When you migrate your website to a new domain or change the URL of any of the pages on your website, you can risk losing your website’s Google rankings and direct traffic overnight if this change is not handled correctly.
The safest way to make any type of URL changes to a website is by properly using 301 redirects.
In this article, we’ll explain how to create 301 redirects in WordPress, and how one site lost 60% of traffic almost overnight by not implementing 301 redirects correctly.
What is a 301 redirect?
In the simplest terms, a 301 redirect tells browsers and search engines that an entire website or a single web page has moved to different location.
For example, if your original website domain was www.mycustomtshirtstore.com and you wanted to change your domain name to www.trendytees.com, or your contact page URL changed from www.trendytees.com/pages/contact-us/ to www.trendytees.com/contact-us/ you would want to tell search engines and your users that the URL is now different. One way to do so is using a 301 redirect.
A 301 redirect instructs search engines to replace the old location of your website or web page with the new one, permanently. And, anyone clicking on a link referencing the old URL would automatically be redirected to the new one.
Here are some real life examples of 301 redirects:
- nikee.com redirects to nike.com
- gooogle.com redirects to google.com
- thefacebook.com redirects to facebook.com
Consumers commonly misspell names domain names and brands buy the misspelled versions of their domain so that they can redirect any traffic to the correct website.
Why use 301 redirects?
There are several types of redirection methods you can use, but for permanently moving a URL to a new one, a 301 redirect is the best option as it keeps 90-99% of the page’s ranking power intact.
Other redirection methods include:
- 302 redirect: This is a temporary redirect. It passes 0% of the original page’s ranking and, in most cases, should not be used.
- Meta refresh: This type of redirect is handled on the page level rather than the server level. They are slower and not recommended in most cases.
What happens if you don’t redirect properly?
It’s easy to forget about having to put redirects in place when you make changes to URL, and most platforms won’t automatically implement the necessary redirects if you do happen to change the URL of your website or web pages. But, what’s the harm, you ask.
Not implementing redirects correctly can have a major, negative impact on your website’s traffic.
The image above shows the effects of the impact that can occur as a result of not implementing 301 redirects after changing the permalink structure of a WordPress website. The owner of this website modified the permalink structure in an effort to optimize the website for better search results. What he ended up doing was completely the opposite of what he wanted to do and his website saw an immediate drop in traffic.
This website owner, like many other WordPress users, set up their website to include the year and month as part of their blog post URL. Putting the date in the URL has very few benefits if any. It also “dates” your older posts, possibly resulting in a lower click through over time because your posts might look like they’re no longer relevant.
Unless you’re running a news website, you probably shouldn’t be using this type of format for your URLs.
So, without knowing anything about 301 redirects, this website owner went into the permalink settings in WordPress and manually changed the URL slugs of all of his posts to remove the month and date from all the post URLs.
Easy enough, or so he thought. His website is now ‘SEO friendly’ and it only took a few seconds to achieve. But, a few days later, when logging to Google Analytics expecting to see an increase in traffic, he saw a massive drop in traffic.
After some research and confirming that the drop was not a result of a Google penalty or recent algorithm update, we knew to look for any recent URL changes. And, seeing that the URLs were changed to remove the post month and year, we knew exactly what to do next. Luckily, with WordPress, there’s a plugin for just about everything.
WordPress plugins for 301 redirects
Because WordPress is so popular, there is likely already a plugin that exists to fix just about any problem you might encounter. If you’re already using WordPress, you’ve got quite a few options when it comes to plugins to handle 301 redirects. Here are a few of the most popular plugins:
While these plugins are great for managing redirects in WordPress, you can also configure redirects directly on the web server.
Server 301 Redirects
If you’re not using WordPress or just need to quickly change the domain for all URLs, you can easily configure this on the web server. All you’ll need to do is edit your
.htaccess file by adding the following to the top of your file and saving it back to the server:
RewriteEngine on RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.newdomain.com/$1 [R=301,L]
The snippet of code above essentially tells the web server to take any URL requested and change the base URL to ‘http://www.newdomain.com/’ and keep any other parts of the URL after that the same. So, ‘http://www.olddomain.com/contact-us/’ would become ‘http://www.newdomain.com/contact-us/’ and so on.
Conclusions on managing 301 redirects
When changing URL structure on your website or when changing your domain name, it’s important to make sure you’re using 301 redirects to keep your website’s SEO and backlinks intact. There are several WordPress plugins that make it very easy to do and most require you to have little technical knowledge.
Don’t make the mistake that this website owner did and change your URLs without using proper redirects. It can have a major negative impact on your traffic and search rankings, and implementing the proper redirects is really quite simple.