To understand why you'd want to use 301 URL redirects for Inbound marketing, you need a baseline. What is a redirect, anyway, and why would you use one at all?
Bet you've used a URL redirect before
A redirect is an instruction for your web browser that tells it to redirect to a particular page if it's trying to access a particular different page. There are a few reasons you might want to use them.
1. You might want to use a vanity URL.
If you have a long page name and want to present a shorter, easier to remember version to the public, use a redirect. That's what Bitly is!
Bitly is cool because they have an Enterprise product where you can create branded shortened links. On top of that, if you're a HubSpot user like us, it seamlessly integrates with Social Inbox in HubSpot so instead of shortening links to 'hubs.ly' URL, it would use your branded URL.
Also, using Bitly (or the HubSpot Tracking URL tool), you're able to understand exactly how people found your site via a specific blog post or article you had published on another site.
2. The page has changed.
There are a few reasons a page may change. One is that if part of your SEO strategy includes changing the keyword or URL itself, you'll still want people to be able to access the content through using the old URL.
Or, you might be switching platforms. Building a brand new website means there might be a bunch of URLs that change, sometimes as part of the base organizational strategy, or sometimes because of SEO needs. Sometimes you might find that the legacy page URL doesn't match your new page structure (like if the URL is .php). In most cases, developers will try to keep the pages the same, so you don't lose any URL/SEO juice.
There are cases that a URL just has to change, and there are cases where the devs just decide it might be better for vanity, tracking or migration.
Next, let's look at the different redirect types and when you might use these.
How to use redirects to your Inbound advantage
There are four major redirect types: meta, scripted, 302 (formal) and 301 (formal and permanent).
1: Meta redirect
A meta redirect goes in the head section of your site. It’s not recommended for long term use, but sometimes, at New Breed, we’ll use it in a pinch if we don’t have access to the URL mapping tool in HubSpot for some reason. By our own policy, we don’t use these unless we have no access to a better way — and we'd recommend the same for you.
2: Scripted redirect
While we don't typically use these types of redirect either, there is one excellent application for Inbound! A scripted redirect can be coupled with smart content. Based on a smart rule, we can send a user to a particular version of a page.
For example, if you served the educational market in different countries or even states, your audience might be different based on location. You could use a smart rule and a scripted redirect to ensure the visitor from Alabama sees a different page than does the visitor from Oregon.
3. 302: Formal redirect that happens at the web server level: temporary
This redirect type says, "Hey, Google, I am redirecting this page but don’t forget about the old version of my page because it’s going to go back to that. Don’t index me! I’m a temp."
A great Inbound application is for event promotion. For one month leading up to an event, you could redirect your homepage to an event page. Or maybe your blogging strategy shifted a bit for event promotion so you needed to create a new blog homepage that lets you incorporate new elements not on your everyday blog homepage.
Though 302 redirects aren't widely used, there are definitely situations where they come in handy, similar to meta and scripted redirects.
4. 301: Formal redirect that happens at the web server level: permanent
This redirect type is the reason this blog post exists. It says, "OK, search bot, this page actually lives at this new address, and by the way, strike that old one from your memory. Forget it ever existed. This is the only one there is!"
This is the most common URL redirect used and is actually incredibly important for your Inbound strategy. Let me lay out two different scenarios for you:
Scenario 1: You've been blogging for six months but never optimized any of your blog posts. Now you're performing keyword research for each existing post and going back through and optimizing the new URL. If you're using HubSpot, it will automatically create a 301 redirect to the updated URL.
Scenario 2: You've recently redesigned your website and a part of that process was optimizing your web pages for search. Therefore the new site doesn't use the same URL structure as the old site, but the content never changed on the site, only the design and new optimization. To avoid your site going down, you publish new versions of all existing pages. Because having duplicate content would penalize your site in search, you need to redirect all of the old URLs to the new ones using a 301 redirect.
Making 301 redirects a reality
If you're a HubSpot user like us, you'll find this last part super helpful.
HubSpot has a front end tool called the URL mapping tool. All you need to do is pick your URL type, add one 301 redirect at a time with the original URL and then the destination path.
Another great feature of the tool: it lets you bulk load them. You just paste into the CSV in cells labeled "redirected URL" and "destination URL" and upload. (This makes launching your new website so much easier, and efficient.)
Then there are advanced options in the mapping tool. The original URL has to be associated with your HubSpot account, even if there are no pages on that domain. How do you create that association? Use the absolute type of URL, load the domain into the domain manager and change it to "active" status, so your team has control over it.
And a quick note on SSL. If a page is indexed with https you'll HAVE to have https in place on your platform before you can redirect traffic to it. This is because we can't redirect from a secure URL (https) to a non-secure URL (http) without getting a nasty security warning screen (which in my opinion is even worse than a 404 page).
You'll need to have both the domain attached and a SSL certificate installed on HubSpot before this redirection will work. We recommend giving yourself a full ten business days prior to launch to set this up as sometimes installing SSL certificates and making DNS changes takes time.
If you're using the HubSpot content management system for your website and have any questions or tips on using the URL mapping tool, let us know in the comments below. I'm always interested to hear how others are using HubSpot for their websites.
Christopher Mathieu is the Chief Design Officer at New Breed, where he oversees the creative strategy behind every project we produce. His unique ability to combine his fine art background with his technical web expertise has led Chris and his team to produce countless sales-ready websites and inbound marketing...