Have you ever moved to a new house and used a mail forwarding service to ensure that all your mail is sent to your new address? Well, a 301 redirect is almost the same as your mail forwarding service, but for your website.
In the same way that you are redirecting mail from one home address to another, a 301 redirect will redirect web traffic from one URL to another.
How is a 301 redirect different to a 302 redirect?
A 301 redirect is a permeant redirection. While a 302 redirect is a temporary redirection.
You would use a 302 redirection if your content had just been temporarily moved. For example, if your site was under maintenance.
It’s important to note that a 301 redirect should only be used when you are truly migrating from one page to another and you’re never going to migrate back again.
Why would you need to use a 301 redirect?
An obvious example would be if you moved your site to a new domain and didn’t want to lose the traffic that you had already built up going to your old domain. You could use a 301 to redirect traffic from every page on your old domain to the corresponding new page on your new domain, preventing any loss of link juice.
But a more common example of why you would use a 301 redirect would be a permalink change. Perhaps you changed the structure of your permalinks or a single permalink on a specific page. If visitors were to go to the old permalink address, they would probably encounter a 404 Page Not Found. But by using a 301 redirect, they would be redirected to the new permalink address without even noticing. Therefore, improving your user experience.
Directing traffic from 404 pages
I regularly check my Google Search Console for 404 errors. A 404 error occurs when someone has tried to access a page on your website that either no longer exists or has been moved. I then set up 301 redirects from the URL address that created a 404 error, to the correct URL address for the page that the user tried to access.
This helps ensure that future users will be directed straight to the relevant page and avoids people leaving my site altogether.
How not to use 301 redirects
Google will happily follow a 301 redirect. After all, they want to ensure that the user ends up the right place and finds what they are looking for.
However, there is a limit to how many 301 redirects Google will follow consecutively. Please see image blow.
If you want to get from Page A to Page B, the ideal solution would be to set up a 301 redirect from Page A to Page B.
However, if you start at Page A, then redirect to Page C, then redirect to Page D, then redirect to Page E, then redirect to Page F, then redirect to Page B…Google will eventually stop following that redirect. This is very bad practice so make sure to keep tabs on your redirects and structure.
How to set up a 301 redirect in WordPress
The easiest way to set up redirects in WordPress is to use a plugin. If you use the Yoast SEO plugin and have upgraded to the premium version, then you have access to 301 redirects as an addition feature.
Alternatively, you can install a number of other plugins from the WordPress repository that will assist you in creating redirections simply and easily.
The free plugin that I use is called Redirection, and you simply enter your old URL address combined with the new URL address, and the plugin does the rest for you.
I hope this short post has helped give you an insight into 301 redirects. They are a very useful tool to help ensure that you don’t miss out on any traffic and that your user gets to their desired place.