Many companies come across the need for changing the domain of their website. Changing the company name for example, or rebranding. These are very easy examples of seeing the need for implementing a 301 redirection strategy. Think of it like a change of address for physical locations. You are essentially telling the United States Post Office that you are no longer at one location and to please (please, please) forward your mail on to your new address. This of course is a no-brainer, because you don’t want to miss out on important correspondence (you know, from those individuals and business who are still living in the 20th century).
A 301 redirection strategy is exactly like a change of address. You are telling the World Wide Web (the Internet, Web Traffic, the Search Engines) that your website (and content) can no longer be found at the OLD domain but can be found at the NEW domain. Web traffic and search engine bots simply bypass the old domain and start indexing the new domain.
And there’s more. Particular to Search Engines (and their bots), it also always for you to “forward” on all existing ranks and indexing of your content located at your OLD address. So, let’s say your website www.CoolExample.com ranks number one for your product “Blue Widgets”. If you implemented and moved your website to a new domain (www.EvenCoolerExample.com) you would essentially be starting over with the Search Engines. Goodbye ranking history. Goodbye indexing history. Goodbye positive crawl rates.
Botcrawlers have the worst direction sense EVER!
Okay, we started this article off with two of the most obvious reason you would implement a 301 redirection strategy…basically when the domain changes. Most people think a domain change is just the words between the www and the . So for www.CoolExample.com it would be CoolExample. In fact, its ANY change in the pathname (URL) that leads to that page/content. Let’s say, you have a website that was built in 1987. Chances are you will see .html or .htm at the end of your pathnames (www.CoolExample.com/index.html or www.CoolExample.com/about_us.htm). Let’s say Southern Tide Media comes along and pitches you on redesigning (and REDEVELOPING) your website. Chances are, we’d pitch you on WordPress. WordPress is a framework built on pHp (a programming language). Out of the box, WordPress utilizing rewrites (or prettyURLs), which means your pathnames would go to (www.CoolExample.com/about_us). You could also find your way to that page if you typed in .php at the end of the pathname.
Botcrawlers (and web traffic) would see this change as a COMPLETE change in your pathname(s). There is no grey area (except perhaps on the home page. www.CoolExample.com wouldn’t change just because you changed the code structure.) So, you would want to implement a 301 redirection strategy for most redevelopment projects for your website as well.
Mapping your Old pages to your New pages.
Now that we’ve covered examples of when you would need to utilize a 301 redirection strategy, let’s talk about the proper implementation of such a strategy. To assure you don’t lose anything from your old domain location, you need to map (preferably page by page) the OLD page location to the NEW page location. This is done (strictly speaking) by updating the htaccess file on your server. I say strictly because the only server application that includes the htaccess (which handles the directories of your root files) is Apache (or Apache HTTP Server). Luckily, Apache is the most popular web server application in the world (the WORLD!) and can be loaded on a variety of server environments (Unix, Linux, and Windows among others). If your hosting service doesn’t utilize Apache, then chances are they are utilizing IIS (Windows Internet Information Services). If that is the case, you’ll need to download a redirection module. (This article is strictly discussing 301 redirection, which requires Apache.)
There is no easy way to simply redirect all your pages to one NEW page (say your home page). You would still have to list out each page you and keep restating the index page as the final point of redirection. If you are going to go through all that trouble you might as well have the old pages go to their new page equivalents.
301, 302, 404, Oh My!
Okay, 301 is a permanent redirection. You’ve packed your bags and will never return to that old location. A 302 is a temporary location. It’s a rare case when you’d need to even bother with a temporary redirect, but you may have a large site with multiple subdomains or multiple content sections. Disney for example. They redevelop certain sections at a time and may need to redirect around pages until they are don’t developing.
A 404 is a Page Not Found page. Many hosting providers have out of the box 404s. Generally speaking you won’t to set these up yourself for a variety of reasons. You want to makes sure you are branding your 404 page(s) accordingly. And you also want to make sure that the 404 page has your navigation, so users can easily dig back into your site directly from the 404 page. Godaddy for example has their own branded 404 page with NONE of your branding and NONE of your navigation. Once a user hits that page, it looks like you don’t exist, which is a rookie mistake.
I’m bringing up 404 redirects in an article about 301s because depending on the size of your website’s site map, you will inevitably miss a page to redirect. Thus, a user will be hit up with a 404. This helps search engines “dump” that pathname from their index so you don’t get crawl errors and it helps actual web traffic because it will at least provide them with a branded entry way into the rest of your website’s content and pages.
The Follow Through.
As with everything Southern Tide Media does, there should also be the proper follow through on any strategy, campaign, or project. You can’t just set up a 301 redirection strategy and hope for the best. You have to monitor it to make sure you didn’t leave gaps (or incorrectly rewrite the htaccess file). A proper follow through would include resubmitting your XML site map to the Search Engines. You would need to log into your Google and Bing webmaster accounts to do that, and while you are there you can go ahead and tell Google and Bing you are “moving” to a new domain (if it is a new domain…and not just a site code change).
You’d want to set up email alerts with your Webmaster accounts or run reports daily. You would also want to keep an eye on your search engine ranks. And your crawl rate and indexing errors. All of this can be done with Google and Bing (and Yandex) Webmaster Tools.
Need help with your set up or follow through? Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or assistance. Southern Tide Media is here to help.