Redirects and SEO: What Are Redirect Chains and Why Should You Avoid Them?
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When conducting an on-page search engine optimization (SEO) audit, you should look for redirect chains. Your website may have redirects. With a redirect, you can forward visitors from one URL on your website to another URL. Visitors who try to access the former URL will be redirected to the latter. While redirects are generally harmless when implemented correctly, redirect chains are bad for SEO.
What Is a Redirect Chain?
A redirect chain is a sequence of multiple redirects. It’s characterized by two or more redirects that are linked together in a chain-like formation. Redirecting to a URL that features another redirect, for instance, will result in a redirect chain. When visitors attempt to access the original URL, they’ll be redirected to a URL that forwards visitors to the final destination URL.
Redirect chains can consist of permanent redirects, temporary redirects or both types of redirects. Permanent redirects use a 3xx Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) status code, whereas temporary redirects use a 4xx HTTP status code. They work the same by forwarding visitors to a different URL. Permanent redirects are simply designed for instances in which the URL of a page has been permanently changed. Temporary redirects indicate a temporary URL change.
Redirects are nothing more than an HTTP status code and a URL. The HTTP status code provides information about the redirect, and the URL tells web browsers where to forward visitors to. Redirect chains feature multiple redirects. Each redirect has an HTTP status code and a URL.
Why Redirect Chains Are Bad for SEO
Long redirect chains can make your website slower. Whether a visitor clicks a link to a URL or tries to visit the URL directly, his or her browser must process all of the redirects. Web browsers can quickly process a single redirect. If they encounter a long redirect chain, however, it may take web browsers a while to process all of the redirects.
A study conducted by Matthew Edgar, a professional SEO consultant, found that each redirect in a chain added 60 to 70 milliseconds to load times. Redirect chains with eight redirects add about a half-second to load times. And web browsers must still load the final destination URL after processing all of the redirects.
Speed is a website ranking factor. Google’s algorithm has analyzed speed for ranking purposes since 2010. Back then, speed was a desktop-only ranking factor. Google began using it for mobile rankings in 2018. Speed is now believed to be one of the most influential website ranking factors. Using redirect chains may slow down your website to the point where Google lowers its rankings.
Google won’t follow an infinite number of redirects. When crawling your website, it will typically only follow a maximum of five redirects in any given redirect chain. Google will ignore all subsequent redirects in the chain, meaning it won’t reach the final destination URL that visitors see.
All redirect chains have a final destination URL. It’s the URL in the last redirect. You’ll probably want search engines to rank these final destination URLs. Google, unfortunately, won’t reach them if a redirect chain has more than five redirects. Google’s signature crawler, Googlebot, will abandon long redirect chains without ever reaching the final destination URL.
Depending on the URLs included in a redirect chain, it may break your website’s encryption. Encryption is achieved by installing a cryptographic Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate. An SSL certificate will make all of your website’s URLs resolvable with the Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) address prefix. Visitors who access a URL with the HTTPS prefix will have their traffic encrypted.
Because they include multiple URLs, redirect chains can break your website’s encryption. Each redirect in a given chain must contain an HTTPS URL. If one of the redirects has an HTTP URL, it will break your website’s encryption. Without encryption, search engines may view your website as being less secure, which could prompt them to demote your site.
Mixing permanent and temporary redirects together in the same chain can confuse search engines. They won’t know whether it’s a permanent or temporary URL change. They may assume it’s a temporary URL change when it’s actually a permanent URL change or vice versa. To avoid such confusion, you should fix your website’s redirect chains.
Redirect chains can cause a loss of link equity. Links carry ranking power. It’s known as link equity, and search engines use it to rank URLs. Frequently linking to a URL on your website shows search engines that it’s important. Link equity will flow from other URLs to the important URL.
Creating a conventional link without any redirects — and without the nofollow tag — allows all of the link equity to pass to the linked URL. Links with redirects, though, won’t pass all of their link equity. They’ll lose some of their link equity with each additional redirect.
According to HubSpot, links lose roughly 15 percent of their link equity per redirect. A redirect chain with just five redirects will block 75 percent of link equity from passing through it. As a result, the URLs to which you link won’t receive much link equity. Most of this ranking value will get lost in the redirect chains. Fixing your website’s redirect chains will minimize the loss of link equity.
How to Fix Redirect Chains
You can fix redirect chains by cutting out all of the unnecessary redirects. You don’t need multiple redirects linked together. When visitors follow a URL, they’ll be taken to a single URL. Therefore, a single redirect will suffice.
Whether a redirect chain has two or 10 redirects, you should cut out the unnecessary redirects. Each redirect should point to a URL that doesn’t feature any additional redirects. If you discover a redirect chain consisting of multiple redirects, you should fix it.
For a strong SEO strategy, you should avoid redirect chains on your website. A single redirect is all it takes to forward visitors from one URL on your website to another URL. Creating sequences of multiple redirects is pointless. It may even backfire by harming your website’s rankings in the organic search results.
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Last Updated in April 2022 by Lukasz Zelezny