At one point in time you’re going to want to get started with a website redesign or put temporary pages out there for viewers while you complete testing or move domains. Regardless of your reasoning, you will want to redirect your pages so that no matter what changes you’re making your visitors won’t be left in the dark trying to visit your website. Seems simple enough, right?
How you redirect your pages is simple, but only if you understand the different redirects available and when you should use each one. If you use the wrong type of redirect for what you’re doing, your SEO will suffer and you’ll have a hard time digging yourself out of a hole once your website is back up and running. Some mix-ups you make can be more detrimental than others, but in any case you want to make sure you understand all of the options out there and know the terminology when it comes time to incorporate a redirect. There are four different types of redirects that companies often mix up: 301, 302, canonical attribute, and 404.
301 Redirects: Use When You Have a Permanent Move
This is the most common type of redirect and therefore the one you’ll likely want to use most often. 301 redirects tell Google that your page is not longer in one place and has been permanently moved to another page or domain. In other words, you’re telling Google that nothing has changed except the move, so you want your PageRank and SEO to transfer over as if nothing has changed. It also lets Google know that they should now be indexing your new pages instead of your old pages.
As you can see, not redirecting your pages with a redirect can cause you to lose all of your SEO, particularly during a redesign. After you have built up your pages with quality backlinks and content, it’s incredibly important to get this right. This ensures that there is only one version of your website out there.
302 Redirects: Use When You Have Only a Temporary Move
A 302 redirect lets Google know that your page is only temporarily moved, meaning they should not begin indexing the pages you’re putting in place for the time being (which is what a 301 redirect does) because they’re not permanent. This redirect is probably the rarest redirect you’ll see, but it should be used if you’re only doing temporary work on one or two pages. If you’re redesigning your site entirely, a 301 redirect will almost always be used.
Canonical Attribute: Use When You Only Want Certain Pages Indexed
A canonical attributed is also sometimes referred to as the rel=”canonical” attribute and is not synonymous with a 301 redirect. Businesses commonly mix up these two options because they’re so similar, but they actually serve very different purposes. This tag allows Google to know which page or pages you think should be indexed if you have two pages out there with duplicate content (or are duplicate pages altogether).
You may be asking why you would have duplicate pages in the first place. The only time this may happen is if someone wants to have two similar websites for similar audiences and occasionally posts the same article or if a page has multiple URLs for tracking, sorting, or filtering purposes. This isn’t nearly as common for Webmasters, but it can happen and it is an option out there if you’re interested. If you don’t use this attribute when you should, you will definitely get hit with a duplicate content penalty from Google.
404: Use For Error Pages Only
404 pages are actually error pages so they don’t redirect visitors anywhere, but many companies get 404 confused with the redirect types mentioned above so it’s worth mentioning. Your goal is to never have a 404 page associated with your website. This means that a page has been removed incorrectly (aka not redirected properly using one of the tags above), so you should fix the issue right away. 404 pages do not rank and do not build PageRank.
Extra: You may want to consider customizing your 404 page to make it a little bit more interesting and memorable. Visit this article to learn more about creating a unique 404 page.
I also recommend clicking here to learn more in-depth about what to do during a redesign to keep your SEO intact. Using the correct redirect tag is incredibly important, but there are other considerations and ways to let Google know so you don’t have any indexing concerns.