Tag Archive | "Redirects"

Redirects: One Way to Make or Break Your Site Migration – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by KameronJenkins

Correctly redirecting your URLs is one of the most important things you can do to make a site migration go smoothly, but there are clear processes to follow if you want to get it right. In this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Kameron Jenkins breaks down the rules of redirection for site migrations to make sure your URLs are set up for success.

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Video Transcription

Hey, guys. Welcome to this week’s edition of Whiteboard Friday. My name is Kameron Jenkins, and I work here at Moz. What we’re going to be talking about today is redirects and how they’re one way that you can make or break your site migration. Site migration can mean a lot of different things depending on your context.

Migrations?

I wanted to go over quickly what I mean before we dive into some tips for avoiding redirection errors. When I talk about migration, I’m coming from the experience of these primary activities.

CMS moving/URL format

One example of a migration I might be referring to is maybe we’re taking on a client and they previously used a CMS that had a default kind of URL formatting, and it was dated something.

So it was like /2018/May/ and then the post. Then we’re changing the CMS. We have more flexibility with how our pages, our URLs are structured, so we’re going to move it to just /post or something like that. In that way a lot of URLs are going to be moving around because we’re changing the way that those URLs are structured.

“Keywordy” naming conventions

Another instance is that sometimes we’ll get clients that come to us with kind of dated or keywordy URLs, and we want to change this to be a lot cleaner, shorten them where possible, just make them more human-readable.

An example of that would be maybe the client used URLs like /best-plumber-dallas, and we want to change it to something a little bit cleaner, more natural, and not as keywordy, to just /plumbers or something like that. So that can be another example of lots of URLs moving around if we’re taking over a whole site and we’re kind of wanting to do away with those.

Content overhaul

Another example is if we’re doing a complete content overhaul. Maybe the client comes to us and they say, “Hey, we’ve been writing content and blogging for a really long time, and we’re just not seeing the traffic and the rankings that we want. Can you do a thorough audit of all of our content?” Usually what we notice is that you have maybe even thousands of pages, but four of them are ranking.

So there are a lot of just redundant pages, pages that are thin and would be stronger together, some pages that just don’t really serve a purpose and we want to just let die. So that’s another example where we would be merging URLs, moving pages around, just letting some drop completely. That’s another example of migrating things around that I’m referring to.

Don’t we know this stuff? Yes, but…

That’s what I’m referring to when it comes to migrations. But before we dive in, I kind of wanted to address the fact that like don’t we know this stuff already? I mean I’m talking to SEOs, and we all know or should know the importance of redirection. If there’s not a redirect, there’s no path to follow to tell Google where you’ve moved your page to.

It’s frustrating for users if they click on a link that no longer works, that doesn’t take them to the proper destination. We know it’s important, and we know what it does. It passes link equity. It makes sure people aren’t frustrated. It helps to get the correct page indexed, all of those things. So we know this stuff. But if you’re like me, you’ve also been in those situations where you have to spend entire days fixing 404s to correct traffic loss or whatever after a migration, or you’re fixing 301s that were maybe done but they were sent to all kinds of weird, funky places.

Mistakes still happen even though we know the importance of redirects. So I want to talk about why really quickly.

Unclear ownership

Unclear ownership is something that can happen, especially if you’re on a scrappier team, a smaller team and maybe you don’t handle these things very often enough to have a defined process for this. I’ve been in situations where I assumed the tech was going to do it, and the tech assumed that the project assistant was going to do it.

We’re all kind of pointing fingers at each other with no clear ownership, and then the ball gets dropped because no one really knows whose responsibility it is. So just make sure that you designate someone to do it and that they know and you know that that person is going to be handling it.

Deadlines

Another thing is deadlines. Internal and external deadlines can affect this. So one example that I encountered pretty often is the client would say, “Hey, we really need this project done by next Monday because we’re launching another initiative. We’re doing a TV commercial, and our domain is going to be listed on the TV commercial. So I’d really like this stuff wrapped up when those commercials go live.”

So those kind of external deadlines can affect how quickly we have to work. A lot of times it just gets left by the wayside because it is not a very visible thing. If you don’t know the importance of redirects, you might handle things like content and making sure the buttons all work and the template looks nice and things like that, the visible things. Where people assume that redirects, oh, that’s just a backend thing. We can take care of it later. Unfortunately, redirects usually fall into that category if the person doing it doesn’t really know the importance of it.

Another thing with deadlines is internal deadlines. Sometimes maybe you might have a deadline for a quarterly game or a monthly game. We have to have all of our projects done by this date. The same thing with the deadlines. The redirects are usually unfortunately something that tends to miss the cutoff for those types of things.

Non-SEOs handling the redirection

Then another situation that can cause site migration errors and 404s after moving around is non-SEOs handling this. Now you don’t have to be a really experienced SEO usually to handle these types of things. It depends on your CMS and how complicated is the way that you’re implementing your redirects. But sometimes if it’s easy, if your CMS makes redirection easy, it can be treated as like a data entry-type of job, and it can be delegated to someone who maybe doesn’t know the importance of doing all of them or formatting them properly or directing them to the places that they’re supposed to go.

The rules of redirection for site migrations

Those are all situations that I’ve encountered issues with. So now that we kind of know what I’m talking about with migrations and why they kind of sometimes still happen, I’m going to launch into some rules that will hopefully help prevent site migration errors because of failed redirects.

1. Create one-to-one redirects

Number one, always create one-to-one redirects. This is super important. What I’ve seen sometimes is oh, man, it could save me tons of time if I just use a wildcard and redirect all of these pages to the homepage or to the blog homepage or something like that. But what that tells Google is that Page A has moved to Page B, whereas that’s not the case. You’re not moving all of these pages to the homepage. They haven’t actually moved there. So it’s an irrelevant redirect, and Google has even said, I think, that they treat those essentially as a soft 404. They don’t even count. So make sure you don’t do that. Make sure you’re always linking URL to its new location, one-to-one every single time for every URL that’s moving.

2. Watch out for redirect chains

Two, watch out for chains. I think Google says something oddly specific, like watch out for redirect chains, three, no more than five. Just try to limit it as much as possible. By chains, I mean you have URL A, and then you redirect it to B, and then later you decide to move it to a third location. Instead of doing this and going through a middleman, A to B to C, shorten it if you can. Go straight from the source to the destination, A to C.

3. Watch out for loops

Three, watch out for loops. Similarly what can happen is you redirect position A to URL B to another version C and then back to A. What happens is it’s chasing its tail. It will never resolve, so you’re redirecting it in a loop. So watch out for things like that. One way to check those things I think is a nifty tool, Screaming Frog has a redirect chains report. So you can see if you’re kind of encountering any of those issues after you’ve implemented your redirects.

4. 404 strategically

Number four, 404 strategically. The presence of 404s on your site alone, that is not going to hurt your site’s rankings. It is letting pages die that were ranking and bringing your site traffic that is going to cause issues. Obviously, if a page is 404ing, eventually Google is going to take that out of the index if you don’t redirect it to its new location. If that page was ranking really well, if it was bringing your site traffic, you’re going to lose the benefits of it. If it had links to it, you’re going to lose the benefits of that backlink if it dies.

So if you’re going to 404, just do it strategically. You can let pages die. Like in these situations, maybe you’re just outright deleting a page and it has no new location, nothing relevant to redirect it to. That’s okay. Just know that you’re going to lose any of the benefits that URL was bringing your site.

5. Prioritize “SEO valuable” URLs

Number five, prioritize “SEO valuable” URLs, and I do that because I prefer to obviously redirect everything that you’re moving, everything that’s legitimately moving.

But because of situations like deadlines and things like that, when we’re down to the wire, I think it’s really important to at least have started out with your most important URLs. So those are URLs that are ranking really well, giving you a lot of good traffic, URLs that you’ve earned links to. So those really SEO valuable URLs, if you have a deadline and you don’t get to finish all of your redirects before this project goes live, at least you have those most critical, most important URLs handled first.

Again, obviously, it’s not ideal, I don’t think in my mind, to save any until after the launch. Obviously, I think it’s best to have them all set up by the time it goes live. But if that’s not the case and you’re getting rushed and you have to launch, at least you will have handled the most important URLs for SEO value.

6. Test!

Number six, just to end it off, test. I think it’s super important just to monitor these things, because you could think that you have set these all up right, but maybe there were some formatting errors, or maybe you mistakenly redirected something to the wrong place. It is super important just to test. So what you can do, you can do a site:domain.com and just start clicking on all the results that come up and see if any are redirecting to the wrong place, maybe they’re 404ing.

Just checking all of those indexed URLs to make sure that they’re going to a proper new destination. I think Moz’s Site Crawl is another huge benefit here for testing purposes. What it does, if you have a domain set up or a URL set up in a campaign in Moz Pro, it checks this every week, and you can force another run if you want it to.

But it will scan your site for errors like this, 404s namely. So if there are any issues like that, 500 or 400 type errors, Site Crawl will catch it and notify you. If you’re not managing the domain that you’re working on in a campaign in Moz Pro, there’s on-demand crawl too. So you can run that on any domain that you’re working on to test for things like that.

There are plenty of other ways you can test and find errors. But the most important thing to remember is just to do it, just to test and make sure that even once you’ve implemented these things, that you’re checking and making sure that there are no issues after a launch. I would check right after a launch and then a couple of days later, and then just kind of taper off until you’re absolutely positive that everything has gone smoothly.

So those are my tips, those are my rules for how to implement redirects properly, why you need to, when you need to, and the risks that can happen with that. If you have any tips of your own that you’d like to share, pop them in the comments and share it with all of us in the SEO community. That’s it for this week’s Whiteboard Friday.

Come back again next week for another one. Thanks, everybody.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Here’s How to Keep 301 Redirects from Ruining Your SEO

Posted by LoganRay

[Estimated read time: 7 minutes]

Every SEO knows 301 redirects are necessary from time to time. But are they affecting your other optimization efforts by slowing down page load time? Or are they sending bots on a wild goose chase? How many 301s are out there that you don’t need anymore?

Before I jump into this list, let me take you back to where this started: I was in a development meeting for one of our clients. This meeting had nothing to do with SEO. But, as usual, the discussion quickly sparked a few SEO considerations.

This client, a manufacturer of home goods, is particularly sensitive about the load time of their site, and rightfully so. They’ve got a lot of hi-resolution imagery on their site; therefore, every possible measure to minimize load time must be taken.

One of the proposed initiatives to cut load time was removing all 301 redirects. That got my attention.

There was no way I was going to let that happen. I knew some of their redirects were necessary for — well, scratch that. I wasn’t sure how valuable they were or how many people were hitting them. I had no quantitative data to support my position.

I convinced them to leave all redirects in place until a viable solution was put in place. I obviously needed to collect some data to demonstrate how important 301 redirects can be. But how was I going to identify which ones needed to stay?

I wanted a solution that would provide the data in a format that we (as the marketers/analysts) could easily access without stepping on the toes of development or IT.

Google Analytics was the obvious choice. As I was hashing out the solution for the redirect removal conundrum (details on this in No. 3 below), I noticed several other items that were affecting the load time of this site: internal links pointing to outdated URLs (which had then been 301’ed) and rel=canonicals with 301’ed URLs.

Basically, every redirect-related issue that could exist did.

After fixing these issues, we were able to effectively decrease the redirection time of the site.

The development team was stoked, the SEO team was excited that our (necessary] 301s got to stay, and the client was thrilled with load time.

These changes were put into place between July and August of 2015. I think the results speak for themselves:

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Here are the four ways redirects could be hurting your SEO efforts:

1. You have redirect chains
2. Your internal linking steps through redirects
3. You have unnecessary 301s
4. You have canonical tags that 301

1. You have redirect chains

Let’s start out with a simple definition: A redirect chain is a series of redirects that go from one URL after another, forcing people and search engines to wait until there are no more redirects to step through. Here’s an example: www.mysite.com/responsive redirects to www.mysite.com/responsive-web-design, which then redirects to www.mysite.com/rwd.

Of course, we all know the implication this has on passing authority. For every step in a redirect chain, about 10% of authority is lost. But it’s also important to acknowledge how this would drastically increase page load time and decrease the overall quality of your site. A standard single-step redirect is already having an impact on your load time, then add to that the fact that some redirects may be going through multiple iterations just to call one URL.

It’s no surprise that 301s stack up over time and create these chains: You put in this redirect, your coworker adds another, and a few months later you stack another one on top. These things happen.

So how do you identify these chains? Luckily, our friends at Screaming Frog have built ridiculously simple feature into their tool that tracks down redirect chains and outputs them in a report. Here’s how to use it:

  • Run a full site crawl with Screaming Frog
  • Go to > Reports > Redirect Chains

574dc5d6ca6969.81355642.jpg

That’s it. Seriously.

Analyzing which ones you need to fix is slightly more involved than pulling the report. The only thing that makes this more difficult is the fact that ALL of the links on your site are factored in. This means that if you link out to another site and they’ve got a chain in place, it finds that as well (see red highlighting in the screenshot below). One of the common themes of URL types I’ve seen here is social sharing URLs; they change frequently, so they’ll need to be filtered out of the report. In column B, identify your own domain (see green highlighting) and remove all the other rows.

574dc5d7374d19.24218699.jpg

Once this is done, it’s pretty smooth sailing and you can update your 301 redirects to remove those unnecessary steps. Don’t send them to your dev or IT team yet, though. Keep reading for more useful nuggets.

2. Your internal linking steps through redirects

The second way redirects could be hurting your SEO efforts is via internal links pointing to URLs that are redirected elsewhere.

To get a handle on what’s going on with your site, follow these simple tips:

  • Visit the Google Search Console and download the full list of your internal links.
  • Go to Search Traffic > Internal Links and click the “Download this Table” button. Once you’ve done that, open the doc and use the concatenate function in Excel to append your domain to the beginning of those URL strings.

Once you have that column of your full URLs, copy the whole list. Here’s how to use that clipboard info to populate a crawl in Screaming Frog:

  • In the menu bar, go to “Mode” and change it to “List.” Then, click “Upload List” and “Paste.” This will run a crawl of only the URLs from the Internal Link report.
  • Once complete, check the status code column for any 301s. If you see any, select that URL and go to the Inlinks tab in the lower left of Screaming Frog. This will show you all the pages that contain a link to that redirecting URL.

574dc5d79c5ed8.34090099.jpg

Once you’ve identified all redirecting internal links, get your list together for updates to send over to your development team.

3. You have unnecessary 301 redirects

Websites tend to collect 301 redirects over the years, and no one really thinks to clean them up. When your .htaccess file starts to run deep with redirects, your load time suffers. Each time a URL is called by a browser, every single one of those redirects is checked to see if the requested URL needs to be sent elsewhere. The absolutely kills your load time.

But how do you identify which of those redirects are actually needed? UTM tags, that’s how.

By appending UTMs to the resolving URLs of redirects, you can easily identify which 301 redirects are actually used on a regular basis.

Here’s an example of the tagging methodology I use:

/old-page >>> /new-page?utm_medium=301&utm_source=direct&utm_campaign=/old-page

This will send data to Google Analytics every time someone hits one of your redirects and give it the attribution information you’ve included in your UTMs.

Download a Google Sheet with my tag generator. To save it locally, go to File > Download As > Microsoft Excel (.xlsx).

Twice a year, I’ll go into Google Analytics and view the Source/Medium Report and apply an in-line filter for 301s.

From here, simply pull a list of redirects that were triggered and compare that to the list of 301s in the .htaccess file. Any that weren’t hit should get removed.

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Side note: If you run an e-commerce site, you can demonstrate the importance of 301 redirects by showing how much revenue was saved by having redirects in place.

4. You have canonical tags that 301

The logic behind this one requires little explanation, as it’s basically the same as having redirect chains. You don’t want to have canonical tags that point to redirected URLs. To identify these canonical tags, run your Screaming Frog crawl and go to the Directives tab. Scroll to the right to find the “Canonical Link Element 1″ column and copy the list.

Re-crawl using List Mode and find any that have a Status of 301.

33fkRHg.jpg

Bonus: Regaining links via 301s

If you have a large site, or your site has had a few URL structural changes over the years, chances are pretty good you’ve got some decent links pointing to a dead URL.

Run an Open Site Explorer report and grab the list of target URLs.

Drop that list into Screaming Frog using the same “Upload List” method described above. If you see any errors in the Status Code column, 301 redirect the URLs. (Make certain to check the stats and quality of those links first.)

Join in the conversation below if you have other redirect-related issues to add to this list, or other methods for identifying and troubleshooting these problems.

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