The Ultimate Guide To Redirects: Maximising User Experience and SEO

Redirects play a vital role in pointing your website traffic to the freshest, most relevant content on your website. Read our guide to redirects and how they can positively impact user experience, SEO and conversion rates, whilst recognising the pitfalls.

Firstly, what is a 301 redirect?

Redirection is the process of forwarding one URL to a different URL. The 301 redirect should be used when a page has been permanently moved or no longer exists so that you continue to serve the most relevant content to your visitors.

There are a number of temporary redirects, such as 302s and 307s, but we’re going to concentrate on your main redirect: the 301.

301 Redirects and User Experience

Google and other search engines are constantly striving to serve their users with highly relevant content.

If the user lands on a page which has been permanently moved, they hit a 404 error page. This basically means the page no longer exists in its old location.

404 error pages will likely frustrate visitors and, chances are, you’ll lose a significant amount of opportunities to sell your brand and generate new customers due to the poor experience offered.

In recent years, Google has placed much more emphasis on onsite engagement and user experience (UX) factors to inform how highly a page should rank.

There is some debate as to the impact of on-page engagement as a ranking factor. It is believed by many that on-page engagement is a key ranking factor for Google, although Google themselves have neither confirmed nor denied this.

Negative engagement includes:

  • High bounce rates (when the user lands on your page and then leaves without visiting another page). Be sure to monitor your bounce rates, scanning for high bounce rates in Google Search Console. This could be an indicator of several 404 pages.
  • The amount of time a user spends on your website (dwell time). If your average visitor is only staying on your site for a short period, Google may penalise you in the rankings.

Ultimately, you are affecting your on-page user experience when visitors land on your website and they’re greeted with the classic “404 Page Not Found”.

This is a missed opportunity to sell your product or service, as it will often discourage the average user from continuing to browse. It is likely that they will up sticks and visit one of your competitors’ websites instead.

Necessary Redirects To and From Website Properties:

Since the advent of SSL certificates becoming a ranking factor, Google updated its algorithm so that domain-to-domain redirects no longer have any authority penalty.

It is worth noting that pages which redirect from HTTPs to HTTP will be viewed negatively by Google. In extreme cases, they can view it as the webmaster trying to trick the user into believing they are on a secure page.

The are various ways a user might reach for your site if they are arriving directly, such as:

  • domainname.com
  • www.domainname.com/
  • http://domainname.com
  • https://domainname.com

Redirects of this nature should be set at the server level to ensure that all URL variants lead to the same endpoint. Further to this, HTTP variants should ALWAYS point to HTTPs URL and not the other way around. Domain level redirects are especially important for ensuring that link equity isn’t being split into several paths and diluted.

It is worth noting that URLs such as http://www.mydomain.com/index.html should also be redirected as such URLs provide another confusion factor for Google in understanding the true homepage of your site.

Maintaining Your Page Authority

Many webmasters fail to perform proper maintenance on their sites by cleaning up pages that have been permanently moved. This can have an adverse effect on your SEO efforts.

By performing proper redirects on old pages, you are passing on between 90-99% of the page authority that you had already built up over time.

The usual culprits are large eCommerce websites that have tons of product pages and huge blog sites but permanently moved pages get neglected by almost all websites.

Most companies are time-poor and require agencies to perform daily and weekly checks to ensure none of the page authority is being lost in a tangle of 404 error pages.

If you do decide on a DIY approach, make sure to prioritise a list of important pages which are ‘404ing’. For example, all pages that appear in your navigation menu should be prioritised over a blog you wrote back in 2014!

It’s a bit like running a relay race and dropping the baton on the last leg.

  • You’ve created a brand new page and optimised for usability
  • You’ve done your research and you’re sure it’s going to be highly relevant to users
  • You launch the page
  • Your page like a stone in the rankings

By setting a redirect to your new pages from your old page, you are providing your users with valuable, fresh content, whilst maintaining all of that precious link equity from the previous URL.

Unsure if your redirects are getting the job done? Check out how Exposure Ninja’s ridiculously talented SEO team can get your website running smoothly.

Landing Page Relevance is Key

After you have performed the redirect, it may take a while for Google to index the new page and assign the relevant page authority. Be wary of making judgments about the new page too quickly.

However, if you’re still concerned that the new page isn’t ranking as well as you’d hoped; ask yourself the following:

How relevant is the redirected content?

For example, if the original page was about installing swimming pools and the new page focuses more on swimming pool tiles, then you may be losing out due to a lack of direct topical relevance.

Always ensure the page you are directing to mirrors the same content and themes of the old page.

Too Many Redirects Will Slow You Down

Having discussed the benefits of redirects, it is important to recognise that having too many can hurt your overall website performance. This is due to the additional HTTP request-response cycle when a redirect is fired.

There are several of ways to limit the number of redirects on your site.

  • Eliminate redirect loops.
  • Always ensure that that are no intermediary redirects in place
  • Use server rewrites for user-typed URLs
  • Track web traffic in the background

Ultimately, the benefits of ensuring the user see’s the most up-to-date content far outweighs the drawback of an extra half second of page load time that users experience when being redirected, but redirect loops and chains can wreak havoc on your SEO efforts by increasing page load times to unacceptable levels.

Don’t Get Tied up in Knots by Redirect ‘Chains’

Whether you’re using a .htaccess file or a plugin within WordPress, setting up redirects is the easy part.

This is can be a blessing and a curse if you are not regularly checking and maintaining your redirects.

These redirects can build up over time and, when left unmanaged, can form redirect “chains” where the user is bounced from URL A, to B, to C and so on.

This has several impacts on your overall performance and how the visitor sees your website, which include:

  1. Slower Site Speed

    When a user or crawler tries to access your site, they have to work harder to access it, as the redirect can add precious seconds to the load time.

    From an SEO perspective, page speed is also a big ranking factor that Google takes into account when crawling a website.

    Ensure you are regularly reviewing your redirect chains via a tool such as Screaming Frog.

  2. User Experience

    UX has become more of a prominent factor when improving the ranking of your website in search engines. Reducing frustrations and frictions and providing clarity, and urgency of copy all play a role in great UX design.

    Loading time has been shown to be a major contributing factor to page abandonment.

    First impressions count! Make sure yours is a good one by eliminating your redirect loops and chains.

  3. Lost Link Equity

    When a page has been permanently moved, redirects play a vital role in salvaging lost link equity from the original page. Over time, your page builds up Domain Authority and link juice.

    These pages have been cultivated, updated and optimised with the freshest content. Place a 301 redirect on these pages; don’t let all that good work go to waste.  

    Be wary, though: redirect chains can actually dilute your link equity. For example, setting up a redirect from old URL A to new URL B will pass the vast majority of link juice onto the new page.

    However,  when a chain is in place and the users redirect from A to B to C, your link equity will diminish by roughly a 10% and continue diminishing when further redirects are added into the chain.

  4. Conversion Rates

    It’s a no-brainer: the user has found your website through the SERPs and visited a page, eager to view your products and services. They arrive only to get redirected via multiple URLs – which increases the frustration and friction for the end user.

    This type of experience will be having a negative impact on how many users reach your product and services pages — and how many become customers.

    If they’re a brand new user to your website, you’re not giving the right impression. Don’t give your competitors the opportunity to steal a potential new prospect.

Too Many 404 Error Pages To Tackle?

So, you’re operating a large eCommerce website or blog and you know you’re fighting a losing battle in the short term, or want to improve the experience of those permanently moved pages which have slipped through the net.

You can maximise your user experience by creating more interesting 404 error pages. This may be your last opportunity to capture the visitor’s details.

Creating interesting 404 pages also has a secondary benefit. By adding in some of the following engagement factors, you will reduce your bounce rate, even if the user leaves the site on the next page.

There are a number of ways you can maximise the user experience of a 404 page:

  1. Make Your 404 Page Memorable

    Get creative! 404 pages should reflect your brand’s tone of voice as much as the rest of your website. Try to give the best possible experience when a user lands on a broken page, turning a negative into a positive.

  2. Include a Contact Form 

    Always encourage users to start a dialogue with you. Adding a contact form presents an opportunity to capture some data from the visitor and answer any questions they have about a product or service.

  3. Make Them an Offer They Can’t Refuse: 

    Include a special offer on your 404 pages, such as a free eBook. Offering freebies helps to build trust and ensures your user doesn’t go away empty-handed and is more likely to have a positive experience of your brand. For e-commerce sites, it is essential that you present the user with a page of alternative/replacement products.

  4. A Proper Redirection Strategy Should Be Your Priority

    In truth, putting together a robust plan for redirects remains one of the most important aspects of your SEO project. By improving your 404-page experience, you are merely applying a sticky plaster whilst you bolster your SEO efforts to perform the necessary on-site fixes to broken pages. Creating interesting 404 pages also has a secondary benefit. By adding in an engagement factor like a discount banner or a form and tracking the clicks, you will reduce your bounce rate, even if the user leaves the site on the next page.

Redirects Are As Important As Ever

In conclusion, the humble redirect massively improves user experience, maintains your SEO efforts and ultimately puts more visitors in front of relevant content, increasing the likelihood of conversions.

Proper website maintenance is key in order to mitigate negative factors such as site speed overheads via redirect chains. If carefully managed, redirects still play a vital role in maintaining your position at the top of the rankings.

Now that you know the importance of redirects, how about some FREE help with sorting them out for your website? Request a free bespoke website review and plan from Exposure Ninja today. Our expert Marketing Consultants will investigate all aspects of your website, and deliver you a 20-minute video that shows you exactly how to improve its performance, UX and ranking ability. There’s no obligation to use our services after and you won’t pay a penny, so there’s nothing to lose and some seriously useful knowledge to gain.

 

Tags: SEO

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