Are redirects bad for news SEO?
This week: Redirects 101. We explain the difference between 301 and a 302 and how can you implement redirects while avoiding negative consequences.
Hello, and welcome back. Jessie here, back from another blissful Toronto summer weekend – and one that finally (!) included a show at the renovated, historic Massey Hall no less! Check your local listings: The Wild Hearts Tour (aka the early arrival of sad girl fall) is not to be missed.
This week: Redirects 101. Most news organizations will use redirects at some point, whether for breaking news, as part of updating evergreen content or during a site migration. We will cover the types of redirects and best practices for implementing.
Join our Slack community to chat SEO any time
Let’s get it.
In this issue:
What is a redirect?
Are redirects bad for SEO? (Best practices)
How to handle redirects for daily news
What is a redirect?
A redirect is the process where readers and search engines are sent from one page – the URL they originally requested – to a different URL.
What types of redirects exist?
There are three main types of redirects:
302: Found or Moved Temporarily;
A 301 is a permanent redirect. It’s the recommended redirect type and it passes the link’s full equity to the new URL.
A 302 is a temporary redirect. It is not entirely clear if a 302 passes the same link equity as a 301. 302 redirects are commonly used for pages that are seasonal or will revert back later. In news, this type of redirect is not recommended unless it is truly a short-term fix. In its place, use the 301.
A Meta refresh is a slower type of redirect that is client-side redirect – not one executed on the server level. As Moz explains, this redirect often accompanies a five-second timer asking readers to click a button or refresh the page if they are not redirected. They pass on less link equity and are not recommended for SEO.
The tl;dr: Use a 301. It’s the cleanest option that carries the most benefits (link equity and it provides a smooth user experience).
One point to remember: When putting a redirect in place, it will take time for search engines to process the 301 and transfer the authority of the redirected page. Add the new URL on to your homepage, link to it from new and existing stories or submit a request for Google to recrawl in Google Search Console (add the URL into the inspection tool, then click “request indexing”).
Redirect best practices
Is a redirect bad for SEO? That’s one of the most frequently asked questions in relation to redirects. The answer: it depends.
Redirects are useful when a webpage no longer serves any value, but may end up competing for traffic or provide a conflicting user experience.
Done poorly, yes, redirects can have a negative impact on your SEO efforts.
Poorly implemented redirections include:
Creating redirect chains;
Internal links that that point to redirects;
What are redirect chains?
A redirect chain occurs when two or more redirects are in place between the first – original – URL and the destination URL.
Imagine: Story A > gets redirected to Story B > gets redirected to Story C.
Google says it can follow up to 10 “hops” in a redirect chain. Any more than 10 and it will report a redirect error in the Index Coverage report of Google Search Console.
But any redirect chain can become bad news bears. Redirect chains add “latency for users, and not all browsers support long redirect chains,” according to Google.
Redirect chains slow down the processing of a webpage, meaning your readers won’t be able to see the information you’re providing as quickly as they could. It also can potentially harm the link equity being served from one URL to another, as Google has to take longer to process the new URL path.
Redirect chains offer essentially no value and should be avoided.
What is a redirect loop?
A redirect loop is also not ideal. A redirect loop follows a similar pattern like redirect chains, except the final destination is actually an already-redirected page.
Imagine: Story A redirects to > Story B, which redirects to > Story C, which redirects to > Story B … now you're back on Story B, which is already redirecting to Story C. You’ve created an infinite spiral. This is an error to be fixed.
Internal redirected URLs
This occurs when internal links (hyperlinks in stories, for example) are redirected to another internal URL on your website.
Imagine: You publish Story A with links to Story Z. Then Story Z gets redirected to Story Y. When Story A is accessed and the link is clicked, readers and search engines have to wait for the redirect to process.
The best practice is having all internal links point to the true URL with a 200 status code – not a 301 or 302. However, some internal links redirecting is not a dealbreaker if your strategy is otherwise solid.
The negative impact of redirects only occurs when they are implemented poorly. Done thoughtfully, redirects can be just another component of your overall approach.
Read more: Can 301 redirects help boost your organic rankings? What Ahrefs says.
THE HOW TO
Redirects and daily news
How a newsroom handles redirects – on daily news or for evergreen – will depend on the needs and priorities of each organization. As is often the case in SEO: it depends.
To rank well in search results, publishing original content is extremely important. Wires are – or can be considered – a supplement or starter for your enterprise reporting.
The best practice would be publishing a SEO-primed file (great headline, keyword-focused URL, descriptive sub-heads, etc.) for the news that captures core details. As the story develops, update this file with new information and updates from staff reporters – and avoid the redirect altogether.
As the story develops, remember what Claudio Cabrera said in his Ask A News SEO:
SEO work immediately after a breaking news event is “often centered around the breaking news asset. But, really, it should be centered around expanding the coverage into a tree because the quicker you get to the additional pieces of coverage, the likelier you’re going to win that event on search. That’s because you're getting a head start on what everyone is going to be searching for.”
The branches of the story that come after the original news enhance the reader’s overall experience. Expand your coverage with alternative story formats (map or charts-heavy pieces, a timeline, explainers, etc.) or add subheadings to build out different angles of the main piece. This can help avoid the need for redirects, too.
If your first wire file gets updated and expanded by staff throughout the day, the redirect chain is avoided. You’re also avoiding internal redirected URLs when other files are published and cross-linked.
However, this workflow isn’t always possible. In those cases, there are three broad approaches to wires, staff files and using redirects, as Shelby outlined in a previous newsletter:
Redirect the wire to the staff file;
Canonicalize the wire with the staff file;
Keep the wire and the staff file separate.
As Shelby explains, each approach has pros and cons – and an organization might implement a mix of all three, depending on the story.
Redirect the wire to the staff file
This ensures all traffic from the wire goes to the staff file after it is published.
Pros: Prioritizes staff content and keywords you ranked for. Trailing traffic will be sent to this page.
Cons: You’re asking Google to crawl a new URL. Redirects also force any backlinks to go through a redirect to the new page. You’re limiting opportunities to rank for a number of keywords (especially if the focus of the wire and staff are meaningfully different).
This is a common approach and can work well if you need to lead with a wire.
Canonicalize the wire with the staff file
This is similar to a redirect, however it does not remove the wire from existing on your site. (A canonical tag tells search engines that a specific URL represents the master version of a page, according to Moz.)
When you redirect a story, the original URL can no longer be accessed. This way, the wire still lives on your site and on the internet, but you’re telling the search engines that there is another version that is the “true” version of this story. This is done by setting the staff file URL as the canonical.
Keep the wire and staff files separates
Publish two stories – staff and wire – to separate, distinct URLs. When taking this approach make sure you clearly understand the purpose of the wire. Likely, the wire provided the pertinent information really fast – that’s the reason we publish wires over waiting on original reporting
Pros: This is great for news moments when the story is rapidly changing. Your wire has pertinent information quickly, but as the story develops, there are new angles for the staff file to focus on. This can also help pick up some additional search traffic for long-tail keywords.
Cons: This process does run the risk of cannibalizing your site for a single keyword.
If you lead with a wire – and keep it separate from the focused staff file – make sure to link to and from the wire, to provide that additional context to the reader.
As Shelby explained: What works best will depend on your specific site and objectives. Experiment and see what works best.
The bottom line: Redirects are not inherently bad for SEO. Carefully considered, they are a normal part of your search workflow. Continue, as always, to publishing original, high-value journalism and follow best practices.
SEO for Google News (Barry Adams): The most common SEO issues for news publishers.
Barry Adams on Twitter: Google unveils a bid to make featured snippets better.
News Product Alliance mentor Gia Castello explains how to prioritize work when you’re short on time (shared from Mandy Hofmockel’s excellent newsletter).
Barry Schwartz on Twitter: Google is showing author over site names in Discover for some stories.
Antoine Eripret: What you’re not told about GSC data.
Search Engine Roundtable: Google search is very broken right now.
Google: New ways Google is helping you find quality information.
THE JOBS LIST
These are roles across the globe we see that are audience positions in journalism. Want to include a position for promotion? Email us.
The News Revenue Hub is hiring a Project Manager for audience development work. SEO experience is a plus for the job.
Hearst UK is hiring a SEO Manager for Digital Spy. (London, UK)