Written by Tiago Silva. Updated on 15, June 2022
A redirect is a way to send traffic from a requested URL to a different one. They are primarily used when a URLs location has changed. This could be because:
When pages are removed, implementing a redirect will prevent 404 HTTP error codes when users and bots try accessing pages that aren't available anymore.
Redirects are essential for SEO as they keep content accessible and help retain link equity from the original page when content moves to a different URL. However, there will be some "decay" to the link equity after every redirect. So, redirect chains will waste link equity.
Using SEOTesting.com you can run time-based SEO tests that will let you know the impact on organic traffic once a redirect has been implemented. Checkout our guide on how to SEO test URL redirects to learn more.
Redirects are powerful but can also harm a website when misused. In this guide, I'll focus on why and when you should use redirects. Follow along the best practices to preserve crawl budget and please the SEO gods.
Redirects are essential when a page moves to another URL. Their purpose is to point users and search engines to the equivalent page at the new location, avoiding 404 errors, and guaranteeing the best user experience.
Besides preventing dead-ends, redirects also preserve SEO value (PageRank, Google Juice, whatever you want to call it :)).
Use redirects when:
If a page’s URL changes it can be considered to have been moved.
You might be changing the logical structure of your website and move pages around so they live in different sub folders.
A page may also have been created with a long URL slug, that you wish to shorten for SEO purposes and to make the URL more user friendly.
In both these cases you will want to setup a redirect from the old URL location to the new one.
Redirects also play a part when you multiple pieces of content that you wish to combine into a single page.
For example if you have 3 blog posts that cover the same topic, you can merge them all together and redirect to a single URL.
When pruning thin content or low-performing pages from the site, it's essential to redirect them to avoid 404 pages. A redirect should go to the most relevant page possible to avoid Google seeing this as a soft-404 because the content isn't related.
If your site runs a temporary offer, has a sales page, or makes use of landing pages, once the offer, sales, or landing page is removed you may want to redirect it to another relevant page.
HTTPS has been a ranking factor since 2014, and at this point, most websites support it as their default protocol. However, websites that default to the HTTPS protocol still need to respond to HTTP requests, and redirect them to HTTPS.
This is because users may type in the URL beginning with HTTP, and other websites linking to the site may use HTTP links.
You might need to move to a different domain when you buy the .com version you have been chasing for the past 5 years.
In this scenario, redirects are handy to permanently redirect all pages from the previous domain to the new one. When done correctly, it minimizes the impact on search results rankings.
Ideally pages should be redirected on a 1 to 1 basis at the website or web server level, rather than using domain forwarding in the domain/DNS settings.
If you buy another related website, you may want to merge it with your existing one. This will mean redirecting URLs from the bought website to your existing domain.
As with a website migration, you will want to do this on a one to one URL basis rather than domain forwarding.
There are two types of redirects: server-side and client-side. These can be temporary or permanent redirections.
This is important because they can have huge differences in indexing and rankings. For this reason, I recommend you be cautious and document what redirects you created and when. This will help you pinpoint any problems that arise because of redirects.
As the name says, these redirects happen on a server level. In practice, when users or Googlebot request a page, the server will return a 3XX HTTP code when there is a redirect for a URL.
A server-side redirect is usually better for SEO as they have fewer drawbacks than client-side redirects.
Client-side redirects happen when the browser is responsible for redirecting traffic. However, these redirects aren't the wisest decision for SEO as Googlebot and browsers might not support them.
When it comes to 307 redirects, Google basically can't see them, as I'll mention later.
This section will focus on redirects for content that has moved permanently from one URL to another. This covers the scenarios where pages are migrated, merged or deleted.
A 301 redirect is a server-side redirect that indicates content has moved permanently. Therefore, users and crawlers trying to access this URL are automatically sent to a different URL than they requested.
The 301 redirects keep most link equity from existing links, which is a massive SEO benefit to using them.
When search engines detect a page with a 301 redirect, they usually remove it from the search results in favor of the new URL. Google recommends keeping redirects active for at least one year to allow their crawlers to see the redirect multiple times.
If you have other websites linking to the old URL it is worth keeping the redirection in place permanently, so users who navigate from the linking website get redirected correctly.
A 308 code is a server-side redirect for when pages move permanently. This is the HTTP 1.1 version successor of a 301 code.
The behavior between 301s and 308s is the same for users and crawlers as they get diverted from one URL into a different one. The main difference is that a 308 doesn't allow changing the code HTTP request method (GET or POST) after the redirect.
Google employees confirmed that they look at 308 redirects in the same way as a 301.
A meta refresh redirect is used to reload the page or send users to a different URL after a defined time. W3C doesn't recommend using this method as not all browsers support it. Instead, Google recommends using a 301 redirect.
John Mueller wrote that Google doesn't "recommend it for 2 reasons: UX (it keeps the page in browser history, afaik) & processing time (we need to parse the page to see it). Once processed, it's just like a redirect".
A crypto redirect is a "last-resort" method when no other redirection option is possible. This type of redirect is nothing more than putting a link and explanation in the body of the page explaining the content moved to another place.
Use this only when content is moved permanently, and you don't have another way to make a redirect.
Now, let's focus on content that moved from one place to another URL for a short period. One of the most popular uses for these redirects is holiday sales.
A 302 redirect is a server-side redirect that means the content has temporarily moved, and you are redirecting users to a different URL.
The difference between a 302 and a 301 is that search engines will keep a page indexed when they find a 302 redirect as this page has only temporarily moved. Therefore, using a 302 redirect is only appropriate if you plan to bring back the old page. For example, you replace a category page with holiday-specific content and bring the regular page back afterward.
302 redirects do not pass SEO value from one page to another. The exception to this rule is if a 302 redirect has been in place for a long time, and Google considers it to be a permanent change (ie a 302 has been used in error, and the redirection should have been a 301). If this happens, Google will pass SEO value from one URL to the other.
A 307 redirect is a temporary redirect. This means the content moved temporarily to another location, similar to the 302.
The 307 HTTP code is the successor of the 302 code, with the major difference being that a 307 doesn't allow changing the code HTTP request method (GET or POST) after the redirect.
Let's finish this guide by focusing on a set of best practices when using HTTP redirects.
Redirects spend crawl budget and increase the load time. These are 2 factors that can hurt your SEO efforts and why you should avoid every redirect possible.
You should still redirect all the HTTP pages to their HTTPS equivalent and use HSTS to guarantee your website is only available through encrypted channels. But other than that, be shrewd and question if your website really needs a redirect when creating a new one.
A redirect chain is when you redirect page A to B, then B redirects to C, and so on. Avoid doing this.
A redirect chain isn't beneficial as they say "this page is a suitable replacement", but that page points to another "suitable replacement".
A better decision would be to point page A and all the pages in the chain into the final destination URL. This will make pages load faster, save crawl budget, and ensure that Googlebot can follow redirects.
Another thing you should avoid is a redirect loop. This would happen if you redirect pages in a chain, and the final page is also a redirect back to the original URL requested.
Redirect loops also occur when a page is accidentally redirected to itself.
Redirection loops are not good. They make pages unavailable for navigation, potentially leading to a drop in rankings, losing link equity, and wasted crawl budget.
Always redirect to relevant pages.
If there is no relevant page to redirect to, consider letting the user see a 404 page.
You can engineer a good 404 page experience by explaining the page (or product on an ecommernce site) no longer exists, and offer the ability to search, navigate back to the homepage, or find other related content.
If you redirect a URL to a non-relevant page, Google may treat it as a soft 404. This will mean SEO value is not transferred to the destination URL.
If you want to test and diagnose redirects, use the tool httpstatus.io.
Web browsers often cache redirects, and so are not always reliable for checking and diagnosing issues.
httpstatus.io will report on HTTP redirects and status codes to help you check redirects are working correctly or troubleshoot any issues.