Search engine optimization (SEO) is something that all webmasters are concerned about. To help them retain SEO benefits in the event of changes in the site, they need to know about web pages redirect. Search engine ranking is determined by the number and quality of inbound links to a specific webpage. There is always a possibility that the page’s URL changes, which means redirection is needed to retain the SEO benefits of any inbound links.
What is web page redirect?
Typically when search engine bots or web browsers request a webpage at a specified URL on your site, the server will try to locate the URL in order to return the requested HTML code. If the web page is discovered, the server returns the HTML code needed by your browser to render the webpage, along with the 200 HTTP status. The status informs the requesting bots or browsers that the webpage is available and its HTML code is being returned.
However, in some cases, the page is permanently moved (the URL changed) or even deleted. In this situation, you, as the webmaster, needs to choose between these two options:
- Tell all subsequent requests for the moved or deleted web page to return the 404 HTTP status, which indicates that the webpage is no longer available.
- Tell the bots or browsers to go to the new URL.
The latter option is often called as page redirect.
Types of web page redirect.
There are three options you can use to redirect any request to a moved or deleted web page:
- Meta refresh element
- 302 redirect (temporary)
- 301 redirect (permanent)
The above redirection methods will guide the bots or crawlers to a new URL, which help to retain the traffic or the SEO benefits of inbound links. However, when we see it from the SEO perspective, each one of these methods has a varying degree of effectiveness.
Meta refresh element
This method is usually used when the site can’t support 301 and 302 redirection. It often happens if you put your site in a free web hosting company. You should use this redirection method when HTML is the only available tool to redirect the bots and browsers. The meta refresh element is rather easy to implement. You only need to add a meta refresh element at the HTML code of the old URL. The element informs the bots and crawlers about the location of the new URL and you can set the delay needed before the browser ask for the new URL.
When the bots or the browsers request for an old URL, the web server returns the HTML code for the old URL along with the 200 HTTP status, to indicate that the old page is available. However, when the bots read the HTML code, it is redirected to the new URL, which is shown in the meta refresh element. On the other hand, when the browser renders the HTML for the old URL, it waits for a number of seconds and goes to the new URL. The web server returns the HTML code for the new URL, along with the 200 HTTP status.
Despite its simplicity, meta refresh element works well in redirecting human users. The zero second delay is not used, because some search engines refuse to transfer the SEO benefits to the new URL when no delay is used.
302 redirect (temporary) is a common way to temporarily guide bots and human visitors to a new URL. Unlike the meta refresh element method, the web server return the 302 HTTP status. This redirection method is usually implemented using redirection tools (such as Mod Rewrite) or server-side scripts.
When bots or browsers request an old URL, your web server issues the 302 HTTP status and the new URL is added to the HTTP header. The status informs the bots and browsers that the web page is only temporarily unavailable. Consequently, bots and crawlers request the new URL. The web server returns the HTML code of the new URL, along with the 200 HTTP status, which indicates that the new page is available.
This redirect method doesn’t transfer the SEO benefits of inbound links to the new URL, because bots only consider the change as something temporary. They will index the content of the new URL and associate it with the index of the old URL. The new URL doesn’t get any benefits from the inbound links when 302 redirect is used.
This is the most powerful redirection method, especially if you make permanent URL changes in your site. When this method is used, the web server returns the 301 HTTP status, to indicate a permanent URL change. Just like the 302 redirect, you can use redirection tools or server-side scripts to implement the 301 redirect.
When bots and browsers ask for an old URL, your web server issues the 301 HTTP status along with the new URL. This status informs the bots and browsers that a permanent change has been made and they should go to a new URL. They will request for the new URL and the web server replies by sending the corresponding HTML codes, along with the 200 HTTP status indicating that the new webpage is available for access.
Unlike the 302 redirect, this redirection method transfers all SEO benefits to the new URL. Each inbound link directed toward the old URL will be transferred to the new one. As the result you won’t lose both human traffic and search engine ranking.
A good webmaster should know what redirection method to use in any given time, as it can affect the SEO effort significantly.