And to a lesser extent 302 redirects
Danger! Will Robinson!
301 Redirects Rule! Have you ever been to a website or clicked a link and found a message greeting you with a warning that ‘this page can no longer be found’? It can be frustrating, so what if there was something that instantly points you in the direction you’re supposed to be going, without you even noticing something had gone wrong?
This is known as 301 Redirect, and it’s possibly something you have been exposed to several times today without even realising it.
301 Redirects – explain them to me like I’m five years old, please!
The 301 redirect is a method of transferring website visitors from one URL to another.
Sounds interesting; tell me more!
When a page has been moved from one place to another, a 301 Redirect acts as a bridge, taking you from the original page or website (URL) you’ve entered to the target URL you need to be redirected to. It’s so seamless that you barely even notice it until you look at the URL of the page you landed on and notice it’s different to the URL you were expecting.
Let’s look at a real-world example: If you use WordPress, you log into WordPress by going to your domain name and then adding /wp-admin. When you log in, you actually get redirected, 301 Redirected, to wp-login.php. You don’t even see it; it just goes, WHOOSH, and there you are in the right place.
So, that’s what a simple 301 redirect is: Click->Wrong page->Reroute->Correct page. BOOM
301s and 302s, why are there different types of redirects?
Why do we call it a 301 redirect rather than a 302 redirect? Well, that’s because a 301 redirect is a signal to Google, or any other search engine, that a resource is over there, not here like you thought it was, and that it’s going to be over there from now on. It has permanently moved.
A 302 Redirect, on the other hand, is a temporary redirect. A 302 redirect telling search engines and anyone else: “this content that was here is going to be there for a little while, but we might move it back.”
You might not understand why 302 Redirects exist, but it’s worth knowing what they are because using a 302 instead of a 301 is quite a common SEO mistake.
How often will anyone temporarily move a web page? Really? So, just stick with the 301!
Why Is A 301 Redirect Important for SEO?
Okay, all of this is great, but what does it have to do with search engine optimisation and ranking? It’s quite simple: We spend a lot of time and effort with SEO, making sure Google knows where our best content is, and how important and authoritative that content is.
In the natural flow of website management, building websites, writing blog posts and generally going around your business on the web, sometimes pages move. Sometimes, whole sections of websites get shut down. If you want to rank well on Google, but don’t ‘take care of business’ with dead pages/URLs, then you will struggle to meet your SEO goals.
If a page on your website moves, the URL in the address bar changes. Google, for a little while, will still serve that old URL in their search results. However, Google doesn’t like this; it makes them look foolish because people will click links in search results and end up on a ‘404 NOT FOUND’ page. You probably want Google on your side!
Here’s another real-world example: Imagine you’re asking a policeman for directions. You say,
“Excuse me, Mister Policeman, how do I get to the bank?”
The policeman replies,
“Uh, you drive down there for half a mile, turn left, and the bank is on your second left.”
The policeman nods, you go on your way, but when you arrive, you notice that something is amiss! The bank is not where the policeman told you it would be!
You go back to the policeman and say, very politely,
“You pointed me in the wrong direction; the bank is not where you said it would be!”
That’s what a 301 avoids. If when you arrived at the place the bank used to be and saw a sign telling you where the bank had moved to, then that would be a real-world example of a 301 redirect.
What Happens If I Don’t Use a 301 Redirect?
Putting a 301 in place is a way of saying to Google that thing you liked, that page you ranked, it’s just moved now; it’s over there. What happens if you don’t do this, though?
No More Indexing
Your page won’t be indexed anymore, meaning it won’t be shown in any Google results, and that’s bad. Why? Well for one thing it shows Google that you’re not really taking your website seriously. It’s harsh, and it’s a bit of a paraphrase, but it is kind of the truth. If you want to find out if this has already happened then check your reports in Google Search Console.
It’s Poor Form
If you made so much effort to get your website to rank and then you move the page, why wouldn’t you tell google you have moved it? Hitting dead ends when expecting to see pages on your site is terrible for user experience; nobody likes to see a 404 page; it’s impolite and inconvenient.
Implementing a 301 redirect in WordPress
301’s are very, very important. The good news is that redirecting URLs is very easy in WordPress because you can use redirection plugins. If you have Yoast Pro or one of the other SEO plugins on WordPress, you can configure the plugin to automatically create a 301 when you move a page.
Ultimately, there’s really no reason not to use 301s; they are core to good SEO, and they are really important. Once again, they help your audience navigate to your page’s real location permanently.