How to Make a Proper 301 Redirect
The other weekend my husband and I went on a date night. We checked out a restaurant that we had heard of a couple times before, and they were especially known for their dessert made by their in-house pastry chef.
The atmosphere was great, the food (and wine) was good, our waitress had a great sense of humor, and my husband and I had fun dreaming aloud about future travel plans, pouring over things that are going well in our lives, and really enjoyed a great night out to treat ourselves—away from Netflix.
And we wanted more.
So when the dessert menu came along, we allowed ourselves to be tempted.
“You’re in luck,” said the waitress. “Our pastry chef is actually here right now!”
She listed off the dessert special, and we immediately said yes because it sounded UH-mazing.
But moments later our waitress came back to our table. “I’m so sorry,” she said, “I didn’t realize that we had run out of the special.”
That could have been it. Our date night could have come to a screeching halt.
We would have paid the bill and headed home, not necessarily upset at the restaurant, but we probably wouldn’t have sought it out again, unless it happened to come across our radar.
But our waitress instead offered a different dessert that was her personal favorite, and even said we could have it on the house. Effortless decision on our part, right?
So what does this have to do with website redirects? Everything.
Your website is that restaurant. People come to it, they read something they enjoy, and they click around for more. But if for whatever reason they click somewhere that doesn’t exist anymore and it brings them to a 404 page (sorry, we’re out of that dessert), their browsing experience comes to a halt. They might not make it to your offering, opt in to your newsletter, or even share the article that pulled them in in the first place.
But! If you make a 301 redirect to a different page (offer a different dessert as a replacement), their experience can continue effortlessly, and they’ll likely subscribe, buy, or come back again.
So let’s get your dessert in order, shall we?
What is a 301 redirect?
A 301 redirect is is how you send visitors (both your human visitors and the search engine bots) automatically from one URL to another.
Basically how it works is if I click on a link for URL A, and there was a 301 redirect in place, I would instead automatically be taken to URL B. So not only does this ensure that your human visitors don’t get taken to a 404 page not found, but it also helps pass off that SEO link juice so that the search engine spiders know that any ranking or credibility that had previously been earned by URL A should now be passed off to URL B (as long as it’s still relevant).
I’ve seen plenty of people make a move from one website address to another and only redirect the old URL to the homepage of the new URL. Here’s why that’s a problem:
- What happens when someone bookmarked a specific page/post on your old website? Now when they try to find that specific information, they’re taken to your homepage, which doesn’t help them at all.
- The same idea applies for any links that are already out there: Mentions on someone else’s website, links in old social media posts, Pinterest repins, etc. You want those all to bring people to the information that they’re expecting.
- You’ve undoubtedly built up some SEO link juice for various keywords and topics associated with each of the pages/posts on your old website, but you’re basically starting over (SEO-wise) with the new website if you’re not correlating each of those specifc pages with the same pages on the new website address.
This is important any time you’re changing your website address or URL structure or you delete/move a page on your website.
Making a wildcard 301 redirect
A Wildcard redirect is what you’ll be doing if you’re changing your entire website address or if you’re changing your URL structure.
The Wildcard redirect sets a rule so that you don’t have to make an individual redirect for every single post and page associated with your website.
So for example if I were moving from OldDomain.com to NewDomain.com, I would want to make sure that OldDomain.com/blog/post-title redirects to NewDomain.com/blog/post-title, so I would make a wildcard redirect so that everything under OldDomain.com points to the exact same thing on NewDomain.com.
How to make a 301 redirect through your hosting company
Before you do anything, BACK IT UP! You should be creating regular backups of your site anyway, but it’s especially important whenever you’re doing any sort of transfer—just in case.
Often, it’s easiest to make a Wildcard redirect from one domain to another through your hosting company—especially if both domains are with the same host.
First, check with your hosting company and see if they handle redirects for you (a lot of times those friendly people on the help chat can flip the switch for you).
But if that’s not part of the deal or if you like to DIY everything, you’ll want to head to the cPanel or Domains section in your hosting for this one (this will look slightly different for each host).
You’ll want to be in the manage domains or manage domain redirect section.
- Select permanent 301 redirect
- Choose the domain you would like to redirect from your domains
- Add in the domain you want it to redirect TO
- I always choose for it to redirect with or without www, but that’s all up to personal preference. I’m not going to get into that whole mess, but you can read about it here.
- Make sure you select Wildcard redirect or all of your pages are just going to point to the home page
How to make a 301 redirect through WordPress
There are a number of different plugins that make 301s easy on WordPress. My personal favorites are Yoast SEO (great for making 301 redirects directly from the post/page you want to redirect) and Simple 301 Redirects (great for having all the redirects in one place / dealing with batches).
How to make a 301 redirect through Squarespace
Squarespace can help you setup domain mapping and site-wide redirects if you’re redirecting to a different domain within your Squarespace account, but you’ll have to go in and manually create some redirects if anything about your URL structure has changed besides the main domain.
You can check out how to create a 301 redirect in Squarespace here.
What about 302 redirects?
A 302 redirect is a temporary redirection. These are perfect for if a certain page or section of your website is under construction and you want people to go somewhere else until it’s ready. Many online shops will use 302 redirects for seasonal pages and products that are not relevant now, but that they intend to use again once it’s in season again.
Note: This does not pass any SEO cred between URLs, and really unless your situation describes one of the two things I listed above, this really shouldn’t be used. In most cases, 301 is what you’re looking for.
Some best practices after you’ve made the redirection
- Keep your old domain for at least one year after you’ve made the redirection before you let it expire. Depending on how much traffic you got on your old domain, you may want to hold onto it longer, but one year is usually enough time for all your SEO juice to transfer over and for your audience to get the message that you’ve moved on.
- Everything should be pointing to where it needs to be, but it’s never a bad idea to check. Try navigating to a few of your old domain URLs (especially top pages) to make sure they’re pointing to where you want them to go.
- Update your links! Yes, everything takes you to the new place anyway, but it’s best practice to update any internal links throughout your website. And don’t forget to update links on social media too! I know it’s a pain, but this is important, especially if you’re considering letting your old domain expire eventually.
- Reach out to backlinkers. Were you mentioned on a high-traffic site? Reach out to them, let them know you’ve changed your website address, and see if they’ll update the link. This is also a great opportunity to foster that relationship, so offer up a guest post, discount, webinar, etc. Afterall, they clearly liked what you had to say before, so they’d probably love some updated stuff from you!
- Don’t forget about your email! If you have an email address associated with your old domain, make sure you back it up. You’ll likely have to go in and change your MX records to make sure everything’s pointing to the new and correct domain.
Does this feel scary and overwhelming? That’s totally okay! Making proper redirections (especially when you’re moving your entire domain) can feel like a huge deal—and don’t get me wrong, it’s important to do correctly—but in most cases it’s something that your website host or your web developer can seamlessly do for you. But if you’re on your own and feeling like you need a hand, give me a shout and we’ll see if we can work together :)