What we will cover
If you want to know how to redirect a URL to another URL, then your in the right place and how we go about that depends on the system you are using, but first lets go into why it’s important to do this.
This guide sits slightly outside understanding the code of web design, but if you haven’t asked your local agency to set up your site so you can change URLs, you may be in for a charge with every change.
Search Engine Optimisation, indexed by URL
Search engines rank every domain (eg vuonline.co.uk) and every page like this, out of 100, this is called domain rank and page rank. The higher the number the higher the chance you have to appear top. The way it archives that is by the URL.
If you happen to be top of google for a particular search term and it brings you lots of traffic, it would be really daft to change the URL by as little as a letter without a redirect, because to a search engine – the page that ranked top has been deleted and your new page needs to earn its right to the top.
Be wary when optimising pages for a new web term, as general advice is to change the URL to include the keyword, however if you dont redirect the old, whatever hard work that page had done to climb the rankings is now gone.
If you want to know more about this, then drop in on our next Search Engine Optimiation training session.
Or another innocent scenario we’ve seen
A business owner wonders why their competitor’s web page URLs say something like www.goodclothes.com/shoes/ladies/red-shoes while their own looks like someone just closed their eyes and hit a few random keys on their keyboard.
They bring it up with a well-meaning techie pal who tells them all about permalink structures and how they can log into their CMS and update them all to so-called ‘pretty URLs.’
In a rush of excitement, the business owner goes into their website back-end, locates the menu they need, makes a few simple changes and – voila! As if by magic, all of their webpages now look neat, organised and – well, as if they were written by a human being.
But what happened next?
The Curse of the 404 Page
Many people fear the number 13.
Web developers have a far more rational dread of the number 404. This is the HTTP code for a missing page. It shows up when a visitor tells their browser to visit a web page and their browser finds no content when it gets there!
404 errors can occur for many reasons but a classic culprit was outlined in the scenario above. Changing your URL structure after you have created content is a risky strategy especially for very big, well-established sites. This is for four main reasons:
- Any internal links* will now direct browsers to the wrong URL
- Any external links will now direct browsers to the wrong URL (from ads, linked articles, bookmarks, etc.)
- Any printed promotional links will display the wrong URL
- Google bots will visit the wrong URL (and, more to the point, won’t visit the right URL).
In summary, your website is now pretty much broken and any page rank you’ve built up from Google will be slowly draining away.
*Some internal links may be OK. For example, if you change the permalink structure on WordPress, all core menu and sidebar links will be updated automatically.
We have even had clients come to us having undertaken a website process with a competitor, and lost all of their traffic overnight because their URL structured changed with the new system.
301 Redirects to the Rescue
Fortunately, the solution is usually fairly straightforward. The eager business owner above just omitted one small but critical step: setting up 301 redirects on any web pages that had had their URL structure changed.
301 redirects are also known as ‘permanent redirects.’ They tell the visitor’s browser or Google bot that the page that was at that URL can now be found at the new URL.
Instead of seeing the 404 page, the visitor will now instantly arrive at the page they were expecting to see. Meanwhile, Google’s bots will know to transfer all Page Rank (this was confirmed by Google back in 2016) to the new site.
301 redirects should be set up in almost all cases of URL change (with the possible exception of temporary 302 redirects for site maintenance purposes). For example, if you want to optimise some individual URLs at post level (e.g. by adding in important keywords), you will need to set up a 301 redirect for that page.
Manual and Automatic Redirections
You now know what a 301 redirect is and why you should be using them. Now you just need to know how to add them to your site.
Manual 301 redirects require a little bit of technical knowhow and access to the .htaccess file (an important configuration file hosted on your website’s server). As such, you might want to speak to your web host or developer for help.
Worpdress redirection plugin
Another option, especially for WordPress users, is to use a 301 redirect plug-in like redirection. These tend to be free, quick and easy to set up. They are ideal for bulk URL changes as in the example at the beginning of this article.
Be wary of adding any plugin to your website, it can break it, speak to your friendly web agency if you are worried.
Sitempas and other benefits
Oh, and one final thing. When it comes to content structure and URLs it can get very technical, but search engines are trying to understand the flow of your site, so it is a good idea to create and submit a brand new XTML sitemap for your site.
Google will eventually index your new pages but updating your sitemap, ensuring this is in google search console, and requesting they come and recrawl the website should all speed up the process.
If you have come to an digital agency like Vu, it’s likely you have WordPress website and can go about these changes, but if you are thinking about making any changes to your URLs, make sure you understand the above first.
If in any doubt, remember we are a local Devon company that cares about your success, so just give us a call first.
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