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The Importance of 301 Redirects for Your Site

As part of our process for launching a client’s site at Walker Sands, we go through an extensive “Go-Live Checklist”. There are a variety of tests we put the site through to make sure nothing is broken and everything is communicating with each other. One of the more important items we test is the 301 redirect list.

At Walker Sands, we make sure we have a list of 301 redirects showing the original page and the new page on the site. Just to give you a quick refresher, a 301 redirect is a specific status code that works like a traffic officer, directing people to the proper spot. 301s are very common and, chances are, you have already gone through a couple today. One of the most common 301s is on the homepage.

Outside of eliminating duplicate content, 301s are also a great way to pass built-up link juice from one page to another. When we do a redesign, we often restructure the site architecture and infrastructure. By doing this, we might decide to remove a variety of product pages and restructure that specific products section. If the old site had quite a few in links to specific product pages, it has built up some SEO link juice and is telling search engines “hey, this information is important”. To help preserve that juice, we will implement a 301 redirect on that page directing them to the new product page. When we do this, we are telling the search engines “hey, this information is still important, but it is actually over here now”. Performing 301 redirects on older pages is a best practice in the SEO world. If, alternatively, you decide to just create a new site and not worry about 301s, you can run into a few problems.

If you decide to not perform 301 redirects, you can run into a few issues.

  1. You are going to be losing all that historic link juice you built up on your old site. This can be hard to build up and should be a point of discussion if you decide not to use a 301 redirect on that page.
  2. Along with losing link juice, you are also creating a bad user experience for previous visitors and referrals to your site. Let’s say you have a great page on some specific product or specific solution and it generates a large amount referral links. If you decide not to 301 that page when you redesign, people who click on that link will automatically 404 on your site. This means, when they click on that link, expecting to learn more about a specific product or solution, they are greeted with “404, this page does not exist”. You could actually be losing out on potential business.

301 redirects are very important, both from a user standpoint, but also from a search engine standpoint. When we redesign a site, or even restructure URLs, we make sure to place a 301 on the old page. We recommend doing the same thing to your site; it is not worth losing potential business or link juice.

We also suggest having a running list of your 301s. We have a proprietary CMS that keeps track of all that, but we understand not everyone has that. One solution is to put your site through a site crawler tool – we suggest Screaming Frog – and see what pages 404 and 301. When looking at the 301s using Screaming Frog, you can determine what the old pages where and where they are directed. When looking at the 404s using Screaming Frog, you can find some opportunity to place 301s on old, unused, pages.

Whenever we create a new site, we make sure we are thinking about 301s. So whether you are redesigning a site, or simply updating URLs, it is important to keep 301s in mind. If you have any experience in 301s and would like to share, feel free to leave a comment below.

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