301 Redirects Demystified

Earlier this week, I posted on Facebook that I was, “301 redirecting an entire site, page by page, for a client’s new site…”

Since 301 redirects are part of the TMA+Peritus website launch sequence, I assumed that people would understand my technical jargon, but no.  Questions quickly filled my status, so I thought I would clarify the role of 301 redirects in this post.

What are 301 Redirects?

When you move homes, you go to the post office and fill out a change of address form to ensure your mail follows you to your new address. Essentially a 301 redirect is the ‘change of address’ form for the digital age. The 301 redirect tells both website users and search engines that a webpage’s URL has been permanently moved (or changed) and forwards users to the new location.

If you fail to forward your mail in the analog world, the mail is returned with a label that informs the sender that the post office cannot deliver it. Likewise, if a URL changes on a website and there is no 301 redirect, users will get an error: the URL they have requested is no longer valid. Effectively, this is a very poor user experience.

Worse yet, search engines will assume the page is ‘gone’ and remove the results from the search index. Any search equity on the page is lost.

When should 301 Redirects be used?

There are many examples, but here are a few of the most common:

  1. A new website has been launched on the same domain name, but the URL structure has changed. For example, if an old site was written in .html, but the new site is in .php, every link will be different. Also, changing content management systems generally includes a link structure change.
  2. We’ve seen companies combine several small, product focused sites into a new corporate website. In this case each product site can be redirected to the proper portion of the new site, and the old sites can be eliminated. Transversely, there are times when a product line or company grows to the point where a division or business unit spins off a new site. In this case, 301 redirects are used to ensure the user can access the proper content on the new site.
  3. When a business is sold, merged or has a name change, often there is a new website. Redirecting the old site(s) the new site can retain customers.
  4. Finally, sometimes a better URL becomes available and an entire site is migrated from one URL to another. Redirecting traffic ensures that the transition is seamless.

301 redirect strategies vary for each situation. There are times when all the pages of one site can be redirected to a single page on a new site. On the other end of the spectrum, it can be critical that each page from an old URL be individually redirected to a specific new URL.

At TMA+Peritus, we evaluate the need for 301 redirects for all website projects to ensure users and search engines can transition from the old site to the new site with ease.