A technical guide to URL redirects for SEO

Also known as URL forwarding, a URL redirect is a technique you can use in digital marketing to redirect your domain’s visitors to an alternative URL to the one they requested. Redirects are commonly used when a webpage has moved or migrated to a new address and they’re an important part of technical SEO. 

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Why are redirects important for SEO?

Redirects are important in general in digital marketing progression as they mean that you won’t lose the customer base you’ve spent time and effort building up simply by switching to a different web domain.

Typically, a redirect will either be set as Temporary (302, 303, 307, or 308) or Permanent (301). However, there are three main types of redirects.

For SEO specifically, URL redirects allow you to forward authority of any links pointing to a page that has moved or been deleted. This helps to make sure your content continues to adhere to EEAT (Expertise, Experience, Authority).

They also means that you can avoid 404 page not found errors, although these can sometimes be useful if they clearly state what the users need to do in order to find their way back to the home page or to your new landing page.

When to use redirects:

Redirects should be used to make sure that your site isn’t seen as unreliable or neglected by Google crawlers after a site migration. If there is nothing to crawl, your old domain could cause your new site to lose traffic and verifiability.

The main reasons to use a redirect are:

  • An individual page or entire domain has been moved (URL changed).
  • To allow the use of URL shorteners or ‘pretty URLs.’
  • Site migration (e.g., HTTP to HTTPS).

3 Main types of redirects:

Meta Refresh redirects:

This is a client-side redirect. Rather than redirect on the webserver like 301 or 302, a meta fresh redirect instructs the web browser to go to a different web page after a specified time.

You’ll have most likely seen these redirects in the context of a countdown, accompanied by the text “if you are not redirected in five seconds, click here.”

This type of redirect is not usually recommended for SEO because it refreshes the page rather than redirects the user. This can cause problems like losing page rank and traffic, whereas a 301 redirect is more likely to sustain your page’s full link equity (ranking power) to the redirected page.

HTTP redirects

301 redirects title

A 301 redirect would come under the category of a HTTP redirect. This is a more permanent redirect and is, in most cases, the best method for implementing redirects on a website for SEO advantages. A 301 passes all ranking power from the old to the new URL and is most commonly implemented when a page has been moved or removed completely from a website. Google has even stated a preference for HTTP server-side redirects.

Javascript redirects

The other option is a javascript direct, however these are also not often recommended for SEO because they can cause crawling and indexing difficulties. Like the meta-refresh, javascript redirects are also set on the client’s side page and can be used to redirect users to a confirmation page after they submit a form.

What is a HTTP Response Status Code

A HTTP status code is a three digital code that a server uses to respond to a browser’s request. This response is basically a status for the request for a URL.

Alisa Thorley, SEO Executive adds:

“For example, if the request for a URL receives a response code of 200, this means the request has been successful. Another way to think of this is as a Google crawler having to input lots of access requests as it navigates the search engine in order to test the verifiability of web pages and search result.

If the requested page cannot be retrieved, a 404 status code will appear as an error. In order to avoid users being blocked from your website after a site migration, redirects like HTTP response status codes are essential for maintaining good links throughout your SEO strategy.”

So, what is a HTTP Redirect – and why is it the best option for SEO?

The HTTP redirect is a server response to a URL request for a page that no longer exists because it has been removed or moved from that domain, or for some other reason it’s URL has been changed.

illustration for 301 redirect

More than just a traffic diversion sign, these pieces of code offer a lot of information and any of the 3xx status codes indicate that a user is being redirected and that they must carry out additional action in order to complete the request.

Although in general the class of the 3xx status code indicates redirection, there are variations within this coding. The main one you should know about for SEO are 301, 302, 307, and 308.

301 Redirection

This is a permanent redirect that tells clients that a requested page has been permanently moved to a new URL. This is often used to consolidate multiple pages of related or similar information into one in order to improve user experience and boost search engine rankings.

302 Redirection

This is a temporary redirect and is used to divert users to a new location when the usual resource is temporarily unavailable or has been temporarily moved for maintenance. This means that the original site will be back up and running soon but a temporary page is used in the meantime. This allows the user to keep the same URL structure and search engine rankings because the original location may become available again in the future.

307 Redirection

This is another type of temporary redirect. Like the 302, it indicates that a resource has been temporarily moved to a new location. However, a crawler must request the new URL with the same HTTP request used to request the original URL.

In other words, if the crawler requests the page with a GET request (used to fetch data and append parameters in the URL), then the crawler must use a GET request for the new temporary URL and cannot use the POST request (used for updates and sends data securely in the request body).

308 Redirection

Lastly, a 308 redirect is useful when the resource is permanently moved to a new location. Like 301, it moves all of the data to a new URL, however it doesn’t allow the HTTP method to change.

Remain on the map with URL redirects

Whether redirecting users to a permanent new location, or just diverting them temporarily while your site undergoes some maintenance work, URL Redirects are a useful way of letting your customers know that you’re still there for them. Just because your URL has changed, doesn’t mean your customer demographic has to.

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