Once in a while I still get people who ask me to do things for them. Some offer to pay, most don’t, but a common thread lately has been “How do I redirect and not screw up my SEO?”
They tend to ask it nicer, but that’s what they mean. And to be honest, the question surprises me in 2016. I’ve read email after email about people who swear “I renamed my domain/page and now my SEO crapped out!” And to each and every one I ask “Did you redirect it properly?”
I think what’s happening is that the problem is so clear cut, people are overthinking. That is, bar none, the biggest mistake I feel anyone ever makes. They overcomplicate a problem and mire themselves in the hell of debugging. I do it all the time.
Let me tell you a story. When we started LezWatchTV, we had some pretty non-SEO friendly URLs. Our taxonomy for TV stations was “show-tags” and it went on and on with worse and worse names. Finally I sat down and drew out a map of what the ‘best’ SEO names would be for what I needed, and it was very short:
- TV Stations:
- Character Traits:
- Show Tropes:
Five items. And to do the recdirects, I put this in the
RedirectMatch 301 ^/show-tags/(.*) /stations/$1 RedirectMatch 301 ^/character-tags/(.*) /cliches/$1 RedirectMatch 301 ^/lez_cliches/(.*) /tropes/$1 RedirectMatch 301 ^/lez_tropes/(.*) /cliches/$1 RedirectMatch 301 ^/lez_chars/(.*) /characters/$1 RedirectMatch 301 ^/show-characters/(.*) /characters/$1 RedirectMatch 301 ^/tv-shows/(.*) /shows/$1
That’s all I needed. I took all the old, bad names and I redirected them to the good names. But I had to throw in an added wrinkle. I’d originally decided shows would have cliches and characters tropes, but I realized that was wrong and flipped them a week later. That meant I had things like
/cliche/law-enforcement which had to be redirect to
/trope/law-enforcement and for that, there was nothing to be done save a massive section like this:
# BEGIN Great Big Redirect Section RedirectMatch 301 ^/cliches/bisexual-love-triangle(.*) /tropes/bisexual-love-triangle$1 RedirectMatch 301 ^/cliches/coming-out(.*) /tropes/coming-out$1 RedirectMatch 301 ^/cliches/gay-for-ratings(.*) /tropes/gay-for-ratings$1 RedirectMatch 301 ^/cliches/law-enforcement(.*) /tropes/law-enforcement$1 [...] RedirectMatch 301 ^/tropes/athlete(.*) /cliches/athlete$1 RedirectMatch 301 ^/tropes/cross-dresser(.*) /cliches/cross-dresser$1 RedirectMatch 301 ^/tropes/firefighter(.*) /cliches/firefighter$1 RedirectMatch 301 ^/tropes/teacher(.*) /cliches/teacher$1
This goes on for 24 character clichés and 18 show tropes. It had to be done manually.
Now let’s ask the big question. Did I lose any SEO Juice by doing this?
Not a drop. Because I used a 301 redirect and I used it properly (calling it well above my redirect for WordPress). This is exactly what Google’s webmaster docs tell you to do:
If you need to change the URL of a page as it is shown in search engine results, we recommend that you use a server-side 301 redirect. This is the best way to ensure that users and search engines are directed to the correct page. The 301 status code means that a page has permanently moved to a new location.
Still not sure? Here’s what Joost (of Yoast SEO) says when asked if you should use a 301 or a 302 redirect:
The answer is very simple. You should never use a 301 redirect if you ever want to use that url again. So if you’re redirecting one url to another and you’re sure that the old url is never going to be used again, it’s a 301. If you’re not sure, it’s a 302. That’s it. Good luck!
This is, again, straightforward. If you’re never using the page again (which I’m not), you use the 301 redirect.
By the way, if you’re using Yoast SEO Premium, then you should still have access to their redirect tool. Personally I feel that’s a change that should be on the server level, not a plugin.
Okay, so what happens if you forget to do this? Your SEO will tank. However this can be fixed! Again, if you’re using Yoast SEO and you set up Google Analytics and webmaster tools with it, you have a handy Search Console which will let you see what the errors are. If you don’t, but you use Google (and really this is where it’s quite helpful), you’ll go to your Search Console > Crawl > Crawl Errors page and check out what’s listed.
Remember to check desktop and smart-phone pages. As long as you keep those old URLs redirecting properly to their new home, your juice will be safe and sound.