Websites are constantly going through changes and updates, whether it’s restructuring how your sitemap is organized, changing your site from HTTP to HTTPS, or if you’re just doing general A/B testing. All of the backend workings of search engine marketing can be quite intimidating, and any mistakes could have drastic and volatile effects on both your paid and organic search efforts.
Redirects help make the site restructuring process a little bit smoother and less volatile. But just how exactly do they do that? Before we can answer that, we have to get some background information on what exactly a redirect is and how they work.
What is a redirect?
A redirect is defined as the process of forwarding one URL to another URL. So when a searcher lands on one page on a site, they are then immediately sent to a different page on the site. There are several different types of redirects: a 301 redirect, a 302 redirect, and a meta refresh — with the 301 redirect being the most commonly used of the three.
301 redirects and 302 redirects are fairly similar, the main difference between them is that a 301 redirect is permanent while a 302 redirect is temporary. You would use a 302 redirect if you were performing site maintenance and the original page was unavailable for a short period of time. If you were permanently reconfiguring your site, you would choose to use a 301 redirect. A meta refresh is different from both 301 and 302 redirects, as it is executed on the page level rather than a server level.
How Do 301 Redirects Affect Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
One of the few things agreed on by all SEO practitioners, 301 redirects are the preferred redirect for SEO. They transition all of the link equity — a search engine ranking factor based on the idea that links pass value and authority from one page to another — to the new page. Link equity helps determine where your page ranks on the search engine results page (SERP), so it’s very important to preserve it whenever possible.
According to Google engineers, 301 redirects these days pass 100% of link equity to the redirected page. That means that you get to keep all of the SEO ranking power that your links afford you, even though you are reconfiguring your site.
The key is the permanence of the redirect, because that indicates to browsers and search engine crawler bots that the page has moved permanently. Not only has the page changed locations, but also the same content can be found on this new page.
However, it is important to note that the search engines will take some time to discover the 301 redirect, recognize it, and credit the new redirected page with the rank and the trust of the previous page. It can be an even longer process if the site is rarely crawled in the first place or if the page resolve is slower. You can speed this process up for key pages by requesting a crawl in Google Search Console.
How do 301 redirects affect pay-per-click (PPC)?
As great as 301 redirects are for SEO purposes, they are less than stellar options when it comes to PPC. When the redirection happens, it strips something that’s known as a Google Click ID (GCLID). The GCLID is a tracking parameter that transfers information from your Google Ads account to your Google Analytics account. It is how advertisers are able to attribute which click came from which campaign, ad group, and keyword — providing valuable information that can help with Google Ads campaign optimization.
The GCLID gets lost when the page is redirected, which then causes reporting discrepancies in Google Analytics since it incorrectly attributes traffic coming in from paid ads to direct and organic traffic instead.
There is a fairly simple workaround to make sure the GCLID stays intact and traffic is properly attributed, and that is to update the final URLs of your ads from the old page to the new, redirected page. However, this presents a downside for advertisers. Since swapping out URLs is essentially creating all new ads in Google’s eyes, the performance history of the original ad is not carried over to the new one.
How your ads have performed historically gives Google a better sense of when and where your paid ads should show up on the SERP, so hitting the reset button could be detrimental to your new ads’ performance.
It’s kind of like how you’ve personalized some settings on your computer, you may have raised or lowered mouse sensitivity, screen brightness, etc. Imagine if you restored your computer to its default settings. That’s how Google is viewing your updated ads, even though they are the same ads just with a new landing page.
Although losing the ad history is less than ideal, it seems to be the lesser of two evils considering you still have the GLCID intact and can properly attribute all of your traffic to the correct channels.
You have two choices to update:
- Change the ads outright;
- Copy the ads and use the new URL in the new ads; let the ads run simultaneously and then turn off the old ads with the outdated URL after the new ads have started gaining traction.
Option two is our preferred option; better to have the clicks misattributed for a short amount of time, instead of bringing your ad traffic to a screeching halt.
It may seem like an enormously daunting task to change all of the URLs for each of your ads but Google Ads Editor allows you to bulk edit, which makes this a much easier task to accomplish. Hopefully, this explanation of 301 and 302 redirects helped make some sense of some intricate backend workings of your search engine marketing efforts. Until next time, happy optimizing!