The 411 on 301 Redirects

WHAT IS A 301 REDIRECT?

The quickest, least technical way to describe a 301 redirect is a permanent redirect from one URL to another. A 301 redirect differs from a 302 redirect in that a 302 redirect is used as a temporary redirect.

GREAT, SO WHY ARE 301 REDIRECTS IMPORTANT?

To a search engine, “http://example.com” and “http://www.example.com” are not the same thing. As well, “http://www.example.com” and “http://www.example.com/default.aspx” are not the same thing. In fact, a search engine views these multiple access points as entirely separate websites! If you have www and non-www versions of your website, or several homepage URLs, this can lead to duplicate content across sites as well as cause confusion for search engines.

Enter your website into a browser with and without http:// and with and without www, and see what happens. Also, try clicking on the “home” button of your website to see if you’re taken to a page like /index.htm, /index.html, /default.asp, or /default.aspx. If you don’t see that all your traffic is redirecting to a single page, you have a canonicalization issue and likely a duplicate content problem – a big no-no for search engines.

If you have found that you have multiple ways to access your website, this is where a 301 redirect will come to your rescue. Work with your webmaster to identify one of the above URLs as your preferred domain and then set up a 301 redirect from the remaining websites to the preferred domain so that you get full credit for what is on your site. Setting up a 301 redirect will correct these duplicate content, multiple access point issues and clear up confusion for the search engines.

A 301 REDIRECT, AN SEO’S BEST FRIEND

Setting up a 301 redirect is more than just a “cleaning house” issue to keep your website architecture and files in order. The 301 redirect is one of the most important tools available to help your search engine optimization efforts. Why? 301s will help you maintain your existing search engine rankings so you do not lose traffic after the transition to another URL.

Earlier in this post I stated that having duplicate homepages and duplicate content causes confusion for search engines. Here’s a detailed example — imagine 20 other websites were linking to your http://www.example.com website and another 15 websites were linking to your http://www.example.com/default.aspx website. That’s literally what a search engine sees – 20 links to one website and 15 links to another website. If you establish http://www.example.com as your preferred website and implement a 301 redirect telling the search engines to redirect all traffic from http://www.example.com/default.aspx to http://www.example.com, you’ll benefit by having all 35 websites linking to a single website. In fact, Moz.com tells us, “A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect which passes between 90-99% of link juice (ranking power) to the redirected page.”

Another great practice is to set up a canonical link from http://www.example.com/default.aspx citing http://www.example.com as the original source of the content. The combination of setting up 301 redirects and canonical URLs is recommended to provide the best user experience and to resolve duplicate content issues.

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WHEN YOU WOULD NEED A 301 REDIRECT

We already established that 301 redirects could help with your current website if you need to correct multiple access points. In addition, 301 redirects are necessary if you move your website to a new domain or website platform. For instance, if your website is http://www.smithchevy.com and you buy a new domain, http://www.smithfamilychevy.com you will need to implement 301 redirects from your original site to your new domain.

As for switching to a new website platform, when you partner with Dealer Inspire, we’ll take a look at the 100-200 most frequently visited pages on your website and write a 301 redirect from each of your most popular pages to the corresponding pages on your new Dealer Inspire website. Even if you’re not changing domains, the naming conventions of your webpages may change as your new custom website is built on Dealer Inspire’s platform. For instance, http://supercardealer.com/contact.htm will need to redirect to http://supercardealer.com/contact-us. We’ll write 301 redirects for each of your most popular web pages to ensure the link authority you have earned for each webpage gets passed on to your new website.

301 REDIRECTS ARE A CRITICAL STEP IN WEBSITE DEVELOPMENT

If you don’t take the time to implement 301 redirects, and implement them correctly for that matter, that spells a recipe for disaster. Not only can a lack of 301 redirects confuse search engines, but you can also confuse users. If your website was previously indexed in Google and you launch a new website and forget the 301 redirects, a user can still find your old web page in Google’s search engine results pages. If you’re lucky enough to get the user to click, the user will end up with a 404 error or a “Page Not Found” error and there goes your potential lead. Besides delivering a bad user experience, over time you’ll start to notice the organic traffic from search engines start to fall along with the organic rankings you’ve worked so hard to earn.

DON’T IGNORE THE IMPORTANCE OF 301 REDIRECTS

While it’s not necessary for car dealers and website owners to know how to write 301 redirect commands it is important for you to understand how critical 301 redirects can be to your website’s health and your website’s relationship with search engines. Share this post with your website provider or trusted webmaster to make sure you’re in good shape.

Sources / Additional Reading:
http://moz.com/learn/seo/redirection
http://moz.com/learn/seo/canonicalization

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