The internet is full of wonderfully obscure things that only developers know about.
A 301 redirect is one of these things. But if you ever want to change a web address of a web page, you’ll need to know what a 301 redirect is.
What is a 301 redirect?
In a very simplified way, a 301 redirect is a permanent redirect from one web address to another.
If you wanted to change your website from “www.bestwebsite.co.uk/stuff.html” to “www.bestwebsiteever.co.uk/stuff-to-do.html”, you would use a 301 redirect to point the old web address to the new one.
That means anyone who typed in your old web address, or clicked on a link to the old URL, would automatically get sent to your new web address.
You can think about it like a change of address. If you move address, you still want to get any post that gets sent to your old one so you set up a forwarding address.
This way, you get the mail sent to your old address at your new address. This is exactly what a 301 redirect does: it sends all the people that visit your old web address to your new one.
When should you use a 301 redirect?
Besides needing to use a 301 redirect if you ever change your URL address, there is another, more everyday use.
The internet is a strange place. Did you know that “http://bestwebsite.co.uk” and “http://www.bestwebsite.co.uk” are seen by google as two completely different websites? We’re not lying… The “www” website is seen as a completely different site! Even though we humans might consider them the same, they’re actually different and could hypothetically lead to different websites or different content.
So if “http://www.bestwebsite.co.uk” has 5 websites linking to it and “http://bestwebsite.co.uk” also has 5 websites linking to it, the internet views your company as having two websites with only 5 links each.
This is a great way to rank lower in search engines. Google will see www and non-www as two websites and may penalise you for having duplicate content.
By using a 301 redirect, you can send all traffic to the single address, ie, a single website address with 10 links, rather than 2 sites with 5 links.
Why are 301 redirects important?
301 redirects are most important when you update your website, perhaps from an older content management system. For example, if your old website has an address like “www.bestwebsiteever.co.uk/stuff-to-do.html”, but your new website has the equivalent page of “www.bestwebsiteever.co.uk/stuff-to-do”, you will need to setup a 301 redirect.
One reason why you will need a 301 redirect is that Google will have indexed your old page of “/stuff-to-do.html”. So anyone clicking on an old link in the search results will not be able to find the page they want as “/stuff-to-do.html” no longer exists. Instead you would create a 301 redirect from “/stuff-to-do.html” to “www.bestwebsiteever.co.uk/stuff-to-do/”.
Also, next time Google tries to index your old page, it will see the 301 redirect and update it’s search results to the new web address – Great Result!
You may also have inbound links coming from other websites. 301 redirects will sort this out so the user will land on the right page.
301 redirects might seem a bit confusing at first but the job they do is fairly simple. Many web hosting providers will be able to set them up for you, as will your web developer. Of course, you can always take a little time to figure it out yourself.