As your site becomes more complex, or your business grows so quickly that you need to move to a new domain, you’ll likely need to redirect one URL or domain to another. Using a URL redirect accomplishes the task without having an impact on the all-important measure of success — user experience. In fact, site visitors will typically be unaware that their click has directed them to an alternative URL. Businesses who want to optimize site efficiency and security can choose from a variety of redirect options, or use a redirection service to take care of the task.
Why Should You Implement a Redirect?
A site owner might consider a redirect either out of necessity or as an option for optimizing site performance and security. The most obvious case where a redirect is unavoidable is when a site has to be migrated to another URL or domain because the name of the site or the company has changed. Using a redirect mitigates the risk of returning 404 pages due to missing content or obsolete links. Alternatively, a site might be undergoing an upgrade or content needs to be reassigned and the owner simply wants to divert users elsewhere temporarily.
Search Page Optimization is clearly a concern. If URLs need to be rewritten to make them more SEO friendly, or HTTPS security standards applied across all pages, redirects allow the work to be done without site disruption. There’s a cost-saving element, too — instead of buying SSL certificates for every domain, site owners can manage them centrally through a redirect service.
What Are the Different Types of Redirects?
Redirects are possible at a domain or URL level, depending on whether the whole site is being migrated or just subdomains. Migrations at domain level are complex undertakings that normally require the skills of an IT team, whereas URL redirects — used for marketing campaigns, for example — can be managed by non-technical teams. Here are the four main types of redirect:
301 - the (original) permanent redirect
Sends content permanently to another URL at both browser and server level. In doing so, all the link equity and SEO value is transferred almost seamlessly to the new URL.
302 - the temporary found redirect
Typically, a temporary redirect of content to a holding URL before returning to the parent URL. Often used during site maintenance, content refresh, change of CMS or redesign. The SEO authority is not transferred and browsers will not update bookmarks, so these are not a long-term solution.
307 - the (new) temporary redirect
The same principle as the 302 redirect but updated to the HTTP 1.1 standard. This redirect tells crawlers that the content has moved temporarily, but that it will return. A 307 redirect has additional benefits as it can be used safely with other HTTP methods such as POST, PUT, PATCH and DELETE, and it can also redirect the request body. This redirect type is typically only used by APIs.
308 - the (new) permanent redirect
The same idea as the 301 redirect but updated to the HTTP 1.1 spec. Like 301, this is a permanent redirect so search engines should update their result pages accordingly. A 308 redirect has the same benefits as a 307 in that you can safely use it with other HTTP methods like POST, PUT, PATCH and DELETE, and it also redirects the request body. This redirect type is also typically only used by APIs.
Masked or cloaked redirect
Only really advisable if you do not have control of your servers, this type of redirect instructs the browser to refresh and pull through updated content on the same URL. With that comes the risk of damaging SEO rankings through duplicate content, as well as error messages, blank pages or generally poor user experience.
The Business Case for Redirects
Where a company is rebranding, or merging with or acquiring another, it will usually be the responsibility of skilled IT teams to migrate all domains, subdomains and URLs to the new address. This is a complex operation that needs a measured overview of all site links and content. But it’s not just mature or established enterprises with legacy content that are affected. Start-ups, for example, will need to protect their IP against phishing attacks by acquiring multiple versions of their domain URL to redirect to the authentic version.
Not all redirects involve complex IT input. For example, marketing teams can easily set up branded URL redirects to incorporate campaign slogans, and will benefit with better analytics that allow them to accurately attribute conversions to the most profitable sources.
Important Considerations With Redirects
For small or intermittent tasks, it should be possible to set up redirects through your domain registrar or DNS provider, but not all offer a user-friendly interface or the ability to handle heavy traffic volumes or SSL certificates. User experience should always be front of mind, as is the ability to maintain centralized management of your redirects for a single source of truth.
The process of redirecting URLs is full of pitfalls, even for experienced IT teams. For that reason, turning to the services of a dedicated redirection service is increasingly part of the strategy for a full range of businesses, from mature enterprises to start-ups.