301 redirects are an important part of managing a website—especially if you have a lot of internal pages to manage. They can also make or break your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
But despite their commonness and utility for web management, 301 redirects are frequently misunderstood. What exactly are these redirects, and how should you be using them as part of your SEO strategy?
Let’s start with the basics. What is a 301 redirect?
A 301 redirect is a specific type of redirect; redirects always function by rerouting web traffic from one page to another page. Specifically, 301 redirects are designed to imply a permanent move of content from one page to another.
Why the “301?” What does this number mean? It’s a simple reference to the HTTP status code of the page being redirected. You can review all the HTTP status codes here.
After receiving a client request, the server’s response would look something like this:
HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently
If you’re not familiar with the technical aspects here, it’s best to think of it with an analogy. Let’s say you owned a store in a mall, but you decided to move to a new location in the same mall. A shopper visits your old location, since they don’t know you moved. The 301 redirect is like a sign outside the store that says, “We’re not here anymore. We’ve moved to a new location.” For this analogy to work, the sign also automatically sends the visitor to the new location—so imagine there’s some kind of automatic conveyer belt that leads them there.
In practice, it works something like this: You have a page titled “bee communication” that’s all about how bees communicate. Eventually, you decide to work that into a bigger piece about bee colonies called “bee colonies.” You don’t intend to move the page back, ever. You can set up a 301 redirect so that all would-be visitors to the “communication” page are sent to the “colonies” page instead.
So how do 301 redirects affect SEO?
You’ll find some conflicting theories on this topic within the SEO community, mostly because the SEO influence of 301 redirects has changed slightly.
To understand the relationship between 301 redirects and SEO, you first need to understand how SEO works. SEO is a complex series of strategies that are all designed to help your website rank higher in Google search results. There are many “ranking factors” to consider, but one of the most important is PageRank.
PageRank is an objective evaluation of a website’s trustworthiness, evaluated based on the quantity and quality of links pointing to that site. The more links you have, and the better those links are, the higher your PageRank will be. The higher your PageRank is, the higher you’ll rank in search results.
Prior to 2016, setting up a 301 redirect would cause you to “lose” PageRank from an inbound link that would otherwise generated. In other words, your inbound links would lose ranking power if they were redirected by a 301 redirect. Google was never super clear on this point, but SEO professionals estimated the loss to be around 15 percent.
However, in 2016, Gary Illyes revealed in a tweet that “30x redirects don’t lose PageRank anymore.”
That’s good news. It means that 301 redirects are perfectly fine as far as PageRank is concerned; if you have an inbound link that goes to a nonexistent page of your site, but that page has a 301 redirect that leads to the new page, the new page will receive 100 percent of that PageRank.
Because of this, 301 redirects are a powerful SEO tool. If a page of your site is obsolete, broken, or otherwise “gone,” ordinarily it would simply no longer receive PageRank (and no longer appear in search engine results pages, or SERPs). But with a 301 redirect you can give the page a kind of new life, especially if the page throws off a 404 error.
301 redirects are also useful for resolving canonical issues and improving your SEO potential in other ways.
If you want to use 301 redirects for SEO effectively, these are some of the best strategies to follow:
There are a few different techniques you can use to implement a 301 redirect. However, the easiest and most straightforward way is to edit your website’s .htaccess file.
In the root folder, you should find the .htaccess file. If you don’t, it could mean that your site isn’t running on an Apache web server. Otherwise, it could mean that you don’t have an .htaccess file yet; if this is the case, you can simply create one using a program like Notepad or TextEdit. Just save it as .htaccess instead of .txt.
In the .htaccess, file you’ll add code like this:
Redirect 301 /previous-page.html /new-page.html
Note that if your site is running on Windows/IIS or Nginx, you’ll need to follow a different set of instructions.
If you’re using WordPress or a similar website builder, you may be able to implement 301 redirects even easier with the help of a redirect plugin. With the right plugin, you may be able to simply enter your old page and new page, then set up the redirect automatically.
It’s also possible to set up even bigger, more impactful 301 redirects:
If you’re going to work with 301 redirects to improve your website’s position for SEO, you’ll need to follow some important strategies.
Do you need to set up 301 redirects for your SEO campaign? Or are you need of a more complete overhaul to your existing SEO strategy?
We can help. Contact SEO.co today for a free consultation!