When a website is new, the need for redirects may seem foreign. A fresh website with just a few pages is straightforward enough.
But over time, websites grow. As you add more pages and build out more categories, you start to have more URLs to deal with. You may realize late in the game that your URLs are more complex than you’d like.
Or a website audit may lead you to pages that aren’t performing well that should be removed or combined with others. Then what do you do about those old URLs?
Almost all website owners will at some point face the need to set up a redirect.
A website redirect points your old URL to a new page. When anyone types in or clicks on that original URL they’ll be taken to the page you set the redirect up to instead. It ensures visitors don’t end up on a 404 page and instead find something relevant to what they were originally looking for. And it keeps you from losing the value of any links you’ve built to that page—which is important for search engine optimization(SEO), as well as the user experience of anyone that clicks one of those links.
Knowing how to set up a redirect is a valuable skill for anyone that runs a website. You can implement redirects on a page-by-page basis, or at the domain level.
There are three main types of redirects to be aware of, although most website owners will only need to use the first.
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect. This type of redirect takes place on both a browser and server level. It’s the most commonly used and powerful redirect. It passes on all the SEO authority of the existing URL. And search engines recognize and index this kind of redirect, making it the best choice for SEO.
In almost all cases, this is the type of redirect you’ll want to use.
A 302 redirect is a temporary redirect. It should only be used when you have the intention of moving back to the old URL at some point. If, for example, you’re redesigning your site, but want to direct users to a different domain while you finish. Or if you want to A/B test two different versions of a page, before committing to a new version.
302 redirects aren’t used very often. If you’re considering using a 302 redirect, consider carefully whether you might be better off using a 301 redirect.
Have you ever landed on a page and been greeted with a message that says, “The original URL has moved, you’re now being redirected. Click here if you’re not redirected in 5 seconds”? Then you’ve experienced a meta refresh.
A meta refresh is a redirect that functions by telling the browser to go to the new page, without updating the server. When setting up a meta refresh, you can clarify the amount of time it should take for the redirect to the new page to occur. Sometimes search engines interpret a meta refresh in the same way as a 301 redirect, especially if the time allotted is zero or one second. But it’s not entirely consistent how search engines read a meta refresh, and they create a worse user experience by making the visitor wait to get to the page they’re seeking.
In instances where you’re considering a meta refresh, you’re likely to be better off with a 301 redirect.
Most website owners have multiple ways they can choose to set up a redirect. Here are instructions for three common options.
When signed into your cPanel account, scroll down to the Domains section. Find the icon for Redirects and click on it.
In the dropdown menu under Type, you can choose between Permanent (301) or Temporary (302). Make your selection.
In the next dropdown menu, choose which domain you’re setting up the redirect for. You can choose All Public Domains if you want the update to apply to all the domains you own, otherwise select the appropriate one from the dropdown.
Then simply fill in the page you want to set up the redirect for, and the page you want it to go to. Note that in the first box, you’ll only put the last part of the URL, since the root domain name is already supplied in the dropdown menu. But in the second box, put in the full URL you want it to redirect it to.
If you use the Gator Website Builder, select Edit Site for the website you want to set the redirect up for.
The select Manage on the menu on the left side of the screen, and Redirects on the menu that opens up from there.
Click the Add Rule button. Enter the page you want to redirect in the box on the left. Select the type of redirect in the dropdown menu.
Then, based on the type of redirect you selected, you can either choose the page you want the old URL to redirect to in the dropdown menu on the right, or you can enter the URL you want it to go to.
Then simply select OK.
The easiest way to set up a redirect in WordPress is using a plugin. One popular option for this is Redirection.
If you’re new to adding plugins in WordPress, select Plugins in the menu on the left side of the screen. Click Add New, then perform a search for the plugin you want.
Click Install Now, then Activate. Each plugin will have its own instructions for how to use it. For Redirection, find it in your Installed Plugins list, click on Settings, then go through the setup instructions.
Once it’s set up, you’ll be able to find Redirection listed under Tools. Then click on Redirects in the menu at the top of the screen, and fill in the information for the URL you want to redirect, and the new URL you want it to point to.
Then click the Add Redirect button.
Now you’ve got three different ways to set up redirects, but if you’re still wondering why someone would bother with this, there are a few main scenarios where it comes up.
When you created your site, you may have decided to create your blog page on a subdomain of your site. So, instead of your blog URL being “mysite.com/blog” you made it “blog.mysite.com”. And now you’ve decided that it makes sense to switch your blog off of the original subdomain structure.
This is a case where you’d set up a redirect. The same goes for any other reason you’ve created a site or section of your site on a subdomain, and now you want to switch the URL structure to something new.
Having duplicate content on your site is bad for SEO. If you have a large site, you may well have pages with duplicate content. When you have more than one version of the same page it makes it hard for Google to figure out which page to rank.
Avoid duplicate content issues by redirecting the duplicate piece of content to the original. This will both reduce confusion for your visitors and improve your search engine rankings.
Many brands buy up multiple domain names related to their main URL in order to protect your online brand. If your brand is Acme Corp. you may want to own acme.com, acmecorp.com, acme.net, etc.
Instead of buying domains to keep others from registering them, then just letting them sit there, you can redirect them to your main website. Whether they’re common misspellings of your existing domain name, other top level domain name extensions, or something else entirely, they’re worth redirecting back to your main site.
Did you originally build out your site on a domain that wasn’t your first choice, then managed to buy your dream domain later on? Or maybe you went through a massive rebrand and changing your domain name is now necessary.
Whatever the reason, you need to implement a redirect of your old domain to your new domain. Now, migrating an entire site is more intensive than a simple redirect, but it’s an important part of the process.
Sometimes you have to change the URL of existing pages and posts. Maybe you’re cleaning up your existing URL structure, or you moved some pages around and the old URL no longer makes sense.
In this case, you’ll want to implement a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new one. This is especially true if your older posts are already indexed in the search engines, or have links pointing to them anywhere online.
Setting up a redirect may seem intimidating at first for the non-technical website owners out there. But with several intuitive options, it’s a task you should be able to tackle on your own. And using redirects well can help you update your website over time to be more useful, avoid 404 errors, and improve SEO.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.