January 31, 2018
As a best practice, when moving pages you should implement 301 redirects from the previous URLs to the new ones and keep them active for at least 1 year. When moving entire domains to new domains, you should keep them active for as long as reasonably possible. This is crucial to maintaining your domain authority and rankings – regardless of the reason behind the change in your URL. This redirect makes sure that your visitors are sent to your new site without having to type the new URL. Think of it as setting up a mail forwarding system when you move houses. To ensure that you do not miss out on any important mail, you ensure that everything is sent to the new address. The same concern runs true for websites. In tech terms, mail forwarding is called a 301 redirect.
A Quick 301, 101: Benefits and Pitfalls of a 301 Redirect
Without a properly setup redirect, your users might face a 404 Not Found page or get directed to non-operational parts of your website. Clearly, these kinds of messages or errors are turn-offs to users and will certainly cause them to leave your website, but could lead them to completely disregarding your brand. The screenshot below is what it would look like if we incorrectly setup a redirect and you hit our 404 page:
Another consequence could be losing your page ranking because only a correctly set up redirect could point all link juice from your old site’s backlinks to your new page. However with all that said, the benefits, if used correctly, still outweight the pitfalls.
The History of 301 Redirects (and Google’s Response)
301 redirects are permanent redirects from an old URL to a new one. This command sends visitors to the new URL instead of to the one they typed or clicked on from their search engine results. A 301 redirect (not to be mistaken for a canonical attribute) can send 90-99% link juice to the new page. The code “301” is the HTTP status protocol of this kind of redirect. Generally, this redirect is deemed as the most efficient.
In most cases, marketers have various reasons for setting up a 301 redirect:
The Dilemma and Google’s Response
Although the 301 redirect is a widely accepted practice, a lot of site owners still wonder if it’s necessary. If yes, how long should you keep a redirected (301) URL before shutting it down? Theoretically, a 301 redirect is a permanent type of redirect which means you can keep it for the rest of your life (and even beyond). However, keeping something like that in your inventory is definitely not practical or reasonable. At some point, a number of publishers believe that it would be time to let go of the old domain, and answer the question of “when” can only come from Google’s advice.
Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller said that 301 redirects applied to permanent site move situations should be active for a long time. He explained that it takes at least six months to roughly a year for Google to be able to completely recognize that your site was moved. Apart from that, he pointed out that you give your visitors ample time to learn about your changes instead of leading them to a 404 page or a parked domain.
Mueller also wanted publishers to focus their attention on active links that may still be associated with your old URL. This means that even if a significant amount of time has passed and Google has already recognized that your site moved, it might still point to your old domain if the said active links are clicked. Hence, Mueller advised site owners to do their own due diligence as well. He said that publishers should try to spread the word about their move as much as possible. Aside from informing your followers and users, it would be beneficial if you also reach out to the owners of the links. The latter measure would at least give your partners the opportunity to update accordingly from their end as well.
Basically, Mueller suggests that you should keep your 301 redirects as long as possible and reasonable. After taking the necessary steps like informing the relevant parties of the move and disseminating the information in the hopes of reaching your future visitors, give Google sufficient time to recognize your move.
If you are moving from one domain to another, try to keep your 301 redirects for as long as there are sites or links that are still pointing to your former URL. In fact, if you see no pressing reason to remove it, the best decision is to just leave it there. Apart from potentially hurting your ranking, getting rid of your 301 redirects could mean bad customer experience for your users as well. Seeing error pages or outdated pages would badly hurt your reputation and could even cost you lost leads.
Another factor to consider before removing your 301 redirects is your site traffic. Check if the main source of your new site’s traffic is either your old links or direct traffic recorded when users type your old URL into their browsers. If this is the case for you, then it’s highly advisable to keep the 301 redirect forever. It would be too risky to suddenly get rid of your old domain especially if your old links are bringing in so much traffic from users who still find them relevant.
So should you ever take it down? If the source of most of your traffic comes from search engine results, then you can just shut down your 301 redirects after a few months to a year. Like Mueller said, this would be enough time for Google to track your move and recognize your new site.
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