Setting Up 301 Redirects The Correct Way
Wednesday, 10 February 2016 | Cate
One of the services we offer when new customers want to move over to Bluepark is 301 redirects. These are pieces of constructed code that will automatically send anyone, including search engines, from the old URLs on their previous site to the new URLs on their Bluepark site. Anyone who is moving website platforms is advised to do this, otherwise the search engine rankings on the old site will be lost and the new site will be seen as a brand new website starting from scratch.
It is also advisable to create 301 redirects if you decide to change the URL of a page on your current site, or if you delete a page and recreate it with the same or very similar content on another URL. You can find out more about why 301 redirects are so crucial to your online shop in our blog post The Importance of 301 Redirects.
However, there are right ways and wrong ways of doing 301 redirects and, as we have seen first hand, doing them the wrong way can have catastrophic effects on your search engine rankings. Don't panic though, just follow our guide below to make sure you do them the correct way and you shouldn't have any problems. To illustrate this we will use a simple men's plain blue t-shirt product page that has discontinued on a site, so the URL no longer exists, as an example.
The Wrong Way of Doing 301 Redirects
From a product to a similar product
When a product no longer exists on a website people are tempted to redirect the URL of this product page to another page, rather than letting it go to 404 page. They may have a similar product, such as a Men's Blue NYC 33 Print Basketball Vest, that may seem obvious to redirect to. Yes, it's blue, but it's not the same product and it doesn't have the same content on it.
For someone looking for a plain blue t-shirt, if they landed on this page via a link on Google that said Men's Plain Blue T-Shirt they would be disappointed and would immediately leave your site to look elsewhere. The more this happens the higher your bounce rate will be for this URL and this can have a negative effect on your ranking. Have a read of SEO Hermit's What Bounce Rate Means for Your SEO Strategy post for more information on this.
From a product to its original category page
It's also tempting to redirect the removed product page URL to its original category page, however, as above you'll find most people are searching for a specific product and will leave the site immediately. Google will also know straight away that the content on the category page is completely different from the content on the original page and will know that it is an incorrect 301.
From a product to the homepage
Redirecting a removed URL to the homepage is a big no no, especially if you're doing it with a lot of products and/or categories. The same as above applies, but also, what you are essentially telling Google is that a large number of URLs have exactly the same page content on them. And what does Google hate most? Duplicate content. Doing this will cause a lot of damage to SEO rankings that will take quite some time to recover from.
The Correct Way of Doing 301 Redirects
There is only one way to do 301 redirects correctly and that is from the Men's Plain Blue T-shirt to the same product, whether it be on a new site or a new URL. This is because a 301 redirect is telling search engines such as Google, and visitors to the site, where this page now resides.
If this product doesn't exist anymore then don't do a 301 redirect, let it go to a 404 page. This is giving the correct message for this product because it is a saying the content of this page does not exist anymore. Google will not penalise you for this and if you don't believe me have a read of their official stance on 404s in their article Do 404s hurt my site?. Just make sure you have a custom 404 page with recommended navigational options on it including a search box.