where it is to be redirected. Without including the space, you will certainly receive a 500 error.
You then continue through all of the errors that are coming up in this manner, going through them one by one, and checking to make sure each has been redirected properly. It’s simple enough, but can become a large hassle the more errors there are to deal with.
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