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301 Redirects and Site Migration

A short guide on how to use 301 redirects to migrate your old website to a new site without losing traffic

What is a 301 redirect?

A 301 redirect is simply a code of date telling website spiders where you have moved your old web pages permanently to or where they can find similar information.  It may seem to be an irrelevant task for websites that have less than 10 pages, however, these lines of codes can make or break a site with thousands of pages migrating to a new design.

Why is a 301 necessary for site migration?

While information on the internet is movable and thus temporary, it is critical to make sure that information that you previously published is easily found by search engines especially if you have renamed the URL. Changing any url without proper redirection will render the current URL “dead” or 404 does not exist.

Losing old links to a 404 (not found page) code is like demolishing a well-established bridge to a town without giving commuters due notice or even alternative avenues to reach their destination.

While the main reasons why organisations often move to a new site are founded in the hope of creating growth in their market share, migration can instead be a reason for them to lose more traffic overnight. A brand’s following may not actually diminish but the number of visitors you get to your web pages through specific website signals can get disrupted as you change over to a new website.

Below are some technical tips on 301 redirections that can help you transition smoothly to a new website without losing relevant traffic:

Document your current site’s structure

Make sure to audit the structure of your site. Take note all your internal and external links before you move over. Use tools like screaming frog to get a comprehensive list of your existing pages, images and links as well as all the meta information of your pages.

Develop your new website structure

Once you have a comprehensive record of how your site is crawled by search engines, you will have 2 methods of structuring your new site.

Option 1 –  You can use the existing URIs as the basis of your current site structure and mirror the url structure on your new site.

This means that you need to keep your pages and URIs one is to one with no alterations to the way URLS are written. For example, if you have a “website.com/about-us”, your new page will be “website.com/about-us” not “website.com/about” or website.com/aboutus”.

Option 2 –  Use the current structure as a guide to match your new pages.

Most of the time, there is a necessity to alter the current URLS. This often happens if you want to alter the way information is ordered on your site or if you happen to have a new domain altogether. In this scenario, you will need to match the current urls with your new set of urls by using 301 redirections.

For example, if you have a blog entry about “how to buy cars” using a URL carscars.com/how-to-buy-cars, you will need to 301 redirect this page to your new url “carscars.com/a-guide-on-buying-cars” or to your new domain “carbuyer.com/how-to-buy-cars” otherwise your visitors will not be able to find the page with the old link.

Side notes:

  • Do not simply 301 redirect all pages to your new homepage.

It can be tempting to shortcut this step by redirecting old links to the new home page. It seems like an easy fix to do but doing this will make your site both confusing to the web spiders and, most importantly, frustrating to your users.

  • Match pages logically

If you do not have an apple to apples match of new pages with old pages, you can still 301 redirect pages to similar pages that may have the same kind of info as the previously existing page. However, accuracy in matching information is important. You do not want to send users and website spiders to page on shoes for men if your old was all about shoes for women.

  • Create a useful 404 page

Instead of just simply providing a generic notice use the opportunity to provide similar links or a search bar that they can use to find similar information on your site. Aim to create a 404 page that can turn a missing page into a user satisfaction opportunity.

Afterthoughts:

After you have implemented your 301 redirects on your new site, make sure to take note of 404 links through Google analytics and to re-crawl your site for 404 pages that may appear in the future. It will be guide practice to keep 404 pages to a minimum whether you are migrating to a new site or not.

More info on 301 redirects

More info on 404 pages


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