How frustrating is it when you click on a link only to find that you can’t access what you were looking for?
Maybe the page is serving a 404 error and letting you know the page can’t be found or no longer exists. Maybe the page loads to something completely different than what you were expecting. Or, perhaps, the page takes too long to load or it times out and doesn’t load at all.
All of these situations keep you from finding what you need and, oftentimes, it leaves you with a negative impression of the website you were trying to reach.
Your website visitors will feel the same way if they have a similar experience on your website.
Redirects can help.
When used correctly, redirects can help website visitors find what they need even if they’ve arrived at your site through a URL that has changed or doesn’t exist anymore.
But, it’s important for them to be used properly and implemented correctly. Mistakes with redirects are common and they can cause a lot of frustration for your website visitors.
Here are a few common redirect mistakes to avoid:
Mistake #1 – Using the Wrong Type of Redirect
A redirect is often the perfect solution for directing an outdated or removed URL to a new one and there are a few different types of redirects to use. It’s important to use the right one, especially in order to gain the most SEO benefit from them.
301 and 302 Redirects
The two most common types of redirects are 301 and 302 redirects. Generally, a 301 indicates the page has been permanently moved to the new URL while a 302 indicates a temporary move and that the original page will be back soon.
As such, a 301 passes more authority from the old URL to the new URL. Properly using 301 redirects when updating URL structure, building a new site, etc. ensures that the authority, traffic, and visibility your old pages have gained transfers to the new URLs. It may not be a full transfer, but it’s certainly better than losing everything and having to start over.
A 302 redirect does not pass the same authority and using it when you should be using a 301 can result in lost visibility, lost authority, and decreases in traffic.
404 Not Found
A 404 is a page that is “not found”. From a server and search engine perspective, that URL doesn’t exist anymore because they couldn’t “find” it, but it could exist again. A 410 code is similar in that the URL doesn’t exist anymore, but it also tells search engines that it has permanently been deleted and will never exist again.
In general, you want to try to avoid having too many 400 “errors” on your site as they can seriously disrupt the user flow, which can hinder or damage your user experience as well as your ongoing SEO and marketing efforts.
Don’t Redirect to Irrelevant Content
The general best practice is to 301 redirect any URLs serving a 400 status code to the next most relevant content.
But, you may have a case where there isn’t a page even remotely relevant to the URL you need to redirect. In this case, your choice is to remove it and not add a redirect, which will cause it to 404.
Or, you can create a page with relevant content that would make sense for the redirect. However, this option only makes sense if it’s useful to your site visitors.
If it won’t be useful, then it makes more sense to let it 404. The last thing you want to do is redirect the page to something completely irrelevant as this just causes confusion and will likely result in a user leaving your site.
Although 404 pages do disrupt a user’s journey on your website, you can create a custom 404 page that keeps them engaged and helps them find what they need. Sometimes, this is a better solution than just redirecting to the homepage or another broad page.
Mistake #2 – Not Redirecting at All
Another common redirect mistake is not redirecting at all. There are some cases in which a redirect is not the best solution and the best solution truly is to delete the page and let the URL 404.
However, this is something that should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Going through and deleting old pages or updating URLs without implementing redirects can cause a lot of issues with your site. The same thing goes for building and launching a new website or moving from HTTP to HTTPS.
If you are changing or removing URLs, you need to be thinking about redirects.
You also need to be thinking about redirects in general for your URL structure. You need to decide whether your URLs will start with www or not. Without proper redirects in place, search engines will view your www and non-www pages as separate content and as duplicate content.
Why compete with yourself in the search engines and cause extra issues?
Use redirects instead to clean things up and consolidate your site pages properly.
Mistake #3 – Creating Redirect Chains or Redirect Loops
Redirect chains and redirect loops are two common redirect mistakes that can make navigating your website a nightmare. They can also damage your SEO efforts.
Redirect chains are created when it takes more than one redirect to get to the final page, or destination. Preferably, there is only one redirect in place – A redirects to B. This creates the shortest path to the intended content.
However, after multiple redesigns or updates over time, you may end up with a situation where multiple redirects are in place in order to reach the intended content.
This is especially common in sites that have been around for a while as they are more likely to have gone through more redesigns or restructures. It’s also common with internal links and canonical tags as people often forget to update these when a URL changes.
If you’re not careful or paying attention to your redirects over time, you could end up with something like A redirects to B which redirects to C, or worse. In this case, you should have A redirects to C and B redirects to C.
The goal is to create the shortest path with your redirects. This is important because each redirect not only slows down your site speed, but it also further dilutes the value passed along to the new URL.
You could even end up in a situation where you have so many redirects in a chain that the page simply times out and never loads!
Another issue that can pop up if you’re not careful with your redirects is redirect loops.
Whether through a spelling error, random or incorrect code, a faulty plugin, weird integrations, or something else, a redirect loop occurs when a URL ends up redirecting to itself.
In this case, the page never loads because it is stuck in a cycle of constant redirection. The server will eventually time out on it, but likely not before your website visitor has gotten frustrated and left.
So, it’s important to not only keep an eye on your current redirects, but also those redirect rules that have been written in the past to make sure you’re not throwing your users into a redirect loop.
Mistake #4 – Skipping Out on Testing and Reviewing Redirects
Another common mistake is skipping out on testing and reviewing your redirects. Most of the common redirect mistakes can be resolved by testing and reviewing your redirects and then fixing what’s wrong.
If you’re creating a new redirect, testing it out to make sure it works as intended can help solve a lot of problems down the road. If it doesn’t work, you can fix it immediately. This is a lot easier than not testing a redirect, having it end up being faulty, getting it indexed in search engines, having it mess up other redirects, and then trying to fix it.
You should also be crawling your site regularly for errors. This can help you identify potential problems with existing redirects and gives you a chance to fix them.
After all, you can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broken.
These are just a few of the common redirect mistakes to avoid, but they also cover the most ground. By avoiding these mistakes, you can help improve your website performance, user experience, and SEO.
How is your website performing? If it’s not delivering what you need or looking the way you want, contact us for a meeting of the MINDs to see how we can help get your website back on track!