11 Feb SEO checklist part 5: 301 Redirects and site architecture
If you’ve read the other parts of this SEO series and you’re not having fun yet, don’t despair because this one is bound to get you excited. In part five of this SEO checklist series, we discuss how URL redirects and site architecture play an often overlooked, but important part of any search engine optimization strategy.
The terms “301 redirect” and “site architecture” can send non-technical folks running to the hills. Luckily, they are easier to understand than one might think.
What is a redirect?
A URL redirect is one way to send a visitor or search engine to a different URL from the one they initially requested. A visitor may need to be redirected to a different page for several reasons:
- A URL is broken or doesn’t work
- A web page is no longer active
- You have a new website or web page that you want to direct people to instead of the old one
- You’re split testing a new web page in terms of design or functionality
- You’re fixing a web page and you want to temporarily send visitors to a specific page
For SEO purposes, the main redirects you need to understand are the 301 HTTP status code redirect and the 302 HTTP status code redirect.
301 redirect explained
A server-side 301 redirect, also known as a permanent redirect, should be used when you want to permanently redirect one URL to another URL. By implementing a permanent redirect, you’re telling Google that the new URL should replace the old one in the search engine’s index. These types of redirects pass about 90 percent of the SEO ranking power from the old URL to the new one. In most cases, a 301 redirect is the best way to send visitors to a new URL without losing all of your old web page’s SEO link juice.
One way to get a quick SEO boost is to catalogue all of the web pages on your domain that are returning 404 (File Not Found) pages and implement 301 redirects to the most appropriate page.
302 redirect explained
A 302 redirect, also known as a temporary redirect, should only be used if you plan on using the old URL again at some point in the future. Many webmasters will incorrectly use a 302 redirect, not knowing that this method passes zero percent of the SEO ranking from the old URL to the new one. The reason for this is that you’re telling Google not to replace the old URL destination with the new one.
301 redirect in practice
Let’s say you are a hospital that just rebranded from “Charlotte Regional Medical Center” to “North Carolina Health System.” In this case, you’d want to implement a 301 redirect from the old http://crmc.com URL to the new http://nchs.com URL. By doing this, you retain almost all of the SEO value from the authoritative inbound links that the old URL acquired over time. You also pass a lot of the historic trust that Google placed in the old domain on to the new one.
In WordPress, it’s simple to implement redirects with free plug-ins like the Yoast WordPress SEO plug-in. If your website is hosted on servers running on Apache, you have to add a snippet of code to your .htaccess file.
The way a website’s site architecture is organized defines how visitors and search engines navigate the site. Simply put, the better your website is organized, the better your chance for ranking on the first page of Google. A well organized website has the most relevant content organized in a simple hierarchy.
Flat site architecture is essential because it improves usability. For example, if a user has to click through five links to get to the right page when it could have been done in one or two clicks, you lose visitors because they’ll drop off. Similarly, search engines have difficulty crawling link after link, and even if they do, you lose page rank and receive lower indexation for each vertical step down.
Pages buried deep in your architecture have a tendency to receive fewer inbound links, get less traffic, and are less visible in search engine results.
What does bad site architecture look like?
The image above is an example of a website with poor site architecture that requires six clicks to get to the deepest level pages.
Flat site architecture
In the example below, the hierarchy is logical and intuitive, and the page depth never goes beyond three links. There is no hard and fast rule for maximum page depth, but most websites can organize pages using no more than four levels.
Sitelinks and site architecture
Google rewards websites that have organized site architectures with sitelinks. Sitelinks are inner page links that sometimes appear below search results.
These links are a great competitive advantage and can significantly increase click-through rate. Other benefits of sitelinks include:
- Easier user navigation
- Help you dominate search engine results
- Increase CTR
- Shorten the conversion funnel
How about we 301 this blog post to a cat video?
Although it may be a less than glorious job, maintaining site architecture and proper HTTP status codes is probably the most overlooked aspect of search engine optimization methods. It takes intentional design, proactive monitoring, and a healthy dose of forethought.
In the words of Kevin Costner, “If you build it, they will come.” He may have left out the part about building it with excellent site architecture, but we’ll let that slide.