If you are planning a new website, or making changes to the pages or categories on your site, then you need to implement an effective 301 redirect strategy in order to retain your current rankings.
Using 301 redirects will make sure old pages point to the most relevant new ones.
Although creating a list of 301 redirects is relatively easy, implementing an effective 301 redirect strategy to make sure all you redirects work as intended is much more involved.
Here are eight useful 301 strategy shortcuts that will help you plan and save time when implementing 301 redirects.
1. Plan Your Redirects Before You Launch Your New Site or Make URL Changes
Don’t dice with your rankings by only thinking about redirects after the event. The longer it takes you, or your web developer, to fix those broken pages the more significant the potential drop in traffic. If your pages have been linked to other sites then expect webmasters to remove links pointing to the broken pages on your site
2. Compile a list of Your New and Old URLs
Like all aspects of SEO, a 301 redirect strategy should always start with planning and gathering data. Use tools such as Screaming Frog or Deep Crawl to harvest all the URLs on your old site. If you site has more than 500 pages then you’ll need to purchase a Screaming Frog licence.
Gather a list of the URLs on your new development site. You may need to speak to your web developer to collect this information for you. If this is done manually, they may not spot all the URLs on your new site. Sometimes you can unintentionally end up with lots of additional URLs based on parameters or tags on blogs for example. Try to run a crawl on your test site, so that you can identify all the URLs yourself.
3. Sort Your URLs by Length and By Type in Excel
In Excel, sort your old URLs by length and by URL pattern or type. To count the length of the URL you can use the =LEN(A1) formula and replace A1 with the cell reference of the URL you want to know the length of.
When identifying patterns or types of URL, look for URLs on a specific topic, or with a specific folder on your site. Identify Short Folder URLs.
4. Place your 301 redirects by order of length within your Htaccess file or plugin
Once you know the length of your URLs and have grouped them into patterns or types, you can sort each pattern group by longest URL first and then by URL address. The finished result should be a wide triangle effect with a large base at the top for each category of redirect that you have defined.
The order of the placement of the redirects within a htaccess file on your server will determine the order in which the URLs are executed. Putting the short URLs at the bottom of each category will prevent it triggering before the longer redirects have had the chance to take place.
5. Consider All Versions of Your Site
A website normally has a preferred domain which is either with or without the www. in the address. If you have a secure https site you should also check non secure versions of your URLs.
A secure website could have the following URL versions live if not setup correctly.
You can create 301 rewrite rules to send any pages to the preferred version on your site.
6. Send the 301 Redirects to the Most Appropriate Page
It may be easier to point all old product URLs to the category page but if you have a similar product then mapping your redirect to this page will improve organic performance.
I’ve often seen developers send all 301 redirects to the homepage of a site. This is not a good move.
7. Setup a Test Copy of Your Site
It is a very good idea to set up a test version of your site and check that your 301 redirect rules work as expected. If you get the syntax wrong for your 301 redirects it can stop entire categories from working, or even take down your entire website.
Look out for 301 redirect loops to highlight where one URL redirects from on URL and then onto another. Again Screaming Frog can help with this with the Redirect Chains report.
8. Test After Site Launch or When Changes Are Made
The most important element is to check your redirects both before the changes are made and after they have gone live. Doing this will help you to identify where you have missed either URLs, or where your redirects are not performing as you intended.
A surprising number of website owners are still oblivious to the impact of changing URLs on their site without implementing 301s properly. Make sure you implement a carefully considered 301 redirect strategy to make sure your site is not affected by a drop in traffic caused by changes to URLs.