Are you on the team “always redirect” or team “only redirect if you need to?” Learn the what, why, when, where, and how of redirecting a web page.
What is a web page redirect?
A redirect is a change of address card for the internet. It tells the interwebs that the URL they were looking for isn’t there anymore, and they should go to a different URL instead.
Why are redirects important to SEO?
Not having a redirect is like showing up at a friend’s house for a party only to find out they have moved.
And that’s not cool.
The searcher will get a 404 error page saying the link is broken. And most likely will return to the search results page to choose another site.
What does Google think about all this?
Google doesn’t care when it gets a 404 error. It is just a signal to them that the content is gone.
However, if you get a lot of traffic to broken links that get a LOT of traffic, Google may get tired of finding broken links and stop indexing your site. Then your rank may drop.
When should you redirect a web page?
Here’s where things get sticky.
Some SEO people say that you should redirect every post, page, category, tag, etc. that you delete.
A few years ago, I was one of those people. Then a fellow Blogger/SEO Geek explained that not all situations need a redirect.
I now believe that the “always redirect” approach is based on outdated SEO information that includes the erroneous belief that Google penalizes sites for 404 errors.
Team always use a redirect
If you redirect everything, you reduce the risk of broken links and 404 errors.
However, setting up redirects takes a long time and is not without risk.
- Redirects aren’t always as simple as redirecting Post A to Post B.
What if you decide later to redirect Post B to Post C? Post A now redirects to Post B, which then redirects to Post C, setting up a redirect chain.
What you should do is go back and change the original redirect, so Post A goes directly to Post C.
But let’s be honest. The chances are low that you will remember that you made the original redirect and need to go back and fix it.
- Google only follows five redirects in a chain, so you want to avoid redirecting to a redirect to a redirect, etc..
Five redirects may seem like a lot, but keep in mind that you already have at least one redirect on your site to move from HTTP to HTTPS.
If you ever rebranded and changed your URL, that adds at least one more redirect to the chain. It doesn’t take long to end up with more than five redirects in a string.
- Plugins don’t come with a lifetime guarantee. Especially ones that are free.
The developer may decide to stop updating the plugin, and eventually, it won’t work with the current version of WordPress. If that happens, all the redirects you put in place will be gone. (Keep reading to find out why a plugin might not be the best place to put a redirect.)
Team only redirect if you need to
The “redirect if you need to” approach believes that if a post doesn’t get traffic, it is a waste of time to set up a redirect. If no one goes to the URL, there won’t be any 404 errors to cause concern.
I do recommend setting up a redirect if:
- The post can be redirected to a relevant post. For example, redirecting the Best Pumpkin Picking post from the last five years to the current Best Pumpkin Picking post
- The post gets traffic (find this in your Google Analytics)
- The post has a ranking keyword. Even if the post isn’t getting traffic, it is on Google’s radar. The potential is there for the post to rise in rank and get future traffic.
- It has current backlinks from good sources. (Although I would argue that the post will be in the “getting traffic” group if the backlink is helpful.)
- You decide to delete the post even if it has traffic, ranking keywords, and backlinks. In this case, redirect the post to a custom 404 page that tells the reader that the content no longer exists.
If you choose to delete content without setting up a redirect, you should find and fix any broken internal links that may appear on your site.
Where do you set up a redirect?
In the htaccess file
The best place for redirects is in your site’s htaccess file in the back- backend of your website. You can find the htaccess file by using cPanel to access the file manager in your blog hosting account.
This is NOT how most bloggers set up their redirects. Instead, they use a plugin.
There are multiple plugins available to set up redirects. Yoast Premium has an additional cost but will prompt you to set up a redirect if you delete a post. Free plugins include Redirection and Simple 301 Redirects.
I use Simple 301 Redirects since I don’t have Yoast Premium. But they all do the same thing, so there isn’t a plugin I prefer or recommend over others.
How do you set up a redirect?
All the redirection plugins work the same way.
First, you enter the slug you are redirecting. The slug is the part of the URL that doesn’t include your website information. It makes sense that you can’t enter the entire URL you want to redirect because you would be able to redirect content from other websites to your site.
Next, you enter the URL of the new location.
Redirection step-by-step guide
Here is my process for setting up a redirect that minimizes the chances of mistakes.
- Create and save the new blog post, so you will have the destination URL
- Open three tabs on your computer – the old blog post, the new blog post, and the redirection plugin.
- Copy the slug from the old blog post and paste it into the redirection plugin. I like to copy and paste rather than typing in the slug, so I don’t accidentally misspell anything.
- Copy the URL of the destination URL and paste it into the redirection plugin.
- Click Save in the redirection plugin.
- Refresh the page of the old blog post. It should redirect to the new page. If it doesn’t, you may have mistyped the URL in the plugin.
- The old blog post will remain available until you choose to delete it. However, the only way to access it will be through All Posts in the WordPress Dashboard.
Redirect or no? The choice is up to you
It is your blog, and you are the one assuming any risk in redirecting or not redirecting a post. So, I encourage you to research your options and make an informed decision that is best for you.