What Are 301 Redirects and When Should You Use Them?


A URL acts as a mailing address for a specific web page. It tells everyone (including search engine robots) where to find a specific piece of content. The issue is that when changes are made to that URL, those visitors and search engine crawlers can no longer find it. Redirects are a great way to tell search engines and your visitors where the new URL is. In our latest blog, we take a look at types of redirects, where to use them, and how they can help you protect your traffic.

If you’re thinking of moving your website over to a new domain or you’re on the verge of carrying out a rebranding exercise, the chances are you’re going to be heavily reliant on 301 redirects. 

As is the case when you move house, you need to let people know where to find your new home, or in the case of websites and online content, your new URL(s). However, no matter what your reason is for moving, the last thing you want is to lose the valuable traffic and authority your website has built over the years.

This is where 301 redirects come in very handy. But before delving into how and when you should use a redirect, let’s spend a few minutes delving into explaining what they are.

What is a 301 Redirect?

In web design and development, a redirect merely refers to a line of code that diverts visitors from one URL to another. There are actually three distinct types of redirect:

  • 301 Redirect – used when a piece of online content has permanently moved from one URL to another.

  • 302 Redirect (referred to as a 307 on newer websites) – used when a piece of online content has temporarily moved from one URL to another.

  • Meta Refresh – executed only if a page fails to load in a certain amount of time.

Since there are only a few instances in which you would want to implement a 302 or meta refresh, the redirect that’s by far the most relevant and valuable is a 301 redirect. 

It tells both site visitors and search engines that the page or URL they have arrived at has a new home and immediately redirects them to the new destination. 

Why Use a 301 Redirect? 

In case you didn’t know, a URL acts as a mailing address for a specific web page. It tells everyone (including search engine robots) where to find a specific piece of content. The issue is that when changes are made to that URL, those visitors and search engine crawlers can no longer find it.   

Instead, they will be met with one of the most common website error codes, a 404 “page not found.” It’s akin to a royal mail worker turning up to your home address and finding nothing there. With no forwarding address, they’ll have no option but to mark the post as “return to sender.” 

This isn’t good news as an owner or operator of a website. Firstly, it delivers a really poor experience to your website visitors. But perhaps more importantly, 404 errors can damage your search engine optimisation (SEO) efforts.   

Search engines will incorrectly assume the content doesn’t exist anymore since you haven’t let it know that you’ve moved it to a new location (URL). That is, of course, unless you use a 301 redirect to let everyone know where the new content is and divert them to its new location automatically. 

The best part? You don’t lose any of the authority and credibility you’ve built at the original URL.

So when might you use a 301 redirect? What are some of the most common use cases? 

When Might You Want to Use a 301 Redirect? 

Pretty much all websites have a least a few 301 redirects in place for all sorts of reasons. Let’s quickly run you through some of the most common.

Website Migration 

Sometimes you may want to transport your entire website to a new domain, in which case you’ll need to implement 301 redirects to ensure you redirect your old pages to their new counterparts on the new domain. 

Website Redesign 

It’s not uncommon to carry out periodic overhauls of your website to better suit your needs. For instance, you might have decided that you need to move a bunch of your blog posts from one category page to another. If that’s the case, you’ll need to implement 301 redirects to ensure that everyone, including search engines, can find the content in their new categories.  

Changing URLs

It might be the case that you were a little naive when first starting on your SEO journey, and you need to go back and alter your URL structures to make sure they are more search engine friendly. You’ll need to 301 redirect the old URLs to the new ones to enjoy the benefits of a better-optimized permalink structure. 

Web Forwarding A Parked Domain

Similar to setting up a mail forwarding service, you can use a 301 redirect to point to a parked domain (a site with no web hosting set up) to point to another site. This could be because the domain has good authority, and you want it to boost your primary site’s credibility or because you intend to use it at a later date and need to put a redirect in place in the meantime. 

Consolidating Content 

If you’ve got several pages and posts competing for very similar keywords, then you might be guilty of keyword cannibalisation. That’s why it’s often a good idea to incorporate your content for a specific topic under one roof (URL) to bolster SEO performance. In which case, you’ll need a 301 redirect to point the old competing pages to your new consolidated page or post. 

Get Help with 301 Redirects from McGinn & Dolphin

Moving an entire website from one domain to another can seem like a daunting prospect. The fear of losing the traffic and credibility you’ve worked so hard to build is justified. It’s not something you can afford to get wrong.

That’s why you should leave the website migration and other vital 301 redirects to the experts. Here at McGinn & Dolphin, we’ve already carried out several website migrations and rebranding projects for our clients, as well as implementing routine 301 redirect requests as part of our website maintenance packages

So why not book a discovery call to have a chat about moving or redesigning your website? We’d love to take the burden of getting it right off your shoulders!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Ali Dolphin is a UK-based marketing expert specialising in digital marketing. His expertise includes content writing, website design, and technology. Ali regularly provides insights and blogs on various aspects of digital marketing.

Scroll to Top