What Is a 301 Redirect? A Guide for Website Owners

A 301 redirect allows you to preserve SEO rankings and maintain a positive user experience. But what is a 301 redirect exactly, and how can you create one? 

301 redirects allow visitors to reach their intended destination, even if they follow outdated links. Learn all about 301 redirects and how to make the most of them for your website.

Key Takeaways

  • 301 redirects are HTTP status codes that direct users and search engine crawlers from one URL to another.
  • Benefits of using a 301 redirect include avoiding broken links, streamlining user experience, preventing duplicate content issues, preserving existing search engine results and rankings, and more.
  • Different types of 301 redirects include permanent, temporary, wild card, and conditional.
  • Use a 301 redirect when a domain or URL changes, to fix broken links, avoid duplicate content, and more.
  • Setting up a 301 redirect can be done via editing the .htaccess file or using a WordPress plugin.
what is a 301 redirect

What Does a 301 Redirect Mean?

A 301 redirect, also called a page redirect or URL redirect, is an HTTP status code that signals web browsers and search engines that a web page has been moved permanently from one URL to another. Typically, users will see an explanatory page that reveals the status and original location of the web pages they were looking for.

How Does a 301 Redirect Work?

When someone visits a website with an old, non-working URL, such as “example.com/old-url,” they will automatically be directed to the new URL on your website, so they don’t end up on an error page.

The information regarding this URL change is then relayed back to the search engine crawler indexing the page. The crawler then subsequently updates its indexed version of this page by registering both old (with the date of the last update) and new destination pages. This ensures your website is up to date in the search engine’s index.

Benefits of 301 Redirects

301 redirect benefits

There are numerous benefits when you use a 301 redirect. It prevents you from losing traffic due to broken links and streamlines the user experience when navigating multiple sections/pages within your own site. Moreover, correct use eliminates issues arising from duplicate content. It also supports best practices for structuring internal linking within sites, promoting better SEO ranking results, and generating greater online visibility.

Transfers Existing Authority

When it comes to SEO, the biggest benefit of 301 redirects is that you can transfer over existing authority from one page or domain to another. This preserves link equity metrics, such as PageRank and keyword rankings, meaning that by correctly using 301 redirects when migrating content between sites, you can avoid a dramatic drop in organic search traffic and search rankings caused by broken URLs and ensure that users can find the new URL easily.

It also helps support best practices for internal linking and reduces duplicate content. Duplicate content can substantially hurt your SEO rankings, but using redirects allows you to post the content once and link it in multiple locations. This helps avoid confusion and a potential loss of page authority due to dilution from redundant pages.

Finally, it ensures that visitors spend more time on your site by reducing confusion and duplicate content. It also eliminates bothersome 404 errors, replacing them with intelligently managed redirects that provide better communication about what happened when the user tried to locate a piece of content.

Improves User Experience

In terms of user experience benefits, 301 redirection prevents 404 error pages from appearing on your website due to mistyped URLs or broken links. This greatly improves the overall user-friendliness of the site, increasing engagement and encouraging people to stay on the site, reducing bounce rates.

It also ensures that visitors don’t remain stuck on an unusable page or, worse, end up completely leaving your website altogether without viewing any other sections due to non-functioning URLs. Users have come to expect that 404s will send them to a new URL or an explanation page.

Proper use of 301 redirects also ensures visitors don’t become lost when arriving at your website. Ultimately, intelligently managed redirects provide users with faster navigation between pages and eliminate unnecessary issues caused by broken links or obsolete data.

301 vs. 302 vs. Meta Refresh Redirects

Several types of redirects are available, and choosing the right one is crucial. You can set redirects up within some content management systems (CMS). WordPress plugins also give beginners a “point and click” method to set up redirects. These plugins provide a highly efficient way to do a temporary redirect.

Here is a quick overview of the types of redirects.

301 Redirects

301 redirects direct visitors from one URL to another and help search engines update their indexed version of the pages accordingly.

302 Redirects

302 redirects tell the user that the requested page has been temporarily moved. When search engines receive a 302 status code, they do not treat them as permanent redirects and do not transfer link equity from one page to another as they do with 301 redirects. This type of redirection is useful under certain circumstances, such as when you want to monitor user traffic from search engines and start building search engine rankings before launching a site but don’t yet have content ready for the new URL. 

Meta Refreshes

A meta refresh redirects visitors automatically to a new URL, but is not recognized by search engines. It is considered an outdated method and should be avoided. A meta refresh redirect is rarely used because other methods, like 301 redirects, provide more reliable results. If your website has a meta refresh, you should consider replacing it with a 301 redirect. Also, check for Javascript redirects, which are also less functional than 301 redirects.

When to Use a 301 Redirect

Use a 301 redirect to permanently move content from one website or page to another. Common uses of a 301 redirect include domain and URL changes, fixes to broken links, duplicate content avoidance, and other scenarios that rely on redirecting users to a different destination URL.

If content needs to be moved, use an appropriate 301 status code . Do not use a 302, as these are less reliable at conveying information about the prior location of the resource. Using a 301 status code when redirecting traffic from an old URL to your new page helps ensure that you do not lose any existing search engine rankings built up over time on SERPs. Google Search Console can help you monitor whether your rankings are stable.

Domain or URL Changes

When a website’s domain or URL is changed, you should set up 301 redirects for the entire site so users and search engines can find the new location of your content. This also applies to pages within a website whose URLs have been updated or moved from one section/page to another.

Unless configured beforehand with permanent redirects, traffic could be lost due to broken links caused by changes in domains, URLs, permalinks (the address used for individual webpages), or other factors which affect the page’s location on the internet. Properly configured 301 redirects send users to the right place without any errors.

When a page, image, or file does not exist on your website, linking to it produces a 404 error. Broken links may occur if pages are unpublished or deleted with no available alternatives or if images are taken down. 301 redirects maintain the original PageRank of these nonexistent URLs by routing visitors to the desired target URL instead of being stuck on an unusable page and help improve SEO ranks. They also look tidier when users enter URLs incorrectly. 

Duplicate Content

Duplicate content is another common issue that can be fixed with 301 redirects. Having two or more URLs from the same domain with identical content causes issues for search engines. They might not be able to decide which of these pages is authoritative enough for indexing and ranking on SERPs.

This can lead to lower authority rankings, confusion about why certain results appear in searches, and users becoming confused by similar material on multiple pages. 301 redirects eliminate duplicate content by sending all traffic from each URL to the same page. This can consolidate your website’s online visibility and improve search engine results through optimization processes such as proper internal linking.

Types of 301 Redirects

301 redirect types

When setting up 301 redirects to migrate websites, content, or pages over to a new location, there are four main types you can use. 

Permanent Redirect

A permanent redirect indicates that the requested page is no longer at its original URL and has been moved permanently. This type passes on SEO rankings from the old page to the new page and should be used when updating existing pages with a different URL.

Temporary Redirect

A temporary redirect tells search engine crawlers that the page in question is not yet ready for indexing, but that it might return someday, prompting them to wait for a given time before revisiting it. While this does not carry any link equity from your previous page/post, it informs users upon request that the content will return soon. 

Wild Card

Unlike permanent and temporary redirects, wild card 301 redirects are more specialized. They are used to change multiple pages at once, or to assign an alias domain name as the primary destination URL, while still making content accessible via other domains with different URLs. Wild card 301 redirects streamline the tedious process of re-directing several pages​ at the same time, and allow you to easily move an entire domain.


A conditional 301 redirect is similar to a wild card redirect in that it allows you to make multiple changes with one command. The primary difference is that conditional redirects stipulate specific page URLs or files for the settings of the .htaccess file, without needing a long list of lines for each item.

This can be helpful in situations such as updating referencing styles on web pages and removing inappropriate or outdated content from Google indexing.

How to Set Up a 301 Redirect

Setting up a 301 redirect is relatively simple, but the exact method depends on your particular website structure or CMS.

Setting Up 301 Redirects on a Web Server

There are several tools and methods for setting up a 301 redirect, including via a CMS or plugin. Content management systems such as WordPress have plugins that allow non-technical users to easily set up redirects without having to use potentially confusing code. Alternatively, most web servers allow you to set up redirects by editing the .htaccess file.

Using a .Htaccess File

Setting up a 301 redirect on a web server is done by adding code to the .htaccess file. These instructions vary depending on the operating parameters of your domain or particular web server. Using an experienced developer for this task may be best, especially as they can help you avoid SEO-damaging redirect chains. However, if you are tech-savvy and have experience working with URL redirects, here are a few steps for setting up a basic temporary URL redirect via .htaccess:

  1. Access your website’s root directory through a file transfer protocol (FTP) client such as Filezilla or Cyberduck. 
  2. Find and open the website’s “root” directory folder (.htacess). 
  3. Add new lines indicating which page should redirect and where it should go: RewriteRule ^OldURL$ http://www.example.com/NewURL [R=301] 
  4. Save changes and upload the modified document back onto your servers’ root folder (Reupload). 

Using a Plugin

If you are using a CMS such as WordPress, there is no need to modify the .htaccess file manually. Many versions of WordPress come equipped with redirect plugins that allow users to easily manage and set up link redirection without coding skills or previous technical knowledge.

Thousands of these plugins, both free and premium, exist on the web. They range from simple, single-purpose ones to comprehensive packages featuring automated crawling capabilities which monitor all inbound links for changes/breaks before implementing corresponding 301 redirects as needed. You should be able to find a free WordPress plugin that fits your needs.

Summing Up

A 301 redirect is an essential tool for webmasters, developers, and website owners alike. It prevents traffic loss due to broken links or outdated URLs and makes it easier for search engine bots to index pages accurately on the internet.

Setting up a redirect is relatively simple, though more complex tasks require working with code or plugins. Regardless of your current technical knowledge level, setting up a 301 redirect has multiple benefits that will pay off in the long run by helping improve SEO rankings, streamline user experience, and ensure that duplicate content does not negatively impact your website’s performance.