301 Redirect Best Practices

The theory of 301 redirects is often overblown in the Internet-verse, and most website owners tend to get confused or think otherwise when it comes to 301 applications on their websites. So, the purpose of this article is to simplify the concept and break it into easily digestible bit sizes that clear all your confusions and put you on the right path to 301 redirects, of course.

What is a 301 Redirect?

In layman’s terminology - “A 301 Redirect is a permanent redirect from URL A to URL B without loosing content granularity”

Putting it more scientifically and ethically – “A 301 is an important tool that is used by webmasters to maintain a consistent performance amongst searching engines and users by “redirecting” them to the most relevant pages in case the original page has either been:

1. Moved, to a new location,
2. Updated with more information.

For example:

If you wanted to redirect www.domain.com/book to www.domain.com/newbook, we would need to do a permanent 301 redirect to www.domain.com/book and divert it to the new domain. Once you have successfully done a redirect, a user visiting the /book domain would be redirected to the /newbook domain.

How do search engine crawlers react to 301 redirects?

When a search engine crawler (like Google Bot) encounters a 301 redirect during a website crawl, it understands that the old URL has to be removed from their index and be replaced with the new URL in the search engine index.

What happens when you move or remove a page and forget to 301 Redirect it?

In such an incident, the search engines will be redirected to a 404 Not Found Error page – which will result in the de-indexation of the page over time if relevant changes are not made to it.

WWW and Non-WWW Domains

Note: Even though in 99.9% cases the www and non-www versions of a website take users to the same place, technically they are two different URLs and can be used to show two totally different pages?

When you are registering for a domain you always register the non-www version, this is because the www version is treated like any other subdomain. For example – shop.domain.com.

Have you heard of Canonicalization?

Most of you must have heard about it somewhere or the other. When a user has two different domains pointing to the same place, Google uses the process of Canonicalization to choose, which URL it finds more relative and index it unless otherwise specified by the webmaster. Canonical URLs have their advantage, but that’s a different story altogether.

Take a moment to digest the information above and shoot your questions if any, in the comments section below.

Moving on to - HOW not to Screw up your 301 -

To redirect one URL to the other, there are several ways to do it. If you’re running apache server than you can simply make some redirection rules in .htaccess. Make sure to triple check the file before saving, as the improper configuration of the .htaccess file and adversely affect the performance of your website, or lead to search engine crawlers being unable to crawl your website.

Options +FollowSymLinks
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} www.domain.com/book [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.domain.com/booknew/$1

If you’re using another server, you may need to create different rules. You should also make sure that you’re not looping the redirection or making more than 2-3 redirections as after 2-3 redirections it could affect adversely on search engines.

Does 301 Redirection Result in Loss in 15% of Link Juice?

Many SEOs tend to believe that 301 redirects make you lose 15% of link juice, as has been declared by Matt Cutts in a video.  

But then again – If you have followed some leading SEOs, you would be well acquainted with the fact how his disclaimers about search engines’ policies are always pretty vague and obscure.

Another 301 Redirect Myth Debunked ~

Some SEOs claim that using a rel=canonical tag is better than using the 301 Redirect, because it avoids making the search engines and browsers do the extra effort of taking multiple trips. But, that’s totally wrong.

There is nothing like that and Search engines and browsers know how to deal with 301 redirects without reducing any performance at all.

So in conclusion, we can say that using 301s are perfectly alright, and they are the easiest way to redirect otherwise updated or moved URLs, by retaining all the link juice and organic rankings.