Redirects are a very important part of running a successful website, but oftentimes little attention is paid to the process of managing them.
Without redirect management, you might see important redirects removed, users redirected to the wrong place, or link ownership lost for site SEO.
Managing forwarding must be able to withstand the future without becoming a burden on teams.
There are some objectives of the redirect management process:
- Redirects and the process should be easy to maintain and manage it.
- Avoid forwarding strings – One jump as far as possible.
- Enable analytics tracking or see another in use.
It is important to keep in mind the changes that will inevitably occur from the stakeholders, to the technology group, and the web as a whole during the future life of the website.
Someday in the future, it is very likely that the site will experience a CMS migration, massive changes in URLs, a change in media file locations, or that top websites will start using some new technology that will affect your URLs.
Change will also happen over time to the different teams responsible for:
- Technology identification It will handle redirects.
- creation, modification or removal redirects.
- Define URLs Where (and why) should be redirected.
In this article, you will learn about managing technology agnostic redirects.
Common use cases for redirects
Although there are other uses for redirects on websites, three of the most common uses that require managing large websites can be described as follows:
- The page has moved.
- Vanity forwarding.
- Redirect tool.
Managing “page moved” redirects
If a webpage created from an old site is moved to a new one, there must be a redirect to help humans and bots find the new site when they try to access the old site.
A human might have an old URL bookmarked, find a link to the old URL on a web page or in an email, or they might see it printed somewhere and type it in.
The search bot might find the old URL as a link on a web page or while recrawling the current page index.
Either way, providing a redirect is the correct way to indicate that an item is in a new location.
There are probably two general types of “pitch-to-page” redirects: batch, pattern-matched redirects, and single redirects.
Manageable batches of pattern-identical redirects
If every URL on a site or within a directory changes in a consistent way, the necessary redirect rule can be very simple and practically maintainable. forever With little maintenance required.
For example, if you move your company’s newsroom pages from “https://newsroom.domain.com” to “https://www.domain.com/newsroom/”, otherwise the newsroom URL structures remain the same. is, then one rule can handle all forwarding.
This single rule is also unlikely to conflict with new, unrelated redirects.
While changing your future CMS or redirect management system, maintaining this and similar single-line rules will not be difficult.
A big benefit of using pattern match redirects is the ability to easily make modifications in the future, such as editing query strings or changing the redirect pattern in the event of another large-scale change (such as a site moving to https).
Lists of individual redirects become unmanageable
If a single page needs a different URL or a group of pages needs a different URL but there is no consistent simple pattern, then a list of 1:1 redirects is required.
For example, if you have a blog post with the URL “domain.com/blog/devops-conferences-2021.html” and you want to change it to “domain.com/blog/devops-conferences.html” and update the content for the new year (and create the URL permanent), you will need to create a 1:1 redirect from the old site to the new site.
While a bunch of pattern-matching redirects can easily be maintained forever, you’ll likely eventually need to turn off one-time redirects.
In case your website moves to a new CMS someday in the future, or you might run out of space in the redirect manager – in these types of cases, the redirect may not be maintained.
John Mueller suggests that for Google, redirects should be maintained for at least a year when a page is moved.
It would be nice to keep this type of forwarding active for several years, but it may not be possible.
It is important, then, to have a way of knowing how long a redirect has been active and how often it has been visited when making decisions about which redirect to delete or keep in the future.
Manage vanity redirects
A group of redirects are often called “vanity redirects” or “custom URLs” and are shortened URLs designed to be easily typed, saved, and/or read.
Unwanted redirects happen almost all at once.
A common misconception many stakeholders of a large website have is the need for vanity URLs without a use case.
If the base URL for a product page on a company website is three or four folders deep, the stakeholder may request a vanity redirect pointing to the actual location.
These redirects do not help users, however, unless they know to type it into their browser.
One of the timeless features of the web is that users rarely type a URL into their browser rather than click a link while using the Internet.
Really useful redirects are those that the user reads or hears when not using the Internet.
Magazine ad, billboard, podcast or radio ad – these are all excellent uses for vanity retargeting.
In these cases, a person needs to remember the address easily and write it easily. Visit acme.com/piano to receive a free piano! It will be great.
If there’s no need for vanity forwarding—if there are no plans for a magazine or podcast ad—it certainly doesn’t need to be.
A site’s SEO or usability will not help redirect egos that no one is using.
When the time comes to migrate all your redirects to a new system, these can become a nightmare trying to figure out which ones are still needed or not.
Manage facility forwarding operations
Utility redirects are a type of often pattern-matching redirect that serves a technical or governance purpose.
Common utility redirects include:
- HTTP to HTTPS.
- Add or remove “www.”
- Add or remove a slash or “.html”
- Forcing lowercase letters only.
- Add, remove or edit a query string.
Since these items are pattern identical, they can be easily maintained and changed in the future.
It’s important to consider the order of operations carefully when combining multi-tool redirects along with mobile page redirects and custom redirects – with the goal of having as few hops as possible along the way and being easy to maintain in the future.
Utility redirects can reduce the number of custom, one-time redirects required, through automation and simplification.
Forcing lowercase letters, for example, can in some cases remove the need to create multiple versions of the same custom URL.
The last thing you want is for an executive at your company to think of all the potential covers for a custom URL they hope to use in a podcast campaign!
Shortened URLs that cannot be read by humans
One class of redirects that kind of lines between Utility and Vanity are shortened URLs that are not meant for users to easily remember or type.
These codes are often used in QR codes to reduce the length of a URL (making a QR code easier to scan), or by social media users to see how many clicks are received on links shared using bit.ly or a similar platform.
For major websites, shortened URLs should not be required for analytics tracking although a QR use case can be supported.
The best way to understand how redirects are used is to append the query strings to the destination of some type of redirect.
Vanity redirects, QR code redirects, and one-time moved redirects are all use cases for query strings that trigger tracking analytics when redirects are used.
Etrade.com gives an example of using query strings in vanity redirects.
For example, etrade.com/stockplans redirects to https://us.etrade.com/stock-plans?vanity=stockplans.
This enables Etrade to understand how many people have used this redirect over time and what kind of actions the users took after they got to the site.
Analytics data on redirect usage can help the web team decide which redirects need to be maintained or which can be removed, and which campaigns generate the most traffic and engagement.
Analytics tracking for tool redirects, such as HTTP to HTTPS, provides less value as the website is more likely to keep these in place whether or not they are used regularly.
These considerations should be used to create a set of query string rules that make the most sense for the website and team:
Specify the full redirect path in the query string:
- Many times the slash and periods must be replaced with a dash.
Select the type of redirect:
- Vanity, utility, moved page, QR, etc are all possible.
Indicate the date added.
Select the team responsible for forwarding.
Not all of this information is necessary to be included in the redirect destination query string, but it can all be included.
After executing the query strings on the forwarding destinations, the team can then audit usage on an annual or other cadence.
When, say, a Vanity Redirect is created for a particular campaign that has run its course, and the redirect hasn’t been used for two or three years, it’s time to stop maintaining the old redirect.
There are many anti-redirect patterns.
These may seem like a good quick fix but they end up causing more problems than they solve and should be avoided.
Some anti-redirect patterns include:
- 404 pages redirect to home page.
- Redirect to 404 error Instead of displaying a 404 error on URL not found.
- Redirect to redirect (Chain forwards).
- Redirect and not refreshing the page which contains the redirect link (link internally to redirects).
- Use redirects for A/B testing Instead of manipulating the DOM.
- Linking to non-chaining redirects – so that users click on a link thinking they are going to find a specific item on a website, but then are redirected to a different site (leaving the user frustrated and searching the site for the content they think they will find).
Many anti-redirect patterns can be solved by following these two principles:
- Never link to redirects internally. When you terminate a page, find all internal links pointing to the old page and remove or update those links.
- Allowing old pages that have no replacement to become a 404 – and be sure to remove links to it
A little governance and process around redirects can keep your website clean and your users happy.
Implement tracking analytics on redirects to enable auditing and remove old redirects that do not need to be maintained in the future.
Do not link redirects internally unless there is a good reason.
Following these basic steps will set up your site for future success and maintainability.
- How URL redirects can affect SEO
- 6 retargeting mistakes that can wreak havoc on your site traffic
- The ultimate SEO checklist
Featured image: duangphorn wiriya / Shutterstock