Why URL Rewrites and 301 Redirects Can Improve and Save Your Search Engine Visibility
Last Friday, Search Engine Journal published an article that referenced a Search Engine Watch case study, demonstrating the value of transitioning dynamic web addresses to static web addresses (URL’s). The organic traffic increase, over the next 4 months of reporting, showed a 50% improvement.
This post talks to the idea of what factors are involved in maintaining your search visibility when you redesign or restructure your website (with links to resources) and details four examples from my professional history related to this information. It’s unlikely that most people will find URL management “sexy”, but having static web addresses can be more appealing to search engines, and redirecting correctly when implementing this functionality, or redesigning a website, ensures that your information online remains intact and up to date in search. Isn’t that sexy enough?
Two fairly technical and equally important SEO related web programming activities must happen in relation to the success of the Search Engine Watch case study:
- URL Rewrite – Rewriting the URL’s to take on a more user-friendly, directory style format
- URL Redirect – (301) Redirecting the original information as understood by search engines, to the new destinations as created by the URL Rewrite
A client of mine is getting ready to launch a new redesign on their website. Fortunately, their old site was a static, CMS driven website, so the key issue related to search engine optimization will be making certain that the web addresses from the original website are correctly transitioned to the new website web addresses. We’ve had a great experience working with their web design team in creating a successful redesign and implementing an SEO strategy, but this is not always the case.
When it comes to URL’s and transitioning older material to new material, it can involve additional programming and time commitments, which if not properly estimated ahead of time, can cause headaches in project schedules once a “launch date” and budget plan has been agreed upon. There is more to HTML coding when considering the following search engine specific SEO factors related to the new URL:
- The creation of static URL’s when utilizing a CMS system
- Mapping existing URL’s to the new destinations
- Mapping out old URL’s that will no longer have a place in the new design scheme
If you are faced with a situation where you are asking for more than you were originally quoted for, you may need to deliver either real business reasons or documented instructions related to this request.
Resources for URL Rewrites
- Changing Dynamic to Static URLs
- Apache htaccess Ultimate Guide
- Using ISAPI Rewrite with ColdFusion
- mod_rewrite Cheat Sheet
Resources on 301 Redirects
- How to Redirect a Web Page, The Smart Way
- SEO Advice: Discussing 302 Redirects
- Search Engine Friendly Redirect Checker
Business Case Resources Related to URL Management and SEO
- Site Architecture Issues to Avoid
- SEO Related Factors When Shopping for CMS Vendors
- SEO: Illuminating the Value of URL Design
Four Examples of Rewrites and Redirects in Action
Here are four examples from my experience working with websites that utilized components of the information above. The first two projects are from my work at KoMarketing Associates and the third is an independent project. The last example is purely for referencing a (former) client who did not implement recommendations, and what happened as a result.
- Implementation of a URL Rewrite
We implemented a URL Rewrite for a client which would enable web addresses in specific sections of the website to be much more user-friendly and “link-friendly” overall. It should be noted that there were many other factors involved in our SEO project, so it’s impossible to say whether or not search rankings and traffic improved in direct correlation with the URL Rewrite.
Here Are The Successes Thus Far:
- Organic Search Traffic has increased 15% when taking the average monthly traffic for the Four Months preceding and following the URL Rewrite. (It’s worth noting that the 4 months following the Rewrite are traditionally 3 of the 4 lowest volume months for business)
- We can now track and report on the effectiveness of specific web pages on the site, which was much more difficult prior to this Rewrite.
- 301 Redirection from Numerical Web Addresses to Keyword Specific Web Addresses
A company decided that they wanted to remove the numerical web addresses found on their website with keyword-specific information, in order to obtain more relevance in search rankings. The key issue would be making certain that Google and the other search engines recognized the change immediately and indexed the new information appropriately. We implemented a 301 redirect mapping scheme to ensure that all old web addresses 301 redirected to the appropriate, new destinations.
- Indexing of the new web addresses within 3 to 4 weeks of the redirect implementation, with no organic search referral loss
- A 20% improvement in organic search traffic, when factoring the 8 months after the URL Rewrite and 8 months preceding the URL rewrite, in terms of average monthly search referrals.
- 301 Redirecting an Acquired Domain to an Existing Domain’s Website Structure
Acquiring a website leads to additional questions related to how best to incorporate the information presented in the acquired domain while still preserving the keyword rankings associated with that domain. Andy Komack wrote a great article listing considerations related to website mergers and consolidating content and information while preserving keyword search visibility. A recent client of mine decided to consolidate a purchased website directly into their main website structure. We used 301 Redirects to transition all indexed pages of the old website to the appropriate, new destinations on the main website. This project was unique because we were looking to transfer existing domain credit (in terms of keyword rankings, age value and link value) to another resource location on another domain.
SEO Success Maintained Throughout the Acquisition:
- All applicable web addresses were re-indexed under the acquiring domain within 30 to 45 days of the transition.
- Keyword rankings remained intact AND the URL results corresponded to the new destinations of content. It’s worth noting that this was for both competitive and non-competitive keyword rankings, including specific “web directory” related keywords. “Web Directory” has a predicted search volume of over 2,000 times a day, according to Keyword Discovery.
- NOT Implementing 301 Redirects When Transitioning to a New Design
At the end of 2006, a client did not follow our strategy for redirecting their existing web addresses to the newly redesigned site’s web address structure. It was going to be too cost prohibitive for the project, despite our red alerts.
- They lost all of their competitive keyword rankings when all of the old web addresses, which were no longer available, were removed from Google’s search index.
- They have yet to gain back any of their applicable keyword rankings – although it is unlikely they are actively working with search engine optimization at this point.
It’s not sexy, but the hard work around rewrites and redirects matter when it comes to search engine optimization.
Creating a more visually appealing web address not only provides a better opportunity for search engine indexing and ranking, but creates a better user experience overall. The more that users click your search results and can easily bookmark and link to your pages will influence your search visibility in the long-term.
Just because you know where your new pages are located does not mean that everyone else will. 301 Redirects provide the best way to let users and search engines understand where your website’s new destinations are, so that that valuable content found originally does not get lost in transition. It also means that your new redesign is not reliant on an organic crawl of the website to re-rank strategic keywords and re-index new web addresses. It took you how much work and how many hours to rank your website today – can you afford to lose that ranking because you did not want to invest the time to transition your website information from a search engine perspective as well?
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