Managing Redirects the Right Way
When businesses go through site migrations, redirects are an important topic to be discussed. When working with redirects, it is incredibly easy to have things go wrong. However, when done right, they can be of tremendous benefit to the site’s SEO and overall success.
What constitutes a site migration?
Redirect errors will commonly appear in site migration projects. But what is migration? Site migration is in reference to a change of CMS (content management system) platform, and the subsequent change in URL formatting that is a natural result. Let’s say you have some sort of page. For example’s sake, an article on your blog. The URL originally might have been website.com/blog/posts/year/date/post, but after the migration, you’d like to simplify it to just /blog/posts/. This entails quite some work because it is effectively moving everything under /year/date to one grouping. That means a significant amount of URLs will be changed, because of the structure change. In practice, the goal is to make URLs shorter and cleaner, which respectively results in them being more user friendly and eye appealing.
Going off a fairly safe assumption, your site has many pages. But chances are, only a small amount of them are actively ranking in search engine results. The goal is to get as much of or even all of the quality content your site hosts onto search engine rankings. When migrating pages, we focus on strong content that your site actually wants to be ranked. Some of it will most likely be useless and not deserving of having its own page. So, worst comes to worst, some of these “filler” pages that serve no real purpose will be deleted. Other pages can possibly be merged together into one, becoming much more useful as a whole.
Why is this important?
Redirects are important, because they provide a path for users AND for Google to use. A redirect will tell exactly to where a page has been moved to, directly affecting SEO. That’s why it is extremely important to have links be valid. Making sure every link works and goes to the proper destination is of the upmost importance. As well as getting the right page indexed, it will also make customers enjoy their experience and not get upset. Having an unhealthy amount of 404 links will lead to downfall. This also applies to links that lead to the wrong pages, in the end it will just confuse customers and create a lot of work for you to go through.
Depending on the platform, the way redirects are handled will be different. In most cases though, its pretty effortless, and more or less just data entry, that although possibly time consuming, doesn’t take any real skill to cover. However, it is absolutely vital to follow some basic rules in the redirection process, in order to guarantee as little to no problems as possible.
Rules of Redirects
Redirects Must be One-to-One
It’s easy to just take tons of links and redirect them to something like the home page. But that’s lazy and from a search engine standpoint hurts your business. Each link should be 1-1 linked directly to the new location. Otherwise, Google pretty much treats these pages as 404’s, meaning they serve no benefit to your website. So make sure the links are correct, otherwise content is being wasted on nothing.
Don’t Create Chains
A chain is when one page links to another, and then that link redirects to a third, when end all be all it is the same content. Instead, the first link should link to the end destination, saving time and space.
Don’t Create Loops
A loop is when a link redirects back to itself, no matter how many destinations it goes through. For example site 1 > site 2 > site 1 and repeat. This obviously interferes with user experience and creates an all around mess for your site. Make sure to avoid these at all costs when migrating content.
Correctly Manage 404s
The way 404s are managed on your site must be done correctly and strategically. 404s by themselves are a non-issue. Problems arise when you have pages that were previously successful in terms of SEO ranking 404 due to site migration. An example of this is a broken link from a formerly popular page. What happens is, the benefits of that page, such as traffic, links to it, and more, are completely lost. Since Google can’t track down this page, it is treated as if it doesn’t even exist. That’s why it’s important to take note of which pages 404. If the page itself is not beneficial, and you are okay with it dying, then by all means, go ahead and allow it to 404. But if the page had some sort of benefit, then be wary, as 404’ing it will cost your website.
After performing a site migration, it is absolutely vital to correctly handle redirects. Different URL formatting can lead to more traffic as a result of more eye appealing text. However, during the process, remember to follow these rules so as not to lead customers astray and lose the benefit of well ranking pages. One of the other things businesses should absolutely look towards doing is testing their websites as much as possible. Scope out for any 404s or redirect chains, make sure everything is the way it is to be intended. After checking and eliminating any possible errors, your site should be good to go, having successfully survived a migration.