All SEO specialists know that using redirects can be dangerous. Unfortunately, sometimes this is necessary. Google recommends that you use them whenever big changes happen, like changing site CMS systems or mass permalink modifications. You might do that and think all is ok only to end up with a message in Webmaster Tools telling you that all your redirects are down. They might have been down for a long time and in so many cases there are ranking drops that appear before that.
The huge problem with broken redirects is that you cannot really catch such an issue fast. Onsite links are going to all work. Audit tools used just look at the on-site links and old URLs are not crawled. As links are redirected, they eventually disappear from the Google index. This makes it even more difficult to spot potential problems.
The Bottom Line With Broken Redirects
To keep things really simple, when you have broken redirects you can be sure that your rankings are going to suffer. It is hard to know that this happens so the ranking drop will come as a surprise. You will normally go through various other checks before you figure out what caused the drop so everything is time-consuming.
Make Sure Broken Redirects Do Not Affect Your Site
Broken redirects can have devastating effects on SERPs. This is why you want to take preventive measures to protect the website. Here is what you can do:
- Avoid Changing The URL Structure
This is basically the easiest possible way to prevent the broken redirect. Creating redirects should only be done when absolutely necessary.
- Get Your URLs Right From The Start
When you do this you do not need to optimize the URLs in the future. That is not always possible since in many cases an SEO professional will end up having to work on URL structures that are not optimal. However, if possible, get it right from the start!
- Only Change URL If You Have To
You might feel that I am repeating myself but this is how important this is. If only minor tweaks are to be done, just do not do them! It is better and much safer on the long run.
When Do You Really Need An URL Change?
Many end up changing URL structure when it is not necessary. The reality is that you should only change URLs in situations like the following:
- The URL structure is confusing the visitor and is not at all well-thought-out.
- The site moves to a new subdomain, folder or domain.
- Technology changes force you to build new structures.
- Existing site content is consolidating or moving.
Redirects Have To Persist
The SEO specialist has the responsibility to make sure that the redirects are properly done but this is not the only thing necessary. Those redirects that are created need to keep working years from when they are implemented.
Verifying Your Redirects
At the end of the day, you need to be protected and you have to test redirects on a constant basis. If you know that there are redirects that were used in the past, do the following:
- Test URLs Periodically
Just create some bookmarks of the redirects. Click through your list from time to time. Alternatively, just create a document with the links and go through it. It is a great idea for a smaller site but the process is manual and will not scale if the site is larger.
- Backlink Tools
Backlink tools are very useful as they offer inbound 404 reports. The data that you will receive is going to include expired content and malformed links. Look at patterns that highlight redirects that are broken. These can be representative of larger breakage. Some manual work will be necessary but it is a lot faster than doing everything manually.
- Full Automation
If the budget allows it, create custom scripts that would ping URLs. These scripts have to be ran on a strict schedule, with reports being generated.