Do you absolutely hate it when a road you regularly use for your commute was suddenly closed without prior warning and you’re forced to make a detour and deal with bad traffic? I had this happened to me once that turned a 30-minute drive into a 90-minute drive. Needless to say, I was definitely not a happy man when I arrived home. Still, that is actually preferable compared to this one time I wound up at a dead end and had to make a u-turn and find another way around.
This concept of rerouting isn’t just limited to the physical space; a similar concept also exists in the world of web development in the form of redirects. A website is rarely a static beast, news pages are constantly being added and sometimes, the old ones got taken down or moved to a new address. It’s the latter point that could cause an issue if the page that was taken down or moved was linked from another page. This is particularly important to SEO services and marketers as broken links can result in the loss of PageRank.
Redirects and the various types of redirects available
I used to get kick out of The Amazing Race when I was still in school and with a lot of free time. In that game, the challenges are named after common road elements, such as Detour, Roadblock and U-Turn. The concept of website redirects also follows the same line of thinking in that there are a number of redirects that are commonly seen. Understanding which type of redirect to use and which type to avoid is important because as has been stated before, your website’s PageRank is on the line.
There’s the HTML redirects and then there’s the HTTP redirects in the form of 301, 302 and 404. If you’ve been snooping around the internet long enough, you’ve probably seen the 404 error message at least once and as you might’ve probably guessed, a 404 redirect is not a good thing for both the user and the website’s PageRank. The other examples are more subtle and can go unnoticed and in the following, we’ll dive deeper into them and how redirects should be used in regards to their impact on SEO.
301 and 302 redirects are the way to go
Both 301 and 302 redirects are a type of HTTP redirects that indicate that a page has been moved. 301 redirect is for when the page has been moved permanently while 302 is for when the page is unavailable temporarily. If you’ve moved to a completely new domain or a certain section of your website has been permanently taken down, 301 redirect is the one you should use but if you’re doing some work only on certain sections of your website, the 302 redirect is the one to go.
301 redirects have a variety of uses. For example, if you’re running a limited time promotion on your website and have dedicated a section for this promotion, you could use a 301 redirect so that even when the promotion is over and the section has been taken down, visitors trying to reach you could be redirected to the main page instead of being served by a 404 error. 301 and 302 redirects don’t carry any penalty whatsoever in terms of SEO so feel free to use them whenever necessary.
404 errors, colloquially known as broken links, should always be remedied
If your website’s been around for a while, it’s likely that it has been through some structural changes from the day it was first launched until now and it’s quite probable that some of your old pages could no longer be found in their original place. Normally, whenever you’ve done some major work on your website, your web developers should always make sure that old URLs have been properly redirected but every now and then, some pages fall through the crack and visitors are greeted with 404 errors.
There are a lot of tools you could use to check for 404 errors. The Google Search Console for example is capable of this and you could also use the plethora of web crawler tools available online for the same purpose. If there are any external links that returns a 404 error, you might want to fix them as well. However, just to be on the safe side, you also want to create a custom 404 error page so that even if visitors stumbled across a broken link on your website, they could still navigate to other sections of your website.
Beware of HTML redirects and redirect chains
Unlike HTTP redirects which works before the page is loaded, HTML redirects works by sending visitors to a new page seconds after the actual page is loaded. HTML redirects isn’t subtle as visitors are usually given a message that the page has been moved and they’re being redirected. This is not a good idea because if said visitor wanted to go back to the previous page by clicking on the back button of their browser, they would be taken back to the redirecting page and would be stuck in a loop.
Another redirect that should be avoided is the redirect chain, which is exactly what it sounds like. A redirect chain is a situation in which a user is bounced from one page to another and to another until said user arrives at their intended destination. This is quite detrimental to SEO since redirect chains can potentially mess up with link authority and can increase loading time since there are more doors to open. Redirect chains are usually HTTP redirects and users usually have no idea what’s happening in their background.