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Redesigning Your Website? 301 Redirects Are Your Best Friend

Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Back To BasicsContent Management SystemsTechnologyWeb Design

404-errorA friend (to remain unnamed) recently relaunched his website. It looks cool, but they instantly lost years of deep search engine links and ranking, killed in-bound links from other websites, and generally blew away a lot of tasty, wholesome search engine goodness.

How did they do that?

They neglected one of the key elements of a redesign project – something called “redirects.”

The good news for you is that it is very easy to prevent this ranking loss, but it needs to be managed BEFORE you relaunch, then implemented simultaneously with the relaunch. You just need to talk with your web designer/developer about “301 redirects” before you start your redesign project. The designer should know what to do after that.

So, what is a “redirect” and why is it important for website relaunches?

A redirect simply tells a browser to go from an old page URL to a new page URL. This is important for website relaunches because your old website’s URLs (like might either not exist or change (to something like with new the website design or content management system. The difference between “/clients.html” and “/clients” might not look like much to you or me, but to a search engine or a web browser, it is as different as night and day.

Redirects are important because:

1. The search engines could take weeks or months to re-index your new pages so they appear in the search results. And, if you have important keywords in the old page’s content, it could be a long, long time before your organic ranking returns for those keywords.

2. If another website linked to your old URL, any visitor who clicks on the link will get an error code on your website rather than a page with your content. So, you made someone who was kind enough to link to your website, or yourself, look incompetent (visitors will assume either the website with the link or your website has a problem).

3. If you are a high-tech company, could be a big bummer for your street-cred, dude.

Technical aspects

Technically, a redirect is often called a “server-side 301 redirect.” We don’t need to go into the specifics because this is pretty basic stuff for good web developers (simple .htaccess edits) – you just need to be sure your web designer/developer understands and commits to implementing redirects for you.

Also, as usual, Google has all kinds of info on this:

Practical aspects

The first thing you have to do is create a list of all your existing pages/URLs. Then, decide what new pages/URLs they should redirect to. Some people will use Google Webmaster Tools to see which pages are indexed and/or have inbound links and only redirect for those pages/URLs, particularly if they have a lot of pages. Then, rather than show a 404 error code when someone visits any other obsolete URL, show your sitemap or another page on your new website. Also, your developer might have a simple technique for managing redirects.

In any event, it is critical that you discuss redirects with your web designer (1) before you hire them (so you’re sure they understand it), and (2) during the redesign process so you’re sure your existing URLs are all cataloged and the redirects can be properly implemented.


If you are relaunching your website, it is critical to your SEO and online friends that you utilize redirects:

– They’re easy to do.

– Good web developers and designers can handle the whole process for you.

Eric WeidnerBest wishes,

Eric Weidner