Mapping 301 Redirects

Imagine that you are in the final stages of moving into a new apartment, and you have just unpacked the last box. You surrendered the keys to your former landlord over a week ago, but you only now realize that you forgot to update your address. If you left your old place on bad terms with the landlord, your mail could be lost forever. Now, picture a user visiting a URL they bookmarked, and instead of finding the information they felt was important enough to bookmark, they find a 404-error page in its place. Well, just like you can ask Canada Post for mail forwarding, you can implement 301 redirects, which forward users to their desired content.

Why is this valuable?

Whether you’ve performed a site-wide overhaul or just renamed a few pages, you must consider a 301-redirect strategy. Broken links can lead to a loss of valuable link equity and a lower overall search engine ranking. A 301 redirect is a permanent mail forwarding service that passes on over 90% of link equity from an old URL to a new URL. This service helps your clients conserve search equity and provides a better user experience for visitors.

Planning Ahead

When you redesign a site, you should be able to identify the changes to the overall primary navigation by the end of the wireframing process. This is the starting point of your redirect map. A redirect map document should consist of a list of pages correlating old and new URLs (see diagram below). Moreover, a client-provided copy deck including URLs is an efficient way of identifying which old pages redirect to which new pages.

Redirect map.

Identifying Pages with Errors (post-launch)

Google Analytics and Google Search Console are two tools that let you easily identify 404 errors by allowing you to use the existing data to create a report of pages displaying a 404 message. Both tools provide you with a list of URLs, from which you can determine which links should be redirected. However, this method doesn’t work if you have a 404 catch-all solution in place.

Google Analytics.

Google Analytics.

Google Search Console.

Google Search Console.

301-redirect mapping can be more complicated than developers think, and should take into account the strategy laid out by the client, if any. In any case, a 301-redirect strategy should always be part of any application build or redesign. Such a plan conserves link equity, preserves visitors from bad user experiences and provides value to the client by demonstrating a concern for future needs.

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This entry was posted in Web development
by Jessica Merrigan.
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