Secrets of SEO: 301 Redirects and 410 Error Codes

Fix Broken Backlinks

Imagine each webpage as a sheet of paper. Each hyperlink on it is a path for web traffic to flow through. Now imagine pouring a glass of water over that paper; the water in this metaphor flows through all the links. PageRank flows through links just like the water in our example. Several factors affect how much flows through each link. Such as text-size, boldness, “no-follow”attributes, emphasis, heading size, and other HTML markup.

Each webpage has it’s own “surface area” of internal and external links. When you create a backlink on someone’s webpage you are adding your URL to the “surface area” of the linking site. Pagerank from the linking page/domain flows to your page, then pours over the surface area of said webpage.

Too many links dilutes the PageRank, causing an unwanted “leak” of PageRank. So be careful, and audit the number of links on your webpages from periodically.

Going back to the metaphor — Imagine what happens with a broken link. The PageRank flowing into the page will dry up if  there is no webpage to receive it. That’s where 404 error pages save the day, kinda. They offer an alternative route for the PageRank to flow through. It is important to have a 404 page which includes hyperlinks with which you want to share the recovered PageRank, as it’ll flows across your 404 page just the same.

Using 301 Redirects

So you’ve already built up some backlinks to a specific URL on your website. If you change the URL at some time you’ll want to do it properly.

  1. Change the URL to the desired “slug” or URI.
  2. Create a 301 redirect via your Content Management System, a plugin, or if those aren’t options — your web server configuration.

Please Note: It’s a bad idea to manually use your web server config files. It’s impractical and will not scale well, although it will work if your use case requires it.

It would be a good idea to use Google Analytics or audit your server logs to track 404 errors. Whenever you see a 404 error redirect it to the most relevant page on your site. This can be an individual product/post, a category page, or some other webpage.

410 Errors

If you do not want to redirect the page, or want it deleted from Google and other search engines, return a 410 error code. This lets bots and spiders indexing your site know you no longer want this in search engines. It also distributes the old webpage’s PageRank via the 404 page template. Use a CMS plugin such as Yoast SEO for WordPress, or web server logs to manage your redirects.

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