Whether you’re changing your entire site or simply retiring outdated or unneeded pages, the importance of choosing the correct redirect strategy shouldn’t be underestimated. Imagine you’ve just completed a costly overhaul of your web site. You’ve kept some sections the same but have also opted to change a few file names, add a number of new pages and delete a handful of products, catalogues and old news items. Your new site is fresh, relevant and completely up to date. While you may be happy with the new look, this is potentially the most dangerous time for your fledging new design as you risk losing both site visitors and hard earned rankings if the correct redirects haven’t been implemented.
The majority of sites will harvest their traffic from search engines. So, when visitors find an older page listed in the search engine results and try to visit that destination URL only to find it’s no longer there, what happens? The visitor (potential clients, returning clients and search engines) receive a 404 File Not Found error message. Suddenly your stock with that potential client plummets as they are forced to go back to the search engine and try another listing or manually type in the home page URL based on the address of the missing page.
This damage to a site’s reputation also extends to the standing of the site in the eyes of the search engine. If the spiders try to access a page that has been removed or renamed, information held about that page (including its page rank and position) is lost. This can have a knock on effect on traffic numbers and rankings, ultimately leading to a lower online profile and the loss of years of hard work and marketing budget building prominent positions in the SERPs.
Avoiding both of these worst case scenarios is possible with an effective redirect strategy. Depending on the permanence of the switch, you have a number of redirect options – choosing the most appropriate one for your situation will help you direct visors seamlessly to new pages and retain important page rank and inbound link counts in the eyes of the search engines.
Do you need a permanent redirect? If so, implement a 301 redirect page. This is a page that appears to users as they are transferred from one site to another or, from one page to another. A 301 redirect is the most efficient method of ensuring site visitors arrive at the correct page and the most effective redirect option for SEO purposes.
A 301 redirect is implemented with a .htaccess file. The server side document contains instructions for specific tasks such as IP exclusion, the use of alternate index files, creating custom error pages and changing file extensions. A simple text document, the file can be created in notepad and should include a command similar to ‘redirect 301 /oldsite/oldpage.htm http://www.mynewsite.com/newpage.htm ‘. The file is then saved and uploaded to the server. When the search engine spider next visits the site and accesses the file, it is educated as to the new site structure and which new page replaces which old page.
Do you need a temporary redirect? If so, try a 302 redirect page. This is a temporary solution to shift traffic to a specific new area for a short period of time. It may be used for example if you have a seasonal micro-site only used for the Christmas holiday period; rather than changing your entire site, you would simply redirect incoming traffic to the festive themed micro site using the 302 redirect. When the holidays are over, removing the 302 redirect will channel users straight back through to the main site. Using the 302 code tells the search engines that the move is only temporary and instructs them not to update their index records.