Should You 301 Redirect Or Update Old URLs?

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June 5, 2024

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Should You 301 Redirect Or Update Old URLs?

Should You 301 Redirect Or Update Old URLs?

The Dilemma of Outdated URLs

As someone who’s been in the SEO game for a while, I’ve encountered my fair share of website URL conundrums. Whether it’s a client who wants to revamp their entire site structure or a personal project that’s outgrown its old domain, the decision to 301 redirect or update old URLs can be a real head-scratcher.

On one hand, 301 redirects are the tried and true method for letting search engines know that a page has permanently moved to a new location. This helps preserve any link equity and search rankings associated with the old URL. But on the other hand, simply updating the URLs without redirects can be a quicker, more direct solution – especially if you’re dealing with a large-scale overhaul.

So, what’s an SEO-savvy website owner to do? Let’s dive into the pros and cons of each approach and see if we can’t find a solution that works for your unique situation.

The 301 Redirect Rundown

When it comes to 301 redirects, the general consensus from industry experts is that they’re the way to go if you want to maintain as much of your existing search equity as possible. As BigCommerce explains, a 301 redirect signals to search engines that a page has been permanently moved to a new location. This means any link juice, PageRank, or other ranking signals associated with the old URL will (for the most part) transfer over to the new one.

The key here is that the content on the new page needs to be highly relevant to the old one. If you’re simply redirecting to a generic homepage or unrelated page, you’re not going to see the same SEO benefits. That’s why it’s crucial to have a one-to-one mapping of old URLs to new URLs, ensuring a seamless user experience and maximum transfer of link equity.

The URL Update Approach

On the other hand, some SEO experts argue that simply updating your URLs without redirects can be a viable option – especially if you’re dealing with a large-scale overhaul. As one Webmasters Stack Exchange user noted, they implemented a massive URL restructuring project (150,000+ URLs) and saw a gradual decrease in organic traffic, despite having the proper 301 redirects in place.

The theory here is that while 301 redirects do help maintain link equity, the sheer volume of redirects can actually have a negative impact on SEO performance. Search engines may view it as an attempt to game the system, or the redirects themselves could be causing technical issues that outweigh the benefits.

Finding the Right Balance

So, where does that leave us? Well, the truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. It really comes down to evaluating your specific situation and finding the right balance between preserving your existing search equity and streamlining your URL structure.

If you’re dealing with a relatively small number of URLs (say, under 1,000), then a 301 redirect strategy is probably the way to go. The link equity transfer will likely outweigh any potential negative impacts, and you can ensure a seamless user experience by mapping old URLs to their new, relevant counterparts.

However, if you’re looking at a massive URL overhaul (like the 150,000+ example we mentioned earlier), then you may want to consider a more gradual approach. Perhaps start by updating a subset of your URLs without redirects, monitor the impact, and then slowly roll out the changes to the rest of your site. This can help you avoid any potential traffic or ranking drops that may come with a large-scale redirect implementation.

And of course, don’t forget to keep a close eye on your analytics and search performance throughout the process. Measure, iterate, and be prepared to make adjustments as needed. After all, the goal here is to maintain (or even improve) your organic visibility, not send your site into a tailspin.

A Final Word of Advice

Ultimately, whether you choose to 301 redirect or update your old URLs, the key is to do so with a clear strategy and a deep understanding of the potential risks and rewards. Lean on trusted industry resources, stay up-to-date on the latest SEO best practices, and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty with some good old-fashioned A/B testing.

And remember, no matter which path you choose, the team at MCR SEO is always here to lend a helping hand. We’ve guided countless clients through similar URL challenges, and we’d be more than happy to put our expertise to work for you.

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to give those old URLs a much-needed facelift and take your online presence to new heights.

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