It’s long been accepted that 301 redirects are important to pass PageRank and maintain organic traffic when permanently moving a webpage. There was some dilution of PageRank several years ago, but Google has since reported that 3xx redirects do not loose PR. So, it would appear that all you need to do is setup a 3xx redirect when moving your content and the you’ll have a fairytale happy ending, right?
Okay, then why does the ranking and traffic fluctuate so much when using them? In a presentation, I attended at SMX East in 2016, Christophe Cemper shared an experiment comparing the impact of 301 v. 302 (starts slide 19) on the ranking for a page. And the results were that the search engines will drop rankings for a 301, so there has to be other factors to consider to maintain rankings.
Two factors to consider
There are two critical factors crawl rate and contextual relevance. Too many redirects or “long redirect chains have a negative effect on crawling,” and there is an important contextual relationship between link source pages and the destination page (i.e. pages with links and the pages they link to).
I believe the concept of latent semantic relevancy of a page as it pertains to a linking page/domain is not well-covered or studied. However, Moz touched on the topic in the well-cited Search Ranking Factors study in 2015, showing a correlation in anchor text and top-ranking sites.
Going beyond the redirect
Let’s go way beyond the redirect to minimize any loss of traffic and ranking. Here’s a list of tactics that will stop the traffic hemorrhage when moving content.
Let’s face it, you probably don’t have the resources to work with every site linking to your content and get them update. It’s a lot of work to reach out to publishers that link and convince them to update your links. There is good news, you don’t need to hunt down and contact every site.
Finding which pages, and subsequently the links on those pages, you should focus on are relatively easy. I use these steps:
- Check the web analytics software (Google analytics, Omniture, etc.) and find pages that generate 80% > of the organic traffic. I’m not going to explain how to find this report as there is plenty of articles on that.
- From these pages, find ones with unique referring domains. I use the “best by links” reports under the Pages tab, in ahrefs.
- Click on the number under “RD” (referring domains) column in your report. That will provide you with a list of domains that are linking to that URL.
To change or not to change, that is the question!
At this point you have an ungodly list pages and aggregated list of links by page. Let’s make some sense of that mess.
There will be 3 types of sites:
- No chance
- Easy wins
Filtering out this list is not as straight forward as planning the pages, but here are the steps I use to simplify it.
I’ve used Search Engine Land’s enormous link profile to the “searchengineland.com/guide/what-is-seo” page for this example.
- After you’ve clicked on a number under RD in the “best by links” report in ahrefs you will now have a list of domains. Export a Microsoft Excel (UTF-16) report.
- Filter Descending by DR (Column C in the screen shot above)
- Stay organized in this step. Segment the list based on the 3 Types listed above. Identify them by:
- Any site with a DR above 60 are typically a “no chance” domain. A quick scan of these sites will reveal which site may reply to you (e.g. Google.com links will not)
- Sites with a DR 40-59 can go under the “maybe.”
- Anything with a DR 39 or lower may fit under the “easy wins” category. This will typically be the largest list to review.
Finding and reaching out to sites
If you have a traditional link building or email marketing background, you likely have a process already. There is no shortage of articles about how to find contact information on sites. So here, I’ll provide you with 1) some great tactics others have described and 2) email templates that tend to have the best response for me.
You may have access to update some of the URLs in directories, social media, or partner sites. But for the resources and email template below will be helpful
List of resources:
- Avoiding automation: https://searchengineland.com/seos-need-stop-automating-email-outreach-links-204625
- Finding emails: https://moz.com/blog/14-easy-ways-to-find-any-email-address-in-10-minutes-or-less
- Comparison of Mailchimp v. Constant Contact: https://www.mailmunch.co/blog/mailchimp-vs-constant-contact/
- List of tools to use: https://neilpatel.com/blog/10-blogger-outreach-tools-you-should-use-today/
When it comes to success on response, the email message is a big factor. I find that being direct and transparent is best.Template for cold outreach
Hi [first name]
I saw that you link to our article (searchengineland.com/guide/what-is-seo), thanks for that.
Just letting you know that we have updated that URL to now be [new url]. We put proper redirects in place, but if you update to the new URL you may find that it has a positive impact on your crawl budget from Google. Here’s an article about how that works: https://searchengineland.com/google-explains-crawl-budget-means-webmasters-267597
Build 301 redirects to pass maximum value
Frankly, there’s no chance that you’ll update all URLs pointing to the old content. And If you’ve read this far, I have little doubt that you understand 301/302 redirects or even how to implement one. So, let’s discuss how to implement a 301 to maximize value and reduce ranking loss.
The semantic relationship between the source (domain, page, and anchor text) and destination page is strong, so make sure that the 301 is going to a relevant page. If you’re just updating the URL due to a new IA (information architecture), then you’re good. If you’re removing the content to consolidate, reduce duplication, flatten your site, or what have you, then you’ll want a strategic 301.
When selecting which page to place the 301 to, use the “site:” operator in google. For example, IF SEL was to move the SEL article on /what-is-seo (which will not likely as it’s killing It in the SERPs right now), then I would search “site:searchengineland.com/ what is seo” and select one of the top ranking listings, like “21 Essential SEO Tips & Techniques.”
Going beyond the simple 3xx redirect plan as you move content can be a large project, but strategically managing your site’s link profile can reduce traffic loss. And the application goes way beyond a single page move, translating into an entire site redesign, or significant IA updates. I’m sure if you’ve been part of an aggressive site move that traffic loss is something you’ve experienced.