I think one of the coolest things about marketing is being able to turn a loss into a win.
You can take a failure and turn it into something that actually benefits you.
Whenever I face a business or marketing challenge, this is exactly what I try to do. Sometimes, it’s a big issue — like a year long lawsuit. Other times, it’s a small issue — like a single redirect.
Yep, even a 301 redirect!
That’s the great thing about 301 redirects. On the surface, a 301 redirect seems boring and technical. But you can actually leverage 301 redirects to get more traffic.
I know it sounds crazy, but it’s totally possible.
In this article, I’ll be talking about what a 301 redirect really does and how you can turn it into a viable source of traffic for your site.
If you want a behind-the-scenes look at some true insider information on increasing traffic, this article is for you.
I should point out that all redirects are somewhat risky in terms of SEO. They won’t help your SEO all of the time, but they won’t kill your rankings either.
So if you want to play it completely safe and refrain from checking out a technique that could possibly give you big returns, you might want to skip this article.
Don’t get me wrong––redirects aren’t black or gray hat techniques. They’re standard practice for webmasters. However, they do carry a little bit of risk in terms of SEO.
What’s important is that you’re aware of the inherent risk that redirects have. That said, I’ll be talking about redirect best practices, but you still might not experience perfect results.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about redirects.
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What a 301 Redirect Really Does
You’ve seen 301 redirects in action all over the web, but you may not have realized it.
Here’s what a 301 redirect looks like.
Type https://neilpatel.com into your URL bar.
Hit enter. When the site loads, you’ll see something different in the address bar:
If you typed in the https:// prefix, why did it disappear? That’s because of a simple 301 redirect.
You might be wondering, “Why would I need to use a 301 redirect?” The answer: It depends.
This specific example is one you’ll often see of a URL redirect on blogs. Typically, blogs do this because a URL without the http:// or https:// is easier to see and remember. People don’t have to look past the HTTP or HTTPS prefix––they just see the website name.
It’s also important that you use just one form of URL so you can maintain what Moz calls “domain authority.”
To illustrate this, let’s use NeilPatel.com. Notice that no matter which page of NeilPatel.com you’re on, you’ll always see neilpatel.com at the beginning.
In other words, you’ll never see https://neilpatel.com or neilpatel.com
I’ve used the same type of URL for all my pages, which gives me a huge advantage because all my pages are associated with the same URL.
Ultimately, using the same URL type makes it easier for you to remember, and it builds my authority in the process. That’s one great reason to set up 301 redirects.
Some sites prefer this URL consistency just because they think it looks nicer. It might not be worth the trouble if this is your reason, but you should set up the same URL pattern just for the sake of maintaining domain authority.
Let’s try it again with a slightly different kind of 301 redirect. Type in http://nationalgeographic.com. You’ll see that it makes an even more dramatic 301:
It’s transformed the domain to www.nationalgeographic.com. This is another option many sites go for.
It can also work the other way around, and there are different reasons for doing it that way too.
What do I mean? Let me show you.
To see this type of 301 redirect in action, type mint.com into the URL bar.
When it loads, you’ll see the https:// prefix.
This is because Mint wants you to know it’s a secure site since it deals with personal financial information.
You’ll also see this with many banks, government institutions, and most businesses that deal with confidential information of any kind.
If you type in http://bankofamerica.com, you’ll get redirected to the HTTPS site.
Those are two of the most common ways to use 301 redirects. However, these aren’t all of the uses of 301s.
Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting stuff.
Here are some other ways you can use 301 redirects.
Using 301 Redirects for Rebranded Sites
If you rebranded your website, you can use a 301 to direct traffic from your old site to your new one.
Jon Morrow did this with his old blog Boost Blog Traffic. He created a new brand called Smart Blogger, and that’s where you’ll find all of the old content plus the new.
But Jon didn’t want to lose years of existing content, so he migrated the site over to the new URL that reflects the new brand name.
So when you type in boostblogtraffic.com into the search bar…
…it automatically redirects you to the Smart Blogger site.
This was a crucial move for another reason: Jon had spent years building authority under the Boost Blog Traffic brand. He didn’t want to lose all of the backlinks he’d worked so hard for.
Using a system of 301 redirects was the perfect solution. All of that precious SEO juice was preserved, and Jon could use his shiny new branding.
So if you’ve rebooted your brand in any way, you can use 301 redirects to keep your SEO and traffic.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “What if I haven’t rebranded my site?”
And that’s a completely valid question. You probably haven’t rebranded your website recently.
But there’s another way you can use a 301 redirect to give your site an SEO boost and make it more credible at the same time.
Here’s where a particularly ingenious tactic comes into play, and it’s one of my favorite ways of getting a legitimate improvement in SEO from Google itself.
Redirect from HTTP to HTTPS
You’ve probably heard about the HTTP vs. HTTPS debate. You might have wondered, “Do I really need HTTPS on my site?”
The answer: You probably do need HTTPS on your site.
Google has openly admitted on several occasions that it favors HTTPS over HTTP. At the Share16 Google Keynote, Google’s Thao Tran affirmed that HTTPS is “imperative,” saying, “The future of the web is a secure one.”
So this green text and padlock can mean a lot.
On top of that, Google has now made its preference an official part of its ranking systems. That means if you have an SSL 2048-bit key certificate on your site, you’ll get a small rank boost from Google.
It’s not a huge difference, but it is noticeable.
This makes a lot of sense. Google wants the highest ranking sites to be secured so visitors feel safer. Because of that, they’re giving secured sites an advantage over unsecured sites.
But there are other reasons for moving to HTTPS that are just as persuasive.
For one, it makes your visitors feel more secure, no matter what industry you’re in.
HTTP sites will work fine for the most part, but having the green HTTPS and the padlock symbol really does add a lot of authority and trust in the eyes of your audience.
More importantly, if you don’t have HTTPS, Google will slap a security warning on your site that labels it as “Not Secure.”
For example, if you go to www.williams-sonoma.com using Google Chrome, you’ll see the regular homepage:
But if you try to add an HTTPS prefix to that, you get a warning:
This means that the site isn’t secured using HTTPS. Google doesn’t like that, so it enforces a warning that lets users know the site isn’t secured.
That’s something you definitely don’t want your users to see when they visit your site.
Contrast this to Mint’s website, which proudly displays the HTTPS in green along with a padlock:
These are small details, but they add a huge amount of credibility right off the bat. I highly recommend using HTTPS, and we’ll talk more about that in just a minute.
So how does this all relate to 301 redirects?
In short, you can migrate your site from HTTP to HTTPS and use 301 redirects to bring traffic to the new, secure version of the site.
Let’s take a look at this redirection in action using Mint’s site. Type in http://mint.com and look at what happens:
It automatically redirects you to the HTTPS site.
Using HTTPS is a good idea for almost any website. Here are a few things to know before you migrate your site from HTTP to HTTPS.
In February 2016, John Mueller of Google posted some important FAQs about moving your site to HTTPS. His entire post is worth a read, but here are some of the most important parts.
In the past, 301 or 302 redirects would cause you to lose a little bit of PageRank. In fact, in 2013, Matt Cutts confirmed that 301 redirects caused around a 15% loss of PageRank.
That meant moving an entire site to HTTPS would have caused a good deal of PageRank loss. If you were to use a bunch of 301 redirects, your site would have suffered quite a bit, and that didn’t provide a lot of motivation for webmasters to migrate their sites to HTTPS.
But Mueller confirmed that 301 and 302 redirects would not lose any PageRank. This is a game changer, and it shows how much emphasis Google is placing on HTTPS. Basically, they’ve changed their rules to benefit HTTPS sites.
Mueller also linked to a Webmasters support page that outlines best practices for moving to HTTPS.
It’s a nice step-by-step guide that walks you through the process of moving your site over to HTTPS.
If you decide to migrate your site to HTTPS, be aware that it will take a while. For some bigger sites, the process can take the better part of a year. HTTPS migrations are definitely worth it, but they can be complicated and involved procedures.
This conflict caused roughly 485,000 noticeable errors. And that was in about a 10-day period. You can see how complex and messy these can get.
But if you follow Google’s steps, you should be able to move your site to HTTPS with the least amount of issues. It’s also a good idea to check with your web hosting service if you have questions or if you’re having problems.
Now that we’ve gone over exactly how to use 301 redirects, there are some more details regarding 301s that you need to keep in mind.
The Fine Print of 301s
All of this doesn’t mean that you’re in the clear if you redirect all your pages. You very well could be, but some restrictions apply.
Here’s a nice diagram by Moz that explains some of Google’s new policies in light of their old ones:
Let’s break this down a little bit more, because here’s where it can get a little tricky.
According to Moz, if you 301 redirect a page to an exact copy of that page, you should be fine.
But Glenn Gabe of G-Squared Marketing found that Google will treat 301 redirects to irrelevant pages as soft 404s:
Back to my first point about questions that John [Mueller] has been asked and his response. He has always said that redirects to the homepage or non-relevant pages can be treated as soft 404s. That means Google will essentially view the original pages that are being redirected as 404s. And that means Google will eventually remove those pages from the index (treating them as standard 404s), even though they properly redirect to other pages on your site.
So what does this mean for you?
Basically, be as simple and as straightforward as possible with your 301 redirects. If you move your HTTP pages to HTTPS pages that are identical, you should get a boost from Google and not incur any penalties.
An example of a bad redirect would be from an old article page to a new homepage. (For example: fakesite.com/article redirecting to newfakesite.com.) Google will see that as irrelevant.
But if you link from an old article page to that same article (or a very related one) on your new site, you should be fine.
Let’s take a look at Boost Blog Traffic/Smart Blogger. Here’s a Google SERP link to a page on the old site, boostblogtraffic.com:
When you click on it, you’ll see the same article with the same URL ending, but it’s on smartblogger.com instead.
This is hands down the best way to move your old pages to a new site: Redirect to the same page with a new URL.
This is true whether your new site is a completely new domain or just an HTTPS version.
This way, you’ll have the best chance of retaining all your SEO benefits without losing any ranking on the Google SERPs.
But if, for some reason, you can’t link to a new version of the page, don’t sweat it. Mueller said that making a custom hard 404 page is the best decision in this case.
If your 404 pages can provide value to your users, you can actually get traffic from them. But 404ing your pages should be an absolute last resort.
To sum everything up so far: If you use 301 redirects to move traffic from HTTP to HTTPS, Google will probably give you a small ranking boost. But make sure you redirect to relevant content.
If you follow these steps, you’ll most likely get that nice little SEO benefit from Google. To top it all off, your visitors will have more peace of mind knowing your site is secure.
If there’s only one idea you take away from this article, I hope it’s this: Boring things don’t always have to be boring.
That’s something I absolutely love about marketing. It’s one of the big reasons I love doing what I do.
Think about it: Something like a 301 redirect can be transformed from a technical snoozefest to a highly useful weapon. That’s pretty amazing if you ask me.
This is actually true when it comes to many different things about marketing. You can turn usually boring or unpopular things like Bing and SEO audits into big wins for your business.
If you start seeing everything as a potential win, you can unlock a huge amount of power. Your mindset won’t be restricted by labels. Instead, you’ll open yourself up to new opportunities and the benefits they can bring to you.
Philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon said,
A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.
This is the exact attitude you should take toward marketing. Don’t let anything be boring, and see the potential in everything.
The bottom line: On the surface, 301 redirects are nothing special. But when you use them in conjunction with other tactics, you can achieve some excellent results.
Take the information from this article, try it out, and let me know how it went!
Are you going to try any of these techniques using 301 redirects?
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