Keeping up with the ever-changing needs of search engine algorithms or website maintenance best practices can be challenging for even seasoned SEOs, developers, and website owners.
One of the most common issues website owners face is redirect chains. Redirect chains are when a URL is sent to a different URL, which is then sent to a 3rd different URL, and so on. Oftentimes, website owners do not know how to properly set up redirects or ignore them as they pile up on top of each other. This can cause ranking penalties which get worse the longer they go ignored, and create a slow and frustrating user experience.
In this blog post, we will discuss what a redirect chain is, whether redirect chains hurt SEO, and how to fix them.
What Are 301 Redirect Chains, and How Do They Happen?
A 301 redirect chain is a string of URLs that are linked together in a sequence or loop. This happens when website owners do not adequately set up redirects that lead to their intended, final destination URL.
Redirect chains signal to the browser that the URL has been moved, and it will direct the browser to the new location. As such, all of the website authority of the previous URL is now transferred to the new URL.
What Redirects Are Used For
While redirect chains can easily happen if webmasters are careless or sloppy, 301 redirects themselves have a lot of advantages. The most common reasons to use them are:
Direct Users to the Main Page
There are a wide variety of website types – seemingly small changes HTTP or HTTPS and WWW. to non-WWW can drastically change what a URL means to a web browser. A redirect will take them to the right website regardless of what a user enters in the web address bar.
For example, if a user types in “HTTP://www.example.com”, a 301 redirect will automatically take them to “HTTPS://example.com”. This is important because it ensures that users always end up on the correct website.
No Duplicate Content
Duplicate pages can only lead to confusion for both your users and the Google search engine bots. As such, website owners will use redirects to direct users to the correct page and avoid any duplicate content issues.
Maintain The Traffic From The Old Website
If you have an established website with traffic and website authority but move to a different domain, you don’t want to lose all the traffic you worked so hard to get for your old website. As such, website owners will use redirects to direct users from the old domain to the new one. This ensures that users are still able to find the content they are looking for, while still keeping the traffic and rankings your old website has.
For example, Hotmail was replaced by Outlook.com, but users were automatically redirected to the new website so that they could still find their email.
Merging Multiple Domains Into One
Having multiple domains can be confusing for users, and it can also lead to duplicate content issues. As such, website owners will use redirects to direct users from multiple domains to one domain. This helps simplify the user experience and avoids any duplicate content issues.
Example of How 301 Redirect Chains Go From URL A -> B -> C
Here’s an example of how a 301 redirect chain can happen:
- A user types in “example.com” into their web browser.
- The web browser sends a request to the server for “example.com”.
- The server responds with a 301 redirect code and directs the web browser to “example.com/index.html”.
- The web browser sends a request to the server for “example.com/index.html”.
- The server responds with a 301 redirect code and directs the web browser to “example.com/home.html”.
- The web browser sends a request to the server for “example.com/home.html”.
- The server responds with a 301 redirect code and directs the web browser to “example.com/”.
- The web browser sends a request to the server for “example.com/”.
- The server responds with the requested webpage.
This is a very long and needlessly drawn-out process. Not only does it take a long time for the user to get to the desired webpage, but it also wastes a lot of resources. In addition, this can result in technical SEO issues which we will explore further.
Difference Between a 301 and 302 Redirect
While both 301 and 302 redirects are popular choices, they differ in their permanence and impact on SEO.
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect, which means that the URL has been moved to a new location permanently. This is the most common type of redirect and is often used when a website owner wants to change their domain name or move their website to a new location.
A 302 redirect is a temporary redirect, which means that the URL has been moved to a new location temporarily. This type of redirect is often used when a website owner wants to do some maintenance on their website or make some changes.
How 301 Redirects Impact SEO
While 301 redirects are a necessary part of owning a website, they can hurt your website’s SEO health if poorly managed or allowed to chain together indefinitely. This is because each time a 301 redirect is set up without removing the intermediary URL, it creates what is called a “redirect chain”. A redirect chain is when there is more than one 301 redirect in a row. For example, if a user types in “example.com” and is redirected to “example.com/index.html” which is then redirected to “example.com/home.html”, this is a redirect chain.
Redirect chains can hurt SEO because they can make it difficult for search engines to index your website, as search engine web crawlers can get lost among your redirect chains and exhaust your budget allocated for crawling. Redirect chains can also slow down your website, which can also impact your SEO because they impact your user metrics.
You have to ensure that your website loads quickly, or you will be penalized by Google. Tools such as Google Page Speed Insights offer valuable insights into the loading speed of your website with actionable tips on how you can improve it.
Before 2016, it was believed that a website would lose Pagerank with each redirect in a chain. However, Google has since stated that this is not the case and that a website will not lose Pagerank with each redirect.
How To Fix Redirect Chains
If you have a redirect chain on your website, there are a few things you can do to fix it.
Remove Unnecessary Redirects
The first step is to always remove any unnecessary redirects. If you have a redirect that is no longer needed, remove it. Once you remove unnecessary redirects within a 301 chain, it will ensure that only one 301 redirect sends visitors from the starting URL to the final destination URL. This will help reduce the redirect chain’s length and make it easier for search engines to index your website.
Screaming Frog Redirect Report
Screaming Frog is a free tool that can be used to check for redirect chains on your website. Enter your website’s URL into the tool and it will crawl your website and generate a report. The report will list all of the redirects on your website and show you if there are any redirect chains. It also lists the statuses of all of the redirects so you can easily identify which ones need to be fixed.
Screaming Frog is a great tool to use if you want to do a quick technical SEO audit of your website. However, it is important to note that it only crawls up to 500 pages for free. If you have a large website, you may need to use an upgraded version to do a complete check.
You also have the option to use one of the many Screaming Frog alternatives to find a technical SEO tool that fits your needs.
Set Up a Redirect In WordPress
Many novice or amateur webmasters are not aware of how to create redirects with WordPress. The plugin, Simple Website Redirect, allows you to set up a redirect in WordPress without having to edit your .htaccess file. This plugin is great because it’s simple and easy to use. Plus, this plugin preserves the URL path and query string so you don’t have to worry about losing any SEO value.
Master Redirects Without Losing SEO
Redirects are a necessary part of owning a website, but they can harm SEO if used improperly. Redirect chains can make it difficult for search engines to index your website and can also slow down your website.
However, there are a few things you can do to fix redirect chains and improve your SEO. If you follow the steps outlined above you can harness the functionality of redirects without jeopardizing your website’s SEO or user experience.