▷ The importance of redirects when redesigning a site 2020 -

If there is one error that we often encounter when doing SEO, and which causes a lot of damage, it is redirects (or rather the absence of redirects). We do not measure enough the impact that this can have on positioning in Google, even though it is a fundamental point when we are about to redesign our site. A quick overview of good practices in this area to avoid major disappointments …

The first question: will my URLs change?

During a redesign, the first question to ask in terms of SEO is that of URLs: will they change? If not, you can breathe (staying vigilant to be sure that nothing will change, this is rare), if so, then you have to get to work. Just imagine that you are moving from town. You should inform the public services, your entourage, all the commercial services which send you mail regularly, so that everything now arrives at the right address and does not end up returning to the sender.

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On the web, it’s strictly the same, you will have to inform search engines and Internet users that your site is moving and that your URLs are changing, otherwise they may find themselves in a dead end. A dead end which will not only frustrate your readers, but which will especially annoy Google, which will not make the automatic link between the old and the new pages. So you risk starting from 0, with new URLs, flying positions, and new pages that take months to regain the positions of the old ones (and again, I’m nice, it’s not even sure that you all regain your positions). So here’s a simple way to avoid the biggest mistakes and make sure that changing your URL doesn’t mean less traffic.

First step: list the old URLs

Start by listing all of your URLs, and the different structures of those URLs. Articles (or products), categories, specific pages,… list them all on a good old Excel file, and start by defining URL schemes (for products for example, you know that the category and the subcategory are called in the URL, all your products are built in the same way, which gives www.domainname.com/categorie/sous-categorie/nom-du-produit.html.

For this step, you can use a scraper, and tools like Screaming Frog or Xenu to list all of your URLs.

Second step: define the new URLs

Then list the new URLs. For this, you have two solutions: either your site is in preprod, and you can crawl the new site and extract the URLs, or you can also build these URLs from 0, by defining the URL scheme. To use the previous example, you know that your product URLs will no longer include the category, but only the sub-category, and will therefore be of this type: www.domainname.com/sous-categorie/product-name .html. The change can also simply affect the extension of the page, which will change from .html to .php.

Knowing that this rule applies to all of your products, it already facilitates future redirects and the way we are going to organize that.

Third step: build the redirect file

Once you know how all of your URLs will be constructed, you should proceed to the step of creating 301 redirects (so-called permanent redirects). This is done via htaccess, respecting a very precise syntax (read this article very well documented on this subject, to deepen your knowledge or simply to understand the role and use of htaccess). In our case, we have identified a redirection model, as it is always the same element that disappears in the URL, in this case the subcategory. It will therefore be simple to create one or more rules that will redirect the pages without adding as many lines as you have pages.

So, knowing that it is only the path of the file that changes for us, here is the rule that we could use:

RedirectPermanent / categorie / subcategory http://www.domainname.com/sous-categorie

We will redirect all Internet users arriving on a URL of the type / category / subcategory (whatever happens next), to a URL of the type / subcategory. The operation is to be repeated as many times as you have subcategories, and they will allow you to redirect in a few dozen lines, the thousands of products that are in these folders.

This is only an example here, but you will probably also have to redirect pages one page (in the case where no common element allows to create a dynamic rule like here), the whole being that 100% of your old pages have an equivalent page on the new site (or be redirected to the most relevant page, if the old page disappears).

Step four: test redirects

Once your redirects are in place, it’s time to test them. In general, I opt for the test solution in real time at late hours or days with little traffic, in order to see for ten minutes if all the pages are well redirected and if we do not land on pages 404. This allows, before even the production, to know if a rule is problematic (it can happen to you to cause a server error called 500 and it is better to correct it before D-day) and to avoid crashes on the day from the exit from the site.

This is also when you can make corrections and updates in your redirects, etc.

Fifth step: production and monitoring of the 404

Last step, putting the new site into production, and monitoring redirects / positions / 404 and traffic. Monitor these indicators well, as they are crucial, and will allow you to identify errors that you may have made, and / or redirects that you have forgotten. I generally like to launch a crawl tool on the new site to identify error pages, and follow the Google Webmaster Tools daily to see the 404 coming up. It is rare that there are none, so it will be up to you to regularly correct these pages by adding the necessary redirects on the htaccess.

If everything is going well and everything is set up well, you should not feel anything in terms of positions in Google or traffic (unless your new site is less well optimized than the old one, but that is another subject… ), and Google should pass all the juice, popularity, and positioning from the old URLs to the new ones, allowing you to keep working quietly.