Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Have a redirection strategy when changing your site

Lots of companies I speak with are changing and updating their websites, it’s the natural evolution of things (and also keeps us digital agencies in business). Some of them are carrying out complete overhauls of their online presence, including:

  • Re-platforming (e.g. moving to a more enterprise content management system)
  • Changing the design of the user interface and navigation
  • Applying a new site structure 

When doing all or some of the above, one very important thing usually gets forgotten… the redirection of old page locations to their corresponding new URLs.

Why is this important?
Well, for a start, you hopefully have previous visitors who have bookmarked specific pages with the aim of returning to them at a future date. You would not want them to get the ubiquitous ‘404 error’ that tells them the page is not found on the server.
Secondly, you want to preserve as much of the SEO value of each page as possible. Current thinking (and input from search engine optimisation authorities such as Google’s Matt Cutts) says that the majority of PageRank Juice’ is transferred to the target page when you do site re-directions correctly. And the correct way of providing redirect is via a 301 redirect, which tells the incoming page request that this is a permanent redirection.

There are some important things to note here:

  1. The amount of Google PageRank that you lose through a 301 is currently identical to the amount of PageRank that dissipates through a normal link.
  2. A 302 (temporary redirect) passes 0% juice through to the target page, so should be avoided when optimising your site for search.

Therefore for any sites realistically bigger than a few pages, it is important to plan your redirection strategy. But not just as you are cutting over from one site to another, but as much in advance as possible. In other words, ideally as soon as the new site map and page content have been agreed.

You then have the job of mapping old URLs to new URLs. This can be quite simple if both versions are similar. However it can be far more complex when pages are split across different subjects or when you have an entirely new approach to your site content. So plan your redirection strategy in detail and make sure you are sending users and search engines to the most relevant new location.
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