301 redirects are a permanent redirect from one web page to another. The user’s browser will automatically direct the user to the destination page. It also tells search engines that the page has permanently moved to the new URL and therefore not to index the redirected web page.

Why are 301’s useful?

If a page has been moved to another URL simply putting a link on the page to the new URL will not guarantee that the user will click on the link. Instead a 301 will automatically redirect the user’s browser to the new page thus ensuring that they view the content that you want them to. This is especially helpful when a website moves domains entirely but do not

Ever wondered whether you need to add the www. to the beginning of a domain, or the http://? Again, if you do not have a preferred domain (a.k.a a canonical domain) this ambiguity could mean that users visit one of the many variables of a domain/URL. They may also link to the non preferred version which would dilute your link metrics. Adding 301 redirects to the non preferred versions mean that the user always views your canonical URL. For example, our variables are all 301 redirected to the non www. version: weareyellowball.com.

Using 301 redirects, broken links or pages that no longer exist can be redirected to avoid the user being displayed a ‘404 page not found’ error. Plus, they are the most effective way of ensuring that you have canonical URLs/preferred domain.

SEO considerations for 301 redirects

As mentioned above, if the user can view multiple URL versions of the same page they may be linking to versions which you do not want ranking on search engines. 301 redirects not only mean that the user is much more likely to link to the right URL but the search engines will consider all ranking metrics (such as inbound links) on a 301 redirected page to flow directly to your preferred URL. There is much speculation as to if a 301 causes any loss of metrics, but Matt Cutts has openly said that search engines are sophisticated enough to understand 301s and therefore not lose any metrics. Unfortunately there are some prime examples of pages losing significant amounts of ranking after a 301 redirect which either points towards URLs being a significant ranking factor or that Mr. Cutts was in fact not speaking truthfully!

As with most things in SEO, the effects are not instant. It will take some time for Google to crawl the website, recognise the 301 and to place their trust in the new URL. Best practice dictates that you 301 redirect a page to another relevant page. It will also take some time for the search results to switch URLs but if you have done it properly it should just be a waiting game as Google figures out what is happening.

Technical implementation of 301 redirects

A 301 redirect is a HTTPS status code. There are various ways to implement a 301 redirect, depending on whether you are redirecting a www. to a non www. and vice versa, whether you are retaining the filename or changing the filename, using Apache mod_rewrite or not, etc, etc. For more information on the technical implementation please see Moz’s explanation or Search Engine Watch’s guide.

An example from Search Engine Watch’s guide on how to implement a 301 redirect on an Apache server through the .htaccess can be found below.

301 redirecting weareyellowball.com to www.weareyellowball.com

Options +FollowSymLinks

RewriteEngine On

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^weareyellowball\.com$ [NC]

RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.weareyellowball.com/$1

[R=301,L]

And in reverse

Options +FollowSymLinks

RewriteEngine on RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} .

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^weareyellowball\.com

RewriteRule (.*) https://weareyellowball.com/$1

[R=301,L]

WordPress has multiple 301 redirect plug-ins which make it super easy to implement a 301 on a page. We use ‘simple 301 redirects’ which simply involve installing the plug in, adding the page URL which you want redirecting and the destination page. Click save changes and your 301 is applied!