The Power of 301 Redirects in SEO (and Politics)

By Kaitlyn Smeland Dhanaliwala | Jan 23, 2009
More Articles by Kaitlyn

One of the basic components of optimizing a site for search engines is the number and quality of links pointing to the site.  For Google, links seem to have far more weight in the ranking algorithm than other factors (like site content).  So it’s extremely important to have a clear link building strategy in place for any SEO program.

But let’s say you put in all the work, and your well-built links start to get you rankings on your keywords of focus.  You’re elated.  But the next step- which is just as important- is protecting those rankings.  One big danger to theose rankings you’ve worked so hard to achieve is the site redesign.

Often in a redesign, when page content/design changes, so does the file name which appears in the URL.  This is a problem for SEO, because search engines use the URL as an identifier for your page.  If a bot crawls your site after a URL has changed, it won’t find the page that it expected to find and it won’t recognize your new page as a replacement.

The solution is to leave a kind of change-of-address card for the search engines- the permanent 301 redirect.  By redirecting the older page to the newer page, search engines will take note and all those links you spent time building (to the old site) will now be credited to the new site.  Your new page will then retain all the rankings the old page had already received.

This is a critical practice for most of our clients, but it turns out it may be possible for 301 redirects that do their SEO job to actually do some harm-  reputation wise.  We’ve all heard of the Googlebomb- when a large group of people link to a particular site with a particular anchor text in order to push the site to the top of the rankings for a desired search query.  For example, a famous example is when George Bush’s biography on the White House website ranked #1 on Google for the search term “miserable failure.”  The phenomenon was accomplished when many, many people linked to the page with the anchor text “miserable failure.”

Well, flash forward to the next administration.  Obama is now president, and as such his biography appears on the White House website.  Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land reports that because Bush’s biography page was redirected to Obama’s bio page, the Googlebomb has now transfered to Obama.  Oops.

It just goes to show you the power of 301 redirects.

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