You probably have mastered basic SEO strategies through YouTube tutorials or by working with an SEO agency. Know your keywords. Improve the UI/UX of your website for a faster loading speed time. Build your content strategy in a way that caters to people, not search engines.
However, if you’re an up-and-coming SEO expert, there are matters you might overlook that can harm your overall SEO work. This includes small technical issues like redirect chains.
They might be the reason why your rankings aren’t improving even if you’ve focused on link building, kept every content updated and used meta tags. They have also frustrated users, eventually knocking your SERP position down a peg.
But what exactly are redirect chains? Why are they considered harmful to your website’s SEO performance? Most importantly, how can you find, fix and prevent them in the long run?
Let’s get straight to it and learn about redirect chains!
Getting Started: What Are Redirect Chains?
A redirect chain takes place when more than one redirect exists between an initial URL users click on and the destination page.
For example, URL 1 redirects to URL 2, which redirects to URL 3. For both users and search engine crawlers, URL 3 will take longer to load completely.
Image Source: ContentKing
Keep in mind that having redirect chains doesn’t warrant a penalty from search engines like Google. However, it can make it difficult for crawlers to index your pages. Google may even drop from following these redirects if you have more than five hoops.
Moreover, there are two common kinds of redirect chains: 301 and 302.
301 redirects typically occur when there’s a permanent redirect from one URL to another. This means that every user who requests an old URL will be automatically directed to a new destination. They are used to ensure better compatibility.
This type of redirect also allows web browsers to record or cache the new forwarding URL. And according to ContentKing, the consensus is that a 301 redirect passes on around 95 to 99 per cent of the page authority your original URL had.
So, when should you use 301 redirects? Let’s take a look at a few cases:
- You use several URLs to access your website. In this scenario, you have to choose one URL as the canonical destination where you use 301 redirects to steer traffic to the new URL.
- You need to conduct an HTTP-to-HTTPS migration.
- You want to permanently transfer your content to a new domain.
- You intend to amend www or non-www duplicate content issues.
To put it simply, 301 redirects are mainly used for permanent changes you want to make. Once it has been successfully set up, it sends a message to search engines like Google and Bing to hand over search engine rankings and value signals to the new URL destination.
302 redirects, on the other hand, is the ideal choice if you’re not keen on making changes permanently.
A 302 redirect is a temporary redirect. It directs your visitors to a new URL for a limited amount of time and tells search engines to keep the old URL indexed.
It is highly recommended if you’re still uncertain about the changes you plan to make. Since 302 redirects are reversible, you can go back to the original address if you change your mind.
Let’s take a look at the cases where 302 redirects are commonly used:
- You want to create an A/B split-testing for the functionality or design of your new website or page.
- You want to temporarily lead users to a sales landing page because you’re running a promotion.
- You have to redirect visitors to their preferred version of your website, depending on their language and location.
- You’d like to receive feedback regarding a new page without affecting your SEO performance on the old design.
Just make sure that it doesn’t stay in place for way too long! If it does, search engines will treat is a 301 redirect which passes the URL’s relevance and authority to the redirect target.
Additionally, you need to use the right redirect because it’s possible for search engines to get confused. When this happens, you might trigger the Google ageing delay.
The result? Your website might disappear from the SERPs and experience low rankings for months—even up to a year. All that SEO strategy you’ve established ever since you entered the digital marketing scene can take a catastrophic hit.
How Redirect Chains Happen
In most cases, redirect chains happen accidentally and unintentionally. Here are the most common instances where this technical SEO issue arises:
Businesses often encounter redirect chains when they rapidly upgrade their websites. During the process, small complications with URL specifics turn into bigger redirect problems. For example, take a look at this URL:
To make sure you provide a secure and safe browsing experience for users, you update it to https:
With this change, a redirect has now been created. But there’s a more complicated issue because you forgot to put a trailing slash at the end of the products. You change the URL again to:
These are only minor changes, as you can observe. However, you’ve already produced three redirects, causing site-wide redirect chains that can lessen your platform’s loading speed.
Regular Content Updates
Lots of SEO experts go the easy route when trying to change backlinks. Since it would take more time to get in touch with the site owner and ask them to tweak the link, they just redirect the initial backlink to a new destination instead.
There is nothing wrong with this, per se. The only problem is that as the website grows over time and undergoes changes, redirects can gradually increase without your knowledge. They are also barely noticeable if you’re not paying attention, so your SEO performance can take a toll in the process.
Redirect Chains vs Redirect Loops: What’s The Difference?
Image Source: Ahrefs
Even though the terms ‘redirect chains’ and ‘redirect loops’ almost sound the same, they are not to be confused with one another.
For starters, a redirect chain eventually leads to a final URL. A redirect loop, however, is a much worse problem. It is a result of unresolved redirect chains where you have more than two pages redirecting to each other, ending in page errors.
For example, URL A redirects to URL B. It then redirects to URL C, which redirects back to URL A and begins another endless cycle of loops. Since there are no destinations it can resolve to, search engine bots and users will encounter an error.
As a result, web browsers will display an error message like this:
More often than not, redirect loops are caused by wrong redirect rules in your server’s configuration, CDN redirect rules or CMS’s redirect manager.
For instance, there are redirects for old URLs configured in your web server. For future redirects, you decide to switch to a redirect manager in your CMS. You have a redirect from URL A to URL B in the server’s configuration, but in the redirect manager, a redirect from URL B to URL A was applied instead.
Check out these tips on how to fix redirect loops:
- Check third-party services.
- Clear your cookies.
- Set up redirects correctly.
Top Reasons to Remove Redirect Chains
Now that you have a comprehensive definition of redirect chains, you might wonder why it receives a lot of bad press from SEO agencies. Why does it matter to search engine crawlers if users face a few extra steps before getting to the final URL?
Always bear in mind that Google’s algorithm puts user experience at the top of its priority list. Even the smallest inconvenience or error on your part—no matter how unintentional—may negatively impact your position in the SERPs.
Get to know the most popular reasons why redirect chains need to be eliminated:
Affects Your Website Loading Speed
Google’s ranking system is designed to ultimately cater to its users. That’s why according to its ranking factors, the usability of web pages is one of the most important indicators of where and how you rank.
This includes the overall page loading speed. And if your website takes way too long to load and appear, users will abandon it before they can even make a purchase or sign up for an account.
Unfortunately, redirect chains can drastically reduce site performance. The longer the chain, the longer time it takes your final URL to load as browsers open multiple links.
Lost Link Equity
Also referred to as link juice, link equity is the value a website passes on to another page through links. The value depends on several factors such as HTTP status, topical relevance and authority, to name a few.
In short, it’s the boost or the stamp of approval your website gets from esteemed backlinks.
You obtain 100% of the link juice if you only have one redirect from a backlink to your site. Add another 301 redirect and you may only get an average of 85% of the link juice. And when two redirects are implemented, you receive 85% of 85%, which is roughly 72% of link equity.
Causes Crawling Issues
Redirect chains affect how search engine bots crawl your website in two ways.
Firstly, it has to do with your crawl budget. It is the number of pages Google will crawl on your website within a specific timeframe. This means that search spiders don’t have the full capacity to crawl every page you publish, especially when redirect chains start to ramp up and cause crawling issues.
If you’re not careful, the pages you want to rank might not be properly indexed.
Secondly, your web crawling can be impacted by how Google see and treat redirects. In some cases, once crawl bots see a redirect chain, they automatically treat them as a 404 error. Bots will think that your page does not exist at all.
How to Find Redirect Chains Using SEO Tools
When it comes to finding redirect chains, you don’t have to manually evaluate your website and click through all the links you can find. Aside from being too resource-intensive, you’re going to waste so much of your time.
Luckily, there are a couple of redirect checker tools you can take advantage of to check if your links are working as they should. These tools are also helpful in identifying potentially problematic chains and preventing them from getting worse.
Let’s dive right into them!
One of the best technical SEO tools you can find online is called the Screaming Frog SEO Spider. The platform offers free and paid versions to check redirects in two ways: upload a list of URLs in bulk or crawl a certain website.
Before you start, make sure that you download the accessible version of SEO spider where you can upload up to 500 URLs. Just proceed to their website, click on the redirect checking tutorial and press the Download button located on the right side to begin.
Upload a List of URLs to Find Redirects
Image Source: Screaming Frog
If you want to upload a list of URLs in one go instead of crawling your website, you can use the list mode.
In the top-level navigation bar, click on ‘mode > list’ to activate the list mode. You’ll then choose between two options: manually enter the URLs or upload them via a file.
Crawl The Website
Step 1: Open the SEO Spider to get started. Type in the name of the website you intend to crawl in the ‘enter URL to spider’ section and click the Start button.
Step 2: To view 3XX redirects, navigate to the ‘Response Codes’ tab and activate the filter for ‘Redirection 3XX’. Or you can just wait for the crawling process to finish and reach 100%.
Bear in mind that the status and status codes will be displayed next to every URL, along with internal and external URL redirects.
Step 3: You’ll find the destination of the URL redirect under the ‘Redirect URI’ column. Take a look at this example highlighted in green:
Step 4: Of course, the logical step you need to take next is to determine the source of the redirecting links so you can update them to the right location.
Simply click on a specific URL you want to update. Once done, proceed to the ‘Inlinks’ tab found at the bottom to fill the lower window pane.
Step 5: You can click on the Bulk Export > Response Codes > Redirection (3XX) Inlinks in the top-level menu. This exports the file and lets you view the data in a spreadsheet.
And if you want to identify redirect loops and internal redirect chains, export the redirect chains report under the ‘Reports’ tab. It will show you the number of hops, identify the sources and spot possible loops.
Compared to Screaming Frog, Redirect-checker.org is a more straightforward tool. Simply input your http:// or https:// URL to identify 301 and/or 302 redirects happening on your web pages.
However, you shouldn’t use this tool if you want to crawl your entire website. Only use this platform if you want to check specific URLs!
It also comes with several features, including:
- Various user agents like desktop browsers (Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox), mobile devices (smartphones, Kindle, tablets) and search engine bots
- Checks http headers like Status Code, X-Robots-Tag and Rel Canonical Header Tag “Link:”
Redirect Detective is a free tool that allows you to view the redirection chain, showing you the complete path a redirect takes to get to the final URL destination.
Using this tool, you can check if redirects work correctly and at what stage in the redirection path cookies are being set (indicated by a round yellow icon).
How to Fix and Prevent Redirect Chains
Luckily, fixing and preventing redirect chains once you’ve found them on your website isn’t rocket science. Take a closer look at these effective tips:
Get Rid of Unnecessary Redirects
Removing unnecessary redirects is a simple process, as long as you have already exported the report using the suggested tools above. Just go to the source page, find the anchor text and amend the link so it directly leads to the final destination URL.
In this way, you shorten the redirect chain and make it easier for search engine bots to index your web pages.
Perform an SEO Audit
Through an SEO audit, experts will perform a detailed review of the elements of your website that potentially influence your search engine rankings. This analysis is essentially conducted to detect errors, evaluate the attractiveness of your website to Google robots and create recommendations from a technical standpoint.
With this, it’ll be easier to find, fix and prevent redirect chains because SEO audits mostly cater to larger websites. They help you remove broken links and 404 pages, establish a sitemap for better indexing and eliminate intrusive factors that hinder user experience.
So the next time you perform crawls and site audits, it’s important to include redirection chains or loops.
Set Up a Redirect in WordPress
Did you know that you can create easily set up redirects if your website is built using WordPress? All you have to do is use the plugin called Redirection, allowing you to create redirects without editing your .htaccess file.
What’s more, this plugin maintains the query string and URL path so you don’t lose any SEO value in the process.
What are redirect chains?
Redirect chains occur when several redirects are in place between the original URL requested and the final URL destination. For example, URL 1 redirects to URL 2, which then redirects to URL 3.
How do you minimise redirect chains?
To minimise the occurrence of redirect chains on your website, follow these tips:
– Perform a regular audit of your website and existing redirects.
– Refrain from linking to a URL that already redirects to another URL.
What is redirect chain vs loop?
Don’t confuse redirect chains with redirect loops! While redirect chains eventually lead to a final URL destination, redirect loops are infinite cycles of redirects that result in page errors.
Are redirect chains bad for SEO?
Although you won’t receive penalties from Google if you have redirect chains, it can harm your SEO in the long run if they stay unresolved. Redirect chains can make it difficult for search engines to index and crawl your pages, affect the website loading speed and make you lose backlink equity.
If you’ve been in the SEO scene long enough, you’d eventually earn dofollow sources and backlinks to improve your site’s overall SEO performance. This is why redirection chains can sometimes be inevitable, and avoiding them can take a bit of persistence and dedication.
However, if you don’t find the time to fix redirects, your SEO might suffer the longer these chains become. The next thing you know, your rankings and website visibility have been negatively affected. Users will also leave your site without taking any actions because of a 404 page you’re not aware of.
Technical SEO tools like Screaming Frog and Redirect Detective can help you preserve your SEO efforts. As long as you stay on top of them, fixing redirect chains won’t take too much of your time and resources.
But if you ever need any help, you can hand off the hardest tasks in SEO and content to Roots Digital.
We’ll help you bring back the great technical health your website once enjoyed before redirect chains and loops became out of hand with website maintenance and SEO audits.
Book a consultation with us and let’s start uncovering technical SEO issues as soon as today!