Redirects Explained

Redirection is a primary utility in the website owner’s toolbox. This simple, SEO-friendly coding function automatically forwards a URL to another location. Redirections are a necessary technique in web design, but they must be implemented correctly to avoid losing the hard-won SEO value of our links.

With properly applied redirections, you can optimize your website design effectiveness and improve user experience on your site. You can reroute pages you have moved without losing link equity, and reduce the risk of visitors running into the unprofessional-looking “404 Not Found” message.

Though redirections are a powerful and necessary tool, they aren’t difficult to use. In this article, we’ll explain how redirections work and when to use them.

The Purpose of Redirection

Redirection is a website coding method that automatically reroutes users and search engines from one URL to another. This functionality uses a subset of defined codes built into the internet protocol which communicate with servers about your website. Though common, redirections happen behind the scenes–most users are unaware they exist.

There are many reasons for changing a URL. You may be removing unwanted content, changing a category or date, making tests, or migrating to another domain. In each case, a simple redirection preserves link value and gives your visitors a better experience.

301 vs 302 Redirects

There are two primary redirections, known by their HTTP status codes as 301 and 302. There are many other codes–including the dreaded 404–but 301 vs 302 redirect is the most important and commonly used for redirections.

301 Permanent Redirect

301 is the code for a permanent redirection of a URL. This is the most typical redirect: it preserves 90-99% of the original link equity and applies it to the new location. For a standard redirect, the 301 is usually the best choice for SEO.

When users enter the URL of a 301-redirected webpage into their browser, they are automatically forwarded to the content’s new address. One common example is when moving from http: to the encrypted https: protocol. A 301 redirect can seamlessly transfer the outdated URLs without interrupting visitors or losing previously acquired link value.

302 Temporary Redirect

Though originally meant to indicate an incorrect URL, the 302 code has become the accepted way to announce a temporary URL change. It is placed on content that has been moved only for an indeterminate time, or is temporarily unavailable … for this reason, the original page’s SEO rank is not transferred.

As with a 301 redirect, visitors will be automatically rerouted to the temporary URL. However, because the 302 redirect indicates a temporary change, the link’s search index is not updated or saved. Because the destination URL is expected to change in the future, users are encouraged to continue to use the original address rather than update to the temporary link.

Though a search engine will use the temporary URL when crawling a site, it still considers the older, original link to be the real version. This is the reason it is usually recommended to use a 301 code for SEO purposes: the link equity doesn’t transfer when using a temporary 302 redirect.

Other Redirection Methods

There are a few additional redirection methods for special circumstances.

  • Meta Refresh This redirect is executed locally using browser-level redirection rather than a server. This is a slower method that generally causes some visitor interruption, and often comes with a message (“If you are not redirected in 5 seconds…”). Meta Refreshes pass on diminished link equity and are not usually recommended due to SEO impact.
  • 307 Temporary This code was developed for security to ensure the request method is not changed, as it can be under a 302 redirection.
  • 308 Permanent Similarly, a 308 redirection is a permanent URL change that does not allow any change in the request method.

Summary

Redirection is a basic tool of SEO and website management, and its importance is hard to overstate. With proper redirection you can invisibly manage site changes without bothering visitors or losing your search engine authority. It’s a simple solution to what could be a headache—or worse.