How to use 301 redirects to boost your organic traffic
here used to be a time when 30x redirects lost PageRank, though this hasn’t been the case since 2016. Whether you’re using a 301 (permanent) redirect or a 302 (temporary) redirect, there are SEO benefits to be had if carried out correctly.
What is a Redirect?
A redirect is a way of sending both your website visitors and search engines to an alternative URL from the one the browser has requested. For example, if you were to try and visit omrishalom.com you’d notice it redirects you to https://www.omrishalom.com/. This is a simple 301 redirect, but did you know you can use 301 redirects to boost your organic traffic? More on that later.
Using 301 Redirects
There are several reasons why you may decide to use 301 redirects. It could be that you have updated your URL’s and you don’t want to lose the authority from your old URLs which are currently gaining organic traffic via search engines, or you might be rebranding and have changed your company name. Using 301 redirects in these cases means that you preserve link juice and don’t have to start all over again.
Pre 2016, carrying out redirects would have lost around 15% PageRank and therefore you would have suffered in terms of your rankings, but as this is no longer the case there’s no reason for not carrying out this search engine optimisation technique to your own benefit.
Aside from non www to www, or http to https, if you’re updating content and don’t intend to use the original URL anymore, use a 301 redirect. It will mean that traffic from external links doesn’t reach a 404 not found page, and it will send a signal to search engines to let them know ‘This URL has permanently moved to this URL’.
Proceed with caution
If you get to the end of this article and think you can influence the search engines, please don’t. Redirects for the purposes of SEO need to be relevant to reap the rewards. Don’t start redirecting pages to non-relevant pages as it will do you no good whatsoever and will be treated as a soft 404 by Google and you will end up losing your rankings and traffic.
What is a soft 404?
In simple terms, a 404 is a not found page. When you type an address into your browser, it’s routed through the internet, converted into an IP address and travels to the server with that IP address. The web server will look for the resource and if it can’t be found, it will send back a 404. The page doesn’t exist. It could be misspelt or it could be a broken link (The URL has been changed or removed and no redirect has been put in place).
A soft 404 isn’t an official response code. It’s a label that Google adds to pages. Google says:
“A soft 404 is a URL that returns a page telling the user that the page does not exist and also a 200-level (success) code. In some cases, it might be a page with little or no content–for example, a sparsely populated or empty page.”
Focus on the last half of their response because using 301 redirects in the wrong way to try and influence your rankings will see Google treating them as a soft 404.
Google’s search algorithms are sophisticated, to say the least. Their search model is based on providing users with a good experience and these days, everything is about search intent. When users search for something, they’re looking for an answer to their query. If they land on a webpage which doesn’t answer that question, it’s not providing them with a good experience. It causes you to receive a high bounce rate, and in turn, you lose your rankings. So, it’s crucial that your webpages provide users with what they are searching for.
Optimising your webpages for search intent is a big topic in itself, so I’ll be covering that in a separate post. For now, the key point to take away is that Google wants to show results that answers the searchers intent so keep this in mind when carrying out 301 redirects.
Using 301 redirects to improve conversions
A more technical aspect of search engine optimisation is analysing and optimising your CTR (Click Through Ratio) and bounce rate.
A Click Through Ratio is one of the hundreds of metrics used by Google to determine your rankings. It’s calculated by dividing the users who clicked on your link by the number of times it received an impression. So, if 10 people searched for ‘SEO Consultant’ and I was on the first page of the results, and only 1 person clicked on my URL, my CTR for that phrase would be 10%.
A bounce rate measures how many people land on one of your webpages, and rather than browsing the site, looks at that one page and then leave the website.
Increasing your CTR and lowering your bounce rate does nothing but good. A higher CTR leads to higher positions within the search results, and a lower bounce rate means that your users are browsing your site rather than leaving, which leads to improved conversions for your business.
A simple way of improving conversions using 301 redirects would be to carry out keyword research to see what users are searching for, keyword difficulty in terms of trying to rank for them and so forth. Rather than guessing this, research goes a long way to improved conversions.
This is one of the many areas I can help with through my SEO consultancy, training or managed services. But for now, let’s move on.
Using 301 redirects to boost your rankings
Depending on what level of technical analysis you’re carrying out, you can use 301 redirects to boost your rankings, traffic and ultimately, your sales. Using 301 redirects for the purposes of SEO can reap big rewards if done correctly.
Let’s assume you’ve got two pages on your website that are performing ok. Not fantastic, just ok. It could be you’ve had your site for years and on your news/blog section, you’ve covered the same topic more than once. From product news to informational pieces, it’s likely you have more than one webpage with similar content.
Let’s assume for example that you have two webpages with similar content. They both get a bit of organic traffic. They may both have some backlinks from external sources. What do you think is going to happen if you consolidate those two pages into a new and improved one?
Ever eaten macaroni on its own? Cheese? Mac and cheese is a much better dish.
If we take these two webpages and merge them into one new page, we’re likely to see much better results for a couple of reasons.
- Remember at the start when I said that PageRank was no longer lost since 2016? This is something that is now in our favour if used correctly. If we take two webpages which both have a small amount of authority and merge them into one new page, we’re also going to merge the authority. As above, remember, the pages need to be relevant to each other.
- We can provide better content to our users by giving them all the information they were looking for in one place.
After creating this new webpage with our fresh updated content, we would simply perform a 301 redirect on both of the old URLs to the new one.
Ideally, you should be carrying out some technical analysis before carrying out this SEO practice. It’s not worth doing this through guesswork alone as you could be taking content that is already performing well and merging it with something else. This doesn’t benefit you.
How to carry out 301 Redirects
Performing 301 redirects is a simple process and I recommend you do this using server-side redirects. You’ll need to first find out if you have an Apache server or an NGINX one. Most people will have an Apache server. If you’re running NGINX or another setup, please speak to your hosts to find the best method for yourself.
Using FTP access, access your websites folder structure and within root look for your htaccess file.
Open your htaccess file in a notepad editor and use the following to redirect a single page from its old location to a new location.
Redirect 301 /oldurl https://www.yoursite.com/newurl
- redirect 301 – informs search engines and browsers that your page has been moved permanently. It’s not expected to return.
- oldurl – provides the old URL location.
- https://www.yoursite.com/newurl – This is the new URL location that you’re redirecting to.
Using 301 redirects to boost your SEO can bring big rewards assuming you’re prepared to put a bit of time in to carry out some analysis first. Just remember to optimise for search intent first.