Feb 12, 2014 • Jessica Jones
If you’ve been following our series on DIY SEO you’re probably starting to realize how involved SEO really is - and believe me, we’ve only scratched the surface here! So once you’ve invested time into working on your SEO and building it up, you’ll want to make sure to preserve the ranking that you’ve gained, even if you need to make major structural changes to your website. One tool that can come in extremely handy in these situations is the 301 redirect.
A 301 redirect is a way to show that a website’s location has changed permanently. If a user types in the url of the original address, they will be automatically sent to the new address instead. This seems like a fairly straightforward thing to set up if you’ve moved your website, so why is it worth so much discussion? Because there are multiple methods of directing a user to a site that’s moved - and if you find yourself in a situation where you need to use one of them, it’s important that you (or whoever is working on your website) take the right approach.
Simply getting a user from point A to point B could be as easy as putting a link on your old site saying “this site has moved” and leading to the new site. Doing that would allow a user to easily find your new site, but what about search engines?
Setting up a 301 redirect makes it clear to search engines that the site that previously lived at a certain address has permanently moved to a specific new address. Not only does this make it easier for search engines to present updated information about your site, but it allows them to transfer your site’s ranking to the new address.
Here are some examples of situations that might call for the use of a 301 redirect:
In general, if at all possible, you should avoid changing domains. If you’ve done a good job of choosing your domain name then it’s easy for your customers to remember, and once your customers have associated your domain with your business you don’t want to expect them to remember a new one. Also, you’ve hopefully built up a good number of backlinks to your original domain.
Sometimes, though, changing your domain name can’t be avoided. Perhaps your business name has changed entirely and you need a new main domain to reflect that change. In this case, a 301 redirect will help you to make that transition more smooth both for your customers and for search engines.
For example, let’s say you originally set up a website at fredsgroovyfrogs.com. You kept your site at that address for years, gradually building up SEO until your site was well ranked for all the important frog-related keywords. But then you got a new business partner and decided to change your business name, and now you want to move your site to fredandwandasgroovyfrogs.com. If you set up a 301 redirect leading from fredsgroovyfrogs.com to fredandwandasgroovyfrogs.com, Google will realize that the new domain is the same site as the one that used to live on the old domain, and will transfer most of that ranking over to the new domain, greatly minimizing any damage to your SEO.
If you’re keeping your original domain but making major changes to your website, the addresses to the individual pages on your site may change. For example, if you’re moving from a static html site to using a content management system such as WordPress, the link to your About Us page might change from http://www.fredsgroovyfrogs.com/about.html to http://www.fredsgroovyfrogs.com/about/ - in this case it won’t be an issue for your users to find the new content, because they’ll go to the same domain that they’ve always visited, and the link to your new About Us page will be right there on your newly redesigned site.
Search engines, though, have the old page address indexed, and it’s possible that there are sites out there with links pointing directly to individual pages on your site. To make sure no one visiting your site through a link from another page ends up getting a 404 error, and to make sure that any SEO that’s been built up on that original About Us page is maintained, set up a 301 redirect from the old page address to the new, and make certain to do this for every page on your site that changes address.
Many businesses register multiple domains to point to their website - for example, you may want fredsgroovyfrogs.com, fredsgroovyfrogs.net, fredsgroovyfrogs.biz and so on, and of course you want your website to come up on every one of those domains. There’s nothing wrong with doing this, however if you go about it the wrong way you could end up being penalized by Google.
What you don’t want to do is put an individual copy of your website on your hosting server for each domain. Duplicating the same files across multiple domains may appear to Google to be a ploy to gain more search engine attention and you may face a duplicate content penalty.
The right way to handle this situation, of course, is to use our good buddy the 301 redirect. Your main domain should be the one actually hosting your site’s content, and any other domains that you want to use in addition should have 301 redirects set up in order to direct their traffic to your main site. This allows you to use as many domains as you like without duplicating content.
If you’ve lost your domain - either you’ve allowed it to expire and someone else has purchased it or you don’t have the ability to access the account that the domain is registered through - you won’t be able to use a 301 redirect to direct traffic to a different domain. You can’t redirect traffic from a domain that you don’t have control over. This is one of many reasons why it’s extremely important to always know the status of your domain registration and how to access it.
To make sure you’re using the applicable method of implementing the 301 redirects, you’ll want to check with your webhost about the proper procedure to use on the software your server is running. Chances are, the process will be quick and simple, and well worth taking a little time to learn!