How URL Redirection Affect Website Performance and SEO

Redirects are things there will always be need to do on a normal website especially when you understand their uses and how to properly handle them. You may want to redirect from http to https, redirect a domain from www to non www and vice versa, redirect to a temporary URL while your website is undergoing maintenance and so on. There are several reasons you may want to redirect and we should look at all that in this post.

But before we go into the details, let us look at the basics.

 

The Fundamentals of URL Redirect

What is a URL Redirect?

URL redirection which is also called URL forwarding is a technique used to make a web page available at a different URL. It simply means making a URL to load a different destination URL.

How a URL Redirection Works

A URL redirect is a server-side redirect. What happens is when you enter a redirected URL into your browser, a request for the page is sent to the server that hosts the website. A redirect will then be executed for the request and automatically re-route the request to the redirected page.

Why Do You Need to Redirect a URL

In a nutshell, redirects are important because they can help you address a frustrating user experience situation. When a URL no longer exists either because it has been deleted or moved to a different directory, a redirect can help you serve the page in its new directory or serve users with a relevant page related to their query.

The most relevant benefit of a URL redirect will be that it improves the overall user experience by ensuring visitors don't end up on a broken link or duplicated page which really leaves users with a bad experience, cause bounces and can affect website performance.

In summary, here are three reasons you should want to redirect a URL:

  • Forward traffic from one URL to another when the old URL no longer exists
  • Forward authority when backlinks point to a page that has been moved
  • Improve the overall user experience by ensuring visitors don’t land on broken or duplicated pages

 

URL Redirects and SEO

We have already noted that URL redirects can help website users in several ways including forwarding authority to the redirected page when a page has been deleted. But that is not all. Google says decisions on redirects should be guided by how you want Google to treat the redirect itself.

Realistically, website redirection can further improve SEO by improving user experience signals. For example, if a page has been deleted, visitors will ordinarily be directed to a 404 error page where it has been set up or be told by the browser that the page could not be found. That will usually leave the user disappointed and they see the website as untrustworthy or a spammy site. Such user frustration reflects in poor user signals and will tell Google that the website is not doing well in meeting the expectations of users.

A better way to handle such cases especially when the deleted page is one that pulled lots of traffic is to redirect it to its new location of the URL, if the directory or URL location changed causing the 404 error, or simply redirect to a closely related page that provided the answers users seek.

 

Types of Redirects

Broad categorization distinguishes between temporary and permanent redirects. To the human visitors, the differences between them are not detectable but Google identifies temporary and permanent redirects and treats them differently in terms of the strength of signals sent to the target URL. The target URL meant here is simply the destination URL.

Google details the following six types of redirects. For SEO purposes, it should be noted that with permanent redirects, Google treats the redirect as a strong signal and uses the destination URL as the one to show in its search results. Conversely, with temporary redirect, Google treats the redirect as a weak signal which means it is the original URL and not the destination URL that should be the URL shown in search results.

Google provides details on a complete set of six types of redirects on their help page. Here are the six types of redirects provided by Google:

  • Permanent server side redirects: This is the most popular and most commonly used redirect type. It is also the best SEO friendly redirect type. It permanently redirects a URL to a new one and shows the new destination in Google search results while the old is taken out. The 301 and 308 status codes mean that a page has permanently moved to a new location. Fundamentally, a permanent redirect tells Google that you do not intend to have the old URL in use anymore and it should therefore be removed from its indexed pages and replaced with the new URL destination.
  • Temporary server side redirects: These kinds of redirects temporarily send visitors to a new page while the old URL remains in the Google search for a longer time. This redirect tells Google that you may still use the old URL in future so it should take some longer time before the URL is deleted from its search index.
  • Instant meta refresh redirect: This is a client-side redirect which the web browser instantly and automatically redirects to another page. The meta refresh redirect is executed with a code within the HTML meta element. Google Search interprets instant meta refresh redirects as permanent redirects.
  • Delayed meta refresh redirect: The key difference between the instant meta refresh redirect and the delayed meta refresh redirect is that Google Search interprets delayed meta refresh redirects as temporary redirects. The delayed meta refresh redirect will redirect a page after a specified time
  • JavaScript location redirects: This is another way of informing users and search engines that a URL is available at a different location. It will be recommended that you should only use Javascript redirects if you are unable to do a server side or meta refresh redirect. Javascript redirects can be used for both temporary and permanent redirects. That affects how Google treats the redirect.
  • Crypto redirects: Google recommends that this type of redirect should only be used when all other forms of redirect are not suitable or applicable. Crypto redirects have nothing to do with cryptocurrency. It simply involves adding a link pointing to a new page accompanied by a short explanation. The risk of this technique is that it can be seen by Google as a link spam activity and risks Google's hammer. However, crypto redirects can be helpful in redirecting users to a new page if a page is hacked and users need to be directed to a new domain or directory. It is the last option that should be used for URL redirection and really does not have SEO value. If it does have an SEO value, it should be very little.

You may want to read Google's full document here..

Redirect Codes

Redirects are signals that Google takes seriously. Because they are important to Google, it is recommended that you must choose the right one to communicate what you want to do with a particular URL.

Now, here are the common redirects and when to use them.

HTTP Redirects

In http redirects, the user’s browser requests the old (redirected) URL, the server automatically displays the webpage for the new URL (the redirect target or the destination URL).  Technically, these are called server-side redirects because your web server (where your website is hosted) takes care of it before your website even loads.

The server simply responds to URL requests with a 3xx HTTP code when it receives the request for the redirected URL.

Those 3xx codes are like instructions for your browser. The codes indicate that the requested URL has been redirected. And where to find the new webpage (the redirect target).

Here are the most common types of 3xx codes (and what they mean when a server sends them).

  • 301: Moved permanently 
  • 302: Redirected temporarily
  • 303: Redirected temporarily
  • 307: Redirected temporarily
  • 308: Redirected permanently

301 Redirects (Moved Permanently)

301 redirects to Google that the move is permanent. They are considered the best way to pass link equity for a redirected page. Please keep in mind that page authority diminishes with each 301 so they become less valuable as you redirect more pages.

302 Redirects (Found & Moved Temporarily)

A 302 temporary redirect can still pass page authority but that happens overtime. A good example of a 302 temporary redirect is a website placed on maintenance mode and directs all pages to a temporary page.

Use a 302 temporary redirect when:

  • Your website is undergoing maintenance
  • You have temporarily moved your page to a new URL
  • When you are conducting a test, some kind of an interim test or redesigning a new website design
  • When you intend to just test some changes and bring back your original URL later.

There are other types of HTTP redirects outside the 301 permanent and 302 temporary redirects. In most cases, the 301 and 302 redirects will be sufficient for most redirect purposes.

 

When is it Appropriate to Use Redirects

Here are the likely scenarios that should call the use of a redirect:

  • You have changed a web page URL. For example, you used same content but chose a more appropriate title thus affecting the page URL (that is, moving from URL A to URL B)
  • You deleted a page. When this happens, you should consider a redirect especially if the old page was generating much traffic from organic or external sources.
  • You add category tags or parent pages that affect URLs. These actions can change your URL structure and cause the previous URL to display an error. Such cases could require a redirect.
  • You move your website to a new domain. This is an entire domain redirect. It can be implemented from the server side and may just be the best thing to do when there is a domain change.
  • You’re performing maintenance on a webpage. Setting your website on maintenance mode will automatically redirect all pages. This is a temporary redirect which should not cause any harm and Google sees it as normal.
  • You merge two or more duplicate webpages. Page mergers may require that you redirect all other pages to the destination URL.
  • You migrate your site from HTTP to HTTPS. This affected lots of websites after Google announced that it will mark websites as insecure if they are not on the https mode forcing massive migration to https. When such a move occurs, it is important to do a permanent redirect to avoid browser errors which, of course, cause bad user experience.

There are several ways to implement a redirect. We will now cover the most common and when to use them.

 

How to Implement Redirects

There are basically few ways to set up HTTP redirects

  • Using plugins
  • Through an .htaccess file

You can also set up redirects within your CMS (Content Management Systems). But we will recommend these two ways mentioned above for redirecting effectively.

Setting Up Redirects With Plugins 

If you use WordPress, you can set up redirects with plugins. SEO plugins like Yoast can be very effective in implementing redirects on your website. To get this done, you need to download the plugin, install in and get it activated.

Once it is active, select Redirects under the Yoast menu of the left-hand toolbar (the “SEO” with a “Y” next to it):

Next, choose what type of redirect to set up.

Enter the slug (the part of the URL after “.com”) of the old URL you wish to redirect and the new URL you wish to redirect to. 

Click Add Redirect and your redirect will be live.

Redirect With The .htaccess File

This Is a manual way to implement redirects. The .htaccess file is one small but very powerful file that can influence the behaviour of your website. With this file, you can implement a number of redirects.

First, ensure that you have the .htaccess created in your file manager. It's simple. Just login to the cPanel control panel section of your website if you have a Linux server (these can be found on other types of servers, too. Create a plane file and name it .htaccess.

Beginn by locating the RewriteEngine (which can be found in the mod_rewrite module in Apache). By default, this module is enabled on all Todhost servers. If you have any issues, contact the customer support department of your web hosting company. If it’s not already loaded, you can enable it by pasting this simple code in your .htaccess file:

<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine On
</IfModule>

The redirect rules will be added directly below “RewriteEngine On.”

Redirecting to a Single URL

To redirect one URL, use the code below. Replace /oldpage/ and /newpage/ with the actual slugs of your pages.

Redirect 301 /oldpage/ https://www.example.com/newpage/

Redirect to a Single Folder

To redirect a folder, use the following code and replace “folder” with the folder you’d like to redirect and “location” with where you’d like to redirect the folder.

RewriteRule ^folder/(.*)$ /location/$1 [R=301,NC,L]

Redirect to Another Domain

To redirect to another domain, add the following code:

RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.example.com/$1 [R=301,L]

Redirect Non-www to www

This is important for SEO and to avoid duplicate content issues because Google treats a domain name when it has the www and when it does not use the www as two separate domains.

Add this code to redirect a non-www URL to a www URL:

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^www\. [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.%{HTTP_HOST}/$1 [R=301,L]

Redirect www to Non-www

Conversely, if you don’t want users to access the “www” subdomain, you can add this code:

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www\.(.*)$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://%1/$1 [R=301,L]

Non-www URLs can be useful for direct traffic, as people usually enter in URLs without the “www.” However, keep in mind that you have less control over cookies with the non-www subdomain.

Redirect HTTP to HTTPS

This is also important for SEO. You need to redirect HTTP pages to HTTPS, with this the code:

RewriteCond %{https} off
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://www.example.com/$1 [R=301,L]

You need an SSL certificate to run on the https mode. Most web hosting companies including Todhost provide free SSL certificates. You may however be required to purchase a certificate in some cases and if you do not want to use our free certificate. It should be mentioned that our free SSL certificates are validated.

 

Redirect Best Practices

Here are critical takeaways when redirecting a URL or domain.

1. Redirect to Close Match Content

If you have mistakenly deleted a content and you are unable to retrieve it, you will probably consider redirecting to a related content. That is right. Always redirect to a close match content that offers similar or more value to your visitors.

On the other hand, if you are keen on retrieving your old content, probably because you deleted the content by mistake, you can fall back on the wayback machine and search the archives for the content.

Also keep in mind that redirecting an old URL to a URL that isn’t relevant can lead to a soft 404. A soft 404 happens when the server sends a “200 OK” HTTP status, but Google thinks the page should have returned a 404 error. (200 status codes mean the request was successful according to the server). A soft 404 can happen when your page has no content,(like an empty product category or blog category page), if your page seems unrelated to the redirected page, or if the page displays a 404 message (but still sends to 200 HTTP status).

Technically, a soft 404 isn’t really a status code. It can be better understood as a terminology or description Google uses for pages that show certain characteristics. Google typically will skip over 404 pages but treat soft 404 errors differently so it is advisable to avoid soft 404 errors.

Usually, Google Search Console will notify you of soft 404 errors on your page..

2. Avoid Redirect Chains & Loops

A redirect chain occurs when a redirected URL links to one that further redirects to another URL. It simply means that the redirect further redirects to another URL.

Let’s say that a page’s URL was previously www.yoursite.com/your-company/ (URL A) before it was redirected to www.yoursite.com/about-us/ (URL B). 

If you later redirect the newer URL to www.yoursite.com/about/ (URL C), that would create a redirect chain.

Because now the first URL redirects to the second URL. And the second URL redirects to the third URL.

 

Google can follow up to 10 redirect “loops” without issues. But be careful of making things too complex. Generally, the recommendation is to keep it under 5. But the best practice is to completely avoid it altogether. It is better to redirect to the destination URL at all times.

Redirect chains can delay crawling, cause losses in link equity, and increase page load time. These are things that can affect your SEO and cause bad user experience.

3.Redirect to Avoid Duplicate Content Issues

A definite source of duplicate content is when a website loads both with "www and non www" or loads with HTTP and HTTPS. 

For example, http://example.com and https://example.com will both point to the same domain. 

Search engines view them as separate sites. The same thing goes with using https and http. This is not good for SEO and it is recommended to implement a proper redirect as explained above to avoid duplicate content problems.

Using redirects to duplicate content problems can be useful in the following cases:

  • Non-www and www URLs
  • HTTP and HTTPS URLs
  • Trailing-slash (/) and non-trailing-slash URLs
  • Capitalized and lower-case URLs

SEO audit tools like Semrush audit tool are great and very helpful in detecting and addressing duplicate content issues. There is a free version of the tool which can go a long way to help address this problem.

5. Fix 404s to Regain Lost Link Authority

Addressing broken link issues are very important for SEO. Having a custom 404 error page to help address user experience issues is not enough because Google ignores backlinks that point to a 404 page. The best practice will be to address broken link issues because links are very important and a top ranking factor with Google. That way, you can ensure that the link authority are not completely lost

Final Words

Redirects are important and can sometimes be unavoidable especially when it comes to addressing duplicate content issues like redirecting Non-www and www URLs, HTTP and HTTPS URLs and Trailing-slash (/) and non-trailing-slash URLs. These are fundamental redirects you may just need for your website SEO.

Generally, redirects should not be seen as the best way to handle content errors but they do actually help to improve user experience and retain link authority instead of allowing a 404 broken link error. Redirects will pass authority from the old page to the new page and this is important because Google ignores backlinks when they lead to a 404 page.

That does not mean that we should see redirects as a best practice for SEO. The best thing to do is to avoid those conditions that create redirects.

When a redirect is in place, for 301 permanent redirects, it is recommended that they should be in place for at least one year. That is the advice from Google’s Gary Illyes. Google says it is able to transfer all ranking signals to the new URL within this time. 

When you implement a redirect, do not forget to test its functionality. This you can do by entering the old URL and see if it actually redirects

 

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