What Is A 301 Redirect?

In the case of a 301 redirect, the web server responds to the requesting client that the requested URL has been moved permanently (“301 moved permanently“) and can be reached under a new URL.

Technically speaking, a 301 redirect transmits the HTTP status code “301 Moved Permanently”. By transmitting this 301 status code, the web server forwards all requests from a source URL to a new destination URL.

For users and clients, a 301 redirect has the advantage that they do not end up on a 404 error page, but are taken to the desired – originally requested – resource (on its new URL).

A 301 redirect remains almost unnoticed by the user, as only the URL in the address bar of the web browser changes and the request takes slightly longer – on average just under 0.2 seconds per redirect.

The 301 Redirect Process Explained

The following diagram explains the technical process of a 301 redirect.

Graphic explanation of the technical steps of a 301-redirect

What happens during a 301 redirect?

  1. The Googlebot would like to retrieve the file “abc.html” from the domain “domain.com”.
  2. The Googlebot sends a request to the web server of the domain “domain.com” and asks for the file “abc.html”.
  3. The web server notices that the file “abc.html” does not exist any more on the URL “domain.com/abc.html”. In addition, the web server realises that there is an existing 301 redirect for the file “abc.html” to “xyz.html”.
  4. The web server returns the HTTP status code 301 (Moved Permanently) to the Googlebot and points to the new URL, “domain.com/xyz.html”.
  5. The Googlebot understands that the content of the file “domain.com/abc.html” can now be found at the URL “domain.com/xyz.html”. From now on, when trying to access the file “domain.com/abc.html”, a user will be redirected automatically to “domain.com/xyz.html”.

When should I use a 301 redirect?

The use of a 301 redirect always makes sense when the URL structure of a website changes or even the entire domain name is changed. It also makes sense when a website is merged with another or the content of a website can be accessed via two different URLs.

301 Redirects Do Not Have a High Damping Factor

According to Matt Cutts, former head of Google’s webspam team, a redirect using the HTTP status code 301 (Moved Permanently) does not have a higher damping factor than that for links. Accordingly, redirecting internal and external links using a 301 redirect is a good choice.

What Google says

If you need to change the URL of a page as it is shown in search engine results, we recommend that you use a permanent server-side redirect whenever possible. This is the best way to ensure that Google Search and people are directed to the correct page. The 301 and 308 status codes mean that a page has permanently moved to a new location.

Source: Matt Cutts, Google-Search Console Help

Our Conclusion

If a page moves permanently, always use a 301 redirect. The redirect type 301 (Moved Permanently) indicates that a resource can be found permanently in a different location, and future requests should use the new URL.

Video – Changing your website’s domain name

Steve Paine