Pointing the Way
Building a new website can be a lot like redecorating a room. While you’re removing the furniture, you take a look at all of your stuff, and where you might prefer to store things. Putting all of your cookery books in one place, maybe, finding somewhere to store the jumpers you only wear when it’s freezing cold, organising your DVDs so your favourites are close to hand – the kind of things you do because it’ll make life that little bit easier later on.
So when you launch your new site, you may well have re-named or re-structured parts of your old information. “About us” might have become “Our story”, for example, so the URLs of your pages will have changed. Your users probably won’t notice the difference – but a search engine will. If it checks over your site and suddenly sees that the “About us” page is suddenly ‘missing’, it will penalise your search engine rankings. That’s where 301 redirects come in.
What does a 301 redirect do?
A 301 redirect will send the search engine from the old page name “About us” to the new page “Our story”, and it does it automatically. So if a user comes back to your site and follows a page in their browser history, they won’t suddenly be confronted with an error message that says the page has disappeared, which might make it look like your website is broken. It’s like a yellow diversion route sign – it takes you to the right place through a different set of directions (but far more quickly than any roadworks diversion we’ve ever seen). But though focusing on your users’ experience is importance, the main value of setting up 301 redirects for your website is that they will protect your SEO.
Google actively recommends that you implement 301 redirects for any website pages that have changed name, moved domain or no longer exist. Not only will it help to make the transition seamless, but it will preserve your ranking because Google won’t treat your pages as ‘new’. New pages take longer to rank highly on Google because they have to build up their trustworthiness from scratch. The effect of the 301 redirect is that the new page gets the benefit of all the built-up credit of rankings and trust that the old page had, protecting your site’s position in search engine results.
It’s called a “301 redirect” because 301 is the number of the HTTP status code that means a page has been moved permanently to a different place. There are other codes – 302 and 307 represent temporary redirects – but in general, 301 redirects are the best way to protect your new site’s SEO during the launch process.
How can I tell if I need 301 redirects?
If you’ve changed any of your page names or updated the structure of your site, there’s a good chance you’ll need 301 redirects. Similarly, if you’ve run a lot of events or written a lot of blog posts, and aren’t going to transfer all your past events or updates to the new site, you’ll need to identify which of the older pages have been cached and will need redirecting back to a main events or news page.
There are a two basic ways you can implement a 301 redirect:
- Through your content management system – you should have the ability to manage 301 redirects via your CMS of choice. If it doesn’t, then you should really think about changing your CMS!
- Via code – if you have hundreds of URLs which are similar, it may be worth adding a 301 redirect programmatically. With code, you may even be able to set up a series of rules to calculate the new URL if a page is missing, and set up a 301 redirect on the fly.
If that all sounds too fiddly, or you’re pressed for time, this is something we can do for you. Not only will we take care of the 301 redirects for you, we can design you a bespoke 404 page and FavIcon, which will stamp your personality on those internet necessities.