Google and the 301

Nov 28, 2012 by
Google and the 301

301 redirects are vital for any structural change to a site’s URL structure, whether you are changing the URL of a single page or all the URLs across the site. One should be put in place whenever a URL is changed, no matter how insignificant that page may be.

A yellow arrowThe best way is to have your CMS add redirects automatically when a URL is changed. Most common platforms, such as WordPress and Drupal, have plugins that do this even if they don’t do it natively. If you use a custom CMS, ask your developer to add this feature if it’s not in there already.

But don’t overdo it!

Any developer can tell you that a 301 redirect is a very simple thing. Its job is just to tell web browsers, including Google, that what was here is now there. So you change URLs with impunity and everything will be fine, right? Wrong, unfortunately.

The problem is that Google does not follow the standard when it comes to interpreting 301s. Yes, they do replace the old URL with the new one in their index, but instead of this being a lossless change, there is some degradation in the page’s ranking ability. In effect, Google keeps the old URL indexed and treats the 301 as a link from the old URL to the new one. And links always “evaporate” some ranking ability.

What does this mean?

Simply, it means change URLs as infrequently as you can, even if you have 301s set up. Always try to get them right the first time!

This is especially true for site-wide changes. Sometimes something such as this can’t be avoided (e.g. if you are switching to a completely new platform), but only do them when they are strictly necessary. Don’t let a developer convince you to change all the URLs simply because it might be convenient! Even with 301s in place, you can see big traffic drops from changing a site’s structure.

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