301 Redirects & SEO
Every SEO specialist understands that 301 redirects are required from time to time. But, by slowing page load speed, are they interfering with your other optimization efforts? Or are they sending bots on a merry-go-round to redirects you no longer need?
A few weeks ago I was in a development meeting with a client, and although the meeting wasn’t specifically about search engine optimization, the conversation touched on a few SEO considerations.
This client, a home products firm, is understandably concerned about the speed with which their site loads. Because they have a lot of high-resolution imagery on their site, every effort must be made to reduce load time.
Removing all 301 redirects was one of the planned steps the client wanted to implement to reduce load time. That piqued my interest, so I began to investigate the pros and cons and quickly realized that I had had no idea just how valuable a few necessary redirects were.
I persuaded them to keep all redirects active until a suitable remedy could be implemented. To demonstrate how essential 301 redirects maybe, I obviously needed to gather some statistics. But how would I know which ones needed to be kept?
I wanted a system that would deliver the data in a format that we (the marketers/analysts) could use without stomping on development or IT’s toes.
The obvious choice was Google Analytics. Internal links pointing to obsolete URLs (which had then been 301’ed) and rel=canonicals with 301’ed URLs were hurting the load time of this site. So on I went, working out the answer for the redirect removal conundrum.
Basically, every redirect-related issue that may possibly exist was resolved.
Resolving these issues, we were able to significantly reduce the site’s redirection time.
The development team was ecstatic, the SEO team was ecstatic that our (required) 301s had been preserved, and the client was thrilled with the load time.
4 Ways Redirection Can Hurt SEO
The following are four ways redirection can harm your SEO efforts:
- You have redirect chains, for starters.
- Redirects as a means of internal linking.
- You have a lot of 301s that aren’t necessary.
- You have 301 canonical tags.
First let’s start with a straightforward definition: A redirect chain is a series of URL redirects that force visitors and search engines to wait until there are no more redirects to go through. Consider the following scenario: www.mysite.com/responsive takes you to www.mysite.com/responsive-web-design, which in turn takes you to www.mysite.com/rwd.
Of course, we all know what this means in terms of passing authority. Around 10% of authority is lost for each stage in a redirect chain. However, this significantly increases page load time and lowers the overall quality of your site. So the fact that certain redirection may go through numerous iterations simply to call one URL to the fact that a single-step redirect already has an influence on your load time.
It’s no surprise that 301 redirects build up over time and form chains: you add one, then someone else on your team adds another, and a few months later you add another. Things like this happen.
So, how do you spot these tangles? Fortunately, at Pushleads we have an absurdly simple function in our toolbox that traces down redirect chains and generates reports. Next we’ll talk about how to put it to good use.
Pushleads Site Scan
Pushleads can perform a comprehensive site scan.
Redirect Chains can then be found by going to > Reports > Redirect Chains.
That is all there is to it. Seriously.
This does take some effort to figure out, which ones need to be fixed. ALL of your site’s links are taken into account. This means that if you link to another site and they have a chain, it will also find that.
Social sharing URLs are one of the most popular themes of URL types I’ve seen here; they vary frequently, therefore we’ll just need to filter them out of the report.
Once we’ve completed this, everything should go well, and we can just adjust your 301 redirects to eliminate those extra steps.
Redirects as a Means of Internal Linking
Internal links pointing to URLs that are redirected elsewhere are the second method redirects can harm your SEO efforts.
Follow these simple steps to get a handle on what’s going on with your site:
Download the whole list of your internal links from Google Search Console.
- Click the “Download this Table” button under Search Traffic > Internal Links.
- After that, open the document and attach your domain to the beginning of the URL strings using Excel’s concatenate tool.
- Copy the entire list once you have that column of full URLs.
- Go to “Mode” in the menu bar and select “List.”
- Then click “Paste” and “Upload List.”
Only the URLs from the Internal Link report will be crawled.
- After that, look for any 301s in the status code column.
- If you find any, choose the URL and navigate to the Inlinks tab.
- This will display all of the pages that contain a redirecting URL link.
Once you’ve discovered all of the internal links that are redirecting, compile a list of updates to give to your development team.
You Have a Lot of 301 Redirects That Aren't Necessary
Over time, 301 redirects accumulate on websites, and no one thinks to clean them up. Your load time suffers when your.htaccess file becomes overburdened with redirects. Every time a browser requests a URL, each of those redirects is evaluated to see if the requested URL needs to be routed somewhere else. Your load time will be significantly reduced as a result of this.
But how can you know which of those redirects are necessary?
That’s how: UTM tags.
You may simply detect which 301 redirects are actually used on a frequent basis by attaching UTMs to the resolving URLs of redirects.
Here’s an example of the labeling system I employ:
/new-page?utm medium=301&utm source=direct&utm campaign=/old-page?utm medium=301&utm source=direct&utm campaign=/old-page
Every time someone visits one of your redirects, this will transmit data to Google Analytics, along with the attribution information you’ve included in your UTMs.
Use my tag generator to create a Google Sheet. Go to File > Download As > Microsoft Excel to save it locally (.xlsx).
I see the Source/Medium report in Google Analytics twice a year and apply an in-line filter for 301s.
Simply compare the list of 301s in the.htaccess file to the list of redirects that were triggered from here. Those that weren’t hit should be taken out.
You Have 301 Canonical Tags
This one’s logic is straightforward, as it’s essentially the same as having redirect chains. Canonical tags that refer to redirected URLs should be avoided. Run a crawl and go to the Directives page to find these canonical tags. Copy the “Canonical Link Element 1” column from the “Canonical Link Element 1” column on the right.
Re-crawl in List Mode and look for any that have a 301 Status.
Regaining links via 301 redirects is an added bonus.
If you have a large site, or if the URL structure of your site has changed a few times over the years, there’s a strong chance you’ve got some good links heading to a dead URL.
Run a report in Open Site Explorer to acquire a list of target URLs.
Using the same “Upload List” procedure as before. If the Status Code column contains any errors, 301 redirect the URLs. (First, double-check the numbers and quality of those links.)
Thank you for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this article you may also like: SEO Tips; Understanding XML Sitemaps
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