When moving or replacing a web page from one URL to another, setting up a 301 redirect is important for SEO practice. Biggest reasons why it is important for SEO is because:
- It tells Google (or other search engines) that the URL indexed by search engine has moved to another permanent address.
- Anyone who has clicked on an old URL will get redirected to a new URL.
Overview of 301 redirect
The code “301” means “file moved permanently”.
A 301 redirect is implemented in your .htaccess file. In the .htaccess file, after the code, the URL of the missing or renamed page is noted, followed by a space, then followed by the new location or file name.
A 301 redirect is the most efficient and spider and visitor friendly strategy around for websites.
Why you should consider using 301 redirects when migrating URLs
It’s easy and simple to set up 301 redirects and it should preserve your search engine rankings for that particular page. If you HAVE to change file names or move pages around, it’s the safest option to redirect pages without impacting your page ranking.
A lot of sites lose out on valuable search engine traffic due to incorrectly configuring the redirects. It very important to know that when a search engine comes crawl your website, it is able to follow any redirects you have set up.
Suppose you have a website http://www.xyz.com and you create a redirect such that whenever any visitor types in the URL http://www.xyz.com he is automatically redirected to http://www.xyz.com/abc/, If the Search Engine is not able to follow the redirect it would think that http://www.xyz.com has no contents, http://www.xyz.com would end up ranking very badly in search engines.
Common way to track it through web analytics
I track my 404 error page by adding the google analytics tracking code in it.
I remember at one point, I updated all of my URLs to reflect best SEO practices by replacing URLs that contain “_” to “-“. However, I missed out several pages, so I carefully looked at what pages resulted in 404, and added the new page URL to the 301 redirect.
This is one way you can leverage your analytics and error pages to make sure all of the page requests are redirected to proper page URLs.
How to Double Check, Track, and Optimize 301 Redirects
One of the common things to check what’s working or not is the traffic driven from the 301 redirects. It is quite astonishing to know how many redirects could exist, but people forget to manage because it is so easy to create.
Typically these redirects (e.g. example.com/tv) would take users to a landing page without having to depend on the users to memorize the entire URL string.
You’ll typically find them redirects used on TV ads, prints, radio, etc.
The objective of this article to bring the awareness that redirects could cause various issues including hidden actionable data that you could be missing out. This is a common culprit for big companies where they’re opening redirects left and right, but never manage to close it or redirect it to a new page.
What are the common implications for not managing the redirects correctly?
- If there is no campaign ID assigned to the redirect, you won’t be able to properly assess how much that redirect is driving traffic to your site. It could be tracked under “direct” traffic in the traffic source report.
- It could be leading traffic to 404 error page because landing page has been killed, but redirect continues to drive traffic to a page that no longer exists.
- Routing traffic to another page means you could be losing a lot of opportunities to convert the visitors because the landing page is not optimal.
To understand how much traffic is driven from a particular redirect, make sure have the campaign ID assigned to it.
So make sure in your 301 redirect file, or WP plugin like the Pretty Link, or bit.ly links have the destination page with proper campaign parameters assigned. For google analytics, it would be the utm_ tracking codes. Here is an URL builder page you can leverage: Tool: URL Builder for Google Analytics
Make sure you have your web developers could provide you with the full list, so you can understand what redirects are driving how much traffic and conversions.
Then check the bounce rates and see if the landing pages are still valid. Is it a redirect from old campaign to a landing page that no longer exists? Take to somewhere relevant, and test it if you can if it is driving a significant amount of traffic.
In this redirect optimization plan, the landing page is the key. Since the redirects contributing traffic are driving traffic to your site for reasons.
For example, It could be placed on another sites or blogs, bookmarked, etc. Therefore, directing them to somewhere relevant would be important.
If it was directing traffic to a Product page A under Category page A, you could potentially redirect that traffic to Product B or landing page of Category A, only if that original landing page Product A does not exist anymore.
Another point is, make sure the landing page is specifying canonical link so that the page will not be indexed including the campaign ID. Here is a great article from Google’s blog that describes this; Specify your canonical – by Google Webmaster Central Blog
Optimization does not only happen on creative, landing page doing A/B or MVT tests, but it could be done with significant impact on your bottom-line; by reviewing and taking action on fixing your 301 redirect strategy.