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UH OH – Where Did My Page Go? What are URL Redirects and Why Do You Need Them?

In this post, we’re getting up close and personal with URL redirects.

URL what? You’ve likely never heard of URL redirects until you started working with a web developer to refresh your website.

If you’ve ever clicked on a link and found yourself magically transported to a different page than you expected, you’ve experienced a URL redirect in action.

But why do YOU need to know about URL redirects? Let’s unpack what URL redirects are, what kinds of URL redirects exist, and why you should care about any of this at all.

What are URL Redirects?

Imagine you’ve moved to a new home.

You’d naturally inform your friends, family, and the post office so that everyone knows where to find you, and your mail reaches the correct address, right?

URL redirects work on a similar principle. They tell web browsers and search engines that the content they’re looking for has moved to a new location. It’s like a digital forwarding address for your website’s pages.

The Tech Stuff Behind URL Redirects

If you’re the kind of person who likes to know the ‘how’ of things, let me explain what’s actually happening when you create a URL redirection.

In simple terms, a URL redirect is like your web page waving a little flag saying, “Hey, I’ve moved! But no worries, I’ll show you the way to my new spot.”

It’s a digital nudge from an old web address to a new one, using some secret, code-like messages known as HTTP status codes.

Without a URL redirect, your users will reach the dreaded 404 page — a big no-no for reasons we’ll discuss later on.

The Redirection Engine Behind the Scenes

When your browser requests a visit to a web page, it sends a little hello to the server where that page lives.

If the page has packed up and moved, the server sends back a secret code (like “301” for a permanent move), along with the new address. Your browser then zips over to the new location so smoothly, you hardly notice!

Still with me? Awesome.

Now that you know how URL redirections work, why are redirects so important to us web developers?

Why URL Redirects are Kind of a Big Deal

URL redirects are crucial for keeping your web experience frustration-free and ensuring your site remains a favorite with search engines like Google. Let’s dig a bit deeper into the reasons why URL redirections matter.

Keeping Links Alive

Think of broken links as roadblocks to a great online journey. Redirects effectively clear these blocks, making sure that the path to the desired content on your website is always open and accessible.

Maintaining SEO Results

Search engines prefer websites that offer a good user experience, and avoiding dead links is a big part of that.

Redirects help preserve the SEO value of a page, even when its URL changes, by telling search engines where the new, relevant content lives. This way, your site doesn’t lose rankings due to missing or moved content.

Improving User Experience

Ever clicked a promising link only to be met with an error page? UGH. It’s so frustrating, right?

Encountering a 404 page might make you leave the site altogether. In fact, according to research, almost 74% of people who reach a 404 error page will leave your website and never return.

Redirects prevent this by ensuring visitors always find what they’re looking for, creating a smoother, more enjoyable web experience.

*Important reminder: Be sure to have a high quality 404 page set up for your visitors if you accidentally forget to redirect a URL or just haven’t had a chance to redirect it yet. Be creative with your language and imagery, and give site visitors options such as a link back to your homepage, a search field, and/or a reminder that your navigation menu is up above. To see examples of informative and creative 404s, visit any of the following websites and add /404 after the URL (or type a slash and any random letters, which will produce the 404 page): friEdTech, Inclusive Schools Network, Art Berman, Exhale Design Co.

Common Reasons You’ll Need URL Redirects

There are plenty of reasons why you might need to implement a URL redirect. Here are a few common scenarios:

When Pages Move Homes

Websites evolve. You might update your site’s structure, resulting in URL changes, or you might merge two similar articles into a more comprehensive guide.

Redirects guide visitors looking for the old pages smoothly to their new locations.

Deleted Content

When a site already exists (especially when it’s a big site that’s been around for a long time), you might delete a bunch of content, but those URLs need to be redirected.

Google Search Console ends up having a lot of 404s that need to be addressed later if we don’t catch these pages when they’re deleted.

The Temporary Detour

Occasionally, a webpage might need a brief hiatus for an update or maintenance. A temporary redirect will act as a polite notice on the original URL, informing visitors of the temporary change and directing them to an alternative page, ensuring the continuity of their experience on your site.

Consolidating Digital Real Estate

If you find yourself with multiple pages covering similar topics, consolidating them to a new URL can improve your site’s organization and SEO. 

Redirects can funnel visitors from the less comprehensive pages to a new, more detailed one, decluttering your content and boosting its visibility.

Decoding the Types of URL Redirects

Not all redirects are created equal. Each type of URL redirect serves a different purpose. Let’s take a look at the main redirect types below.

The Permanent Path: 301 Redirects

A 301 redirect is a firm announcement that your content has permanently moved to a new URL. Also known as a permanent redirect, it’s the digital equivalent of settling into your dream home and letting everyone know this is your forever address, ensuring the SEO value is transferred to your new URL.

The Temporary Route: 302 & 307 Redirects

Temporary redirects, like 302 and 307, are your content’s vacation spots. They indicate a short-term change, useful for when a page is undergoing temporary revisions. It’s like telling your visitors, “We’re just redecorating; we’ll be right back!”

Unlike 301 redirects, a temporary redirect doesn’t pass on the SEO value to the new redirected URL, as they’re just temporary detours.

Special Cases: Meta Refresh & JavaScript Redirects

Meta refresh redirects and JavaScript redirects are the quirky, less common members of the redirect family.

They serve specific purposes, like refreshing a page automatically or redirecting based on certain conditions. Whether it’s a JavaScript redirect or meta refresh redirect, they’re used sparingly due to their potential impact on user experience and SEO.

Best Practices for Seamless URL Redirects

Implementing redirects isn’t always a straightforward or easy process. That’s why I’d always recommend getting a web developer to help you out on this one. If you do choose to implement URL redirects yourself, here are three best practices to keep in mind.

Planning Your Redirect Strategy

Before heading into the big bad world of redirects, take a step back to plan your approach thoughtfully.

Consider the purpose of each redirect and make sure you’re using the appropriate type. This planning phase helps avoid confusion and creates a smooth transition for both users and search engines.

Avoiding Common Mistakes

Common mistakes include creating redirect loops (where a page redirects to another page that redirects back to the original) and redirect chains (where multiple redirects lead from one page to the next). Both can confuse search engines and users, leading to poor experiences and SEO issues – totally not what you want.

Monitoring and Maintenance

After setting up your redirects, keep an eye on them. You’ll want to monitor their performance and impact on your site’s SEO. Tools like Google Search Console can help track how redirects affect your site’s visibility and highlight any issues that need addressing.

You’re All Set and Ready to Redirect, My Friends!

And that’s a wrap! I hope this closer look into URL redirection has helped to remove some of the mystery and made the whole redirect process a lot clearer for you. Could your website use a little TLC?

Exhale Design Co is here to help.

We believe in the beauty of a well-constructed website, where every element, from redirects to responsive design, works flawlessly to create an inviting and efficient online space.

If your website could use a thoughtful touch, from refining the user journey with strategic redirects to a full design overhaul, let’s get planning!

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Stefani Harris

Hey there! I'm Stefani, your website strategist, designer, developer, caretaker, and proud Google nerd. I believe in taking a mindful, holistic, and collaborative approach to accomplish your website and tech-related goals. Click here to learn more about me and Exhale Design Co. I look forward to meeting you and working with you!

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