Understanding how to execute 301 redirects is a fundamental SEO skill.
That’s what this guide is all about.
Make sure you read until the end because I will show you two of my favorite 301 redirect tactics (that produce tremendous results).
Let’s jump in:
What are 301 Redirects?
A 301 redirect is a status code that signals to search engines that a permanent redirect is now in place.
Search engines like Google will see the 301 status code and remove the old URLs or domains from the index. As a result, search engines will recognize the new domain or new URL as the permanent new location.
Now the question is:
Do 301 Redirects Affect Your Google Rankings?
The short answer is yes.
301 redirects can affect your SEO performance positively or negatively from a technical, content, and link building perspective.
I’ll cover everything in this guide, but before I do, I need to cover a few important questions about 301s.
Do 301 Redirects Pass Link Juice (PageRank)?
Not sure who came up with the phrase “link juice”, but yes, they do pass PageRank (note: Google still uses PageRank but hasn’t updated for the public in many years).
According to Gary Illyes, “30x redirects don’t lose PageRank anymore.”
Gary says that all 30x redirects (including 301 redirects, 302 redirects, and 307 redirects) pass 100% of the PageRank.
Should you believe him? Yes and no.
He’s probably telling the truth, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
302 redirects did NOT pass PageRank in the past, so it’s better to take the safe route and use a 301.
301 Redirects vs Canonical Tags
301 redirects permanently move a page, which is no longer visible to the user. On the other hand, when you use “rel canonical” the page is still alive and visible to the user. Only search engines will see the usage of canonical tags.
Now with those questions out of the way, let’s jump into the technical side of 301 redirects.
Start with an Audit
Screaming Frog SEO Spider is the best tool to handle all technical issues related to redirects. Here’s what you need to look for:
Check #1 – Find Unsecured URLs
If you have an SSL certificate installed (which you should), there’s a chance that some URLs may still be insecure. It’s important to 301 redirect the non-secure URLs to the secured ones.
The good news is that Screaming Frog SEO Spider makes this super easy.
Just enter your root domain and start the analysis.
Then click on “Protocol” and select “HTTP” from the dropdown.
This section will show you all the URLs that are currently insecure.
Make it a priority to fix these.
Check #2 – Redirect Issues
Two types of redirects need to be handled: 302 redirects and redirect chains.
Find and Fix 302s
To find 302s, simply click the “Response Codes” tab and select “Redirection (3xxx) from the dropdown.
You should change all 302s to 301s unless the 302 is actually being used for its proper purpose (which is a temporary redirect).
Although Google says it’s fine to leave 302s as is, I’d rather not roll the dice. 301s are proven to pass PageRank. So stick with what’s proven.
Find and Fix a Redirect Chains
The next step is to see if the target website has any redirect chains. A redirect chain occurs when a redirect is redirecting to a redirect.
Well, here’s a visual representation that makes it easier to understand:
Finding redirect chains is important because there’s a good chance it’s hurting your website’s authority. That’s because link equity (PageRank) has to pass through one or more unnecessary stages.
All you need to do is find these redirect chains and then break the chain like this:
To find them, simply open up Screaming Frog SEO Spider, click on “Report”, and then click on “Redirect Chains” to export all existing ones.
Now just go through and clean up all the existing redirect chains.
Check #3 – 404 Pages
There are only two types of 404 pages you should be concerned about.
- An accidental 404 page
- A 404 page with existing backlinks
The first step is actually to find all your existing 404 pages.
I use a combination of Screaming Frog SEO Spider and Google Search Console to find these errors.
Open Screaming Frog SEO Spider and click on the “Response Codes” tab. Then select “Client Error (4xx)” from the dropdown and export.
To find 404s with the new version of Google Search Console, click “Index”, then “Coverage”, then “Excluded” tab, and then click on “Not found (404)”.
After you’ve gathered all your existing 404 pages, it’s time to see if any of these pages have existing backlinks. The best way to do this is to use the Ahrefs Bulk Analysis tool.
Open up Ahrefs, click on “More,” and click on “Batch Analysis”.
Then enter all the 404 page URLs and start the analysis.
If any of the 404 pages have backlinks, then you need to identify a relevant page on your website.
If you cannot find one, you should 301 redirect the 404 page to the homepage.
Those are a few different technical ways to leverage redirects, but now I want to show one of my favorite techniques involving redirects and content.
The Cake Technique
One of the biggest SEO content mistakes is creating multiple assets around very similar keyword phrases. This can lead to keyword cannibalization and make your SEO campaign harder than it needs to be.
That’s when The Cake Technique comes into play.
In short, The Cake Technique is the process of consolidating similar content assets into a single “Mother” asset. Going through this process has a wide array of benefits, such as:
- Increased word count – Consolidating assets will naturally increase your word count, which is often correlated to better rankings.
- Deeper content – Spreading your knowledge across multiple posts usually produces thin content. Consolidating your assets produces the opposite effect.
- Eliminates keyword cannibalization issues – Keyword cannibalization (when two or more pages target very similar keywords) forces Google to choose which one is best. Why take the risk? Consolidating similar assets eliminate this issue.
- Consolidates authority – You’ll be 301 redirecting your other assets, which means your “Mother” asset will inherit all existing backlinks. That will turn your “Mother” asset into a traditional powerhouse.
- Makes content promotion easier – Acquiring backlinks and promoting a single content asset is easier. People are more likely to link to a super resource than a thin content asset. Unless your Seth Godin, but he’s the exception.
Here’s a visual of what The Cake Technique looks like:
Here are the steps to executing The Cake Technique:
- Identify content assets that are targeting the same or closely relating keywords.
- Decide what content asset is going to be your “Mother” asset.
- Map out how you’re going to combine these content assets into a single piece of content.
- Consolidate the content.
- 301 redirect all the supporting assets to the “Mother” asset.
- Annotate your actions in Google Analytics to measure the performance of your new asset.
I’ve used this technique with many clients and on Gotch SEO.
In fact, this guide you’re reading now is leveraging The Cake Technique because now I’m going to show you how to use The Merger Technique (which used to be its own individual blog post).
I also used this technique a few years ago when I consolidated a few different assets around the topic of “backlinks”.
I had individual blog pots on:
- “How to Build Tier One Backlinks”
- “How to Build Tier Two Backlinks”
- “How to Build Tier Three Backlinks”
- “How to EARN Backlinks”
This was borderline keyword cannibalization, so I consolidated them into a single asset (my backlinks guide).
Here are the results:
Let me show you one of my favorite 301 redirect link building methods.
How to Use 301 Redirects for Link Building
Use The Merger Technique
Before I jump into this strategy, you first must understand what a “merger” actually is. Investopedia defines a “merger” as:
“The combining of two or more companies, generally by offering the stockholders of one company securities in the acquiring company in exchange for the surrender of their stock.” – Investopedia
When a merger occurs, the old brand’s website will get 301 redirected to the acquiring company’s website
What is The Merger Technique?
It is the process of 301 redirecting a relevant expired domain to your site.
The objective is to increase your site’s authority.
More site authority = better Google keyword rankings and more organic search traffic.
This strategy is no different than a big brand acquiring another business.
The Merger Technique imitates this process.
Why The Merger Technique Isn’t Just a “Buzz” Phrase
I came up with the name of this technique because my SEO agency has used it with the big brands I work with.
For example, one of our clients acquires data centers across the United States.
So, every time they acquire a new data center, they redirect the acquired brand’s site to theirs.
Although these results were awesome, I wanted to ensure it wasn’t an isolated event.
That’s why I implemented the same strategy on Gotch SEO and several other client sites.
For my site, I took an old marketing website and 301 redirected it to a landing page on it.
The redirect pushed the target keyword to the first page:
I then did the same exact thing for a local website and grew its organic search traffic by 425%:
And if you want an example outside of my own experiences, then I highly recommend you take a look at Neil Patel’s link profile. He’s acquired a few different companies and merged them with NeilPatel.com. Here are the results:
You get it.
301 redirects work.
But, wait a second…
Not ALL 301 redirects work.
That’s why I didn’t want to call this a “301 redirect strategy”.
The Old 301 Redirect Approach
Using 301 redirects for link building purposes is not a new technique.
But the old way of leveraging 301s is not only dangerous but will likely be ineffective.
The old approach is to take ANY domain with high metrics and 301 it to your site.
There are several reasons why this is a dangerous strategy:
1. The Links Aren’t Relevant
Google’s Penguin algorithm nails websites with irrelevant, spammy link profiles. By 301 redirecting an irrelevant domain, you’re asking Penguin to slap your site.
2. The Anchor Text Isn’t Relevant
301 redirecting an irrelevant domain will destroy your anchor text profile with irrelevant anchors.
3. You’re Confusing Google
Let’s say you’re trying to rank a page for “link building”. You then go out and find an expired domain about “kitten training” with amazing metrics.
You then redirect this domain to your site because of its metrics alone.
Now you have introduced irrelevant links and anchor text about “kitten training”.
This creates the perfect recipe for confusing Google. It doesn’t know if your page is about training kittens or link building.
A confused Google = an invisible website in search engines.
The New “Merger” Redirect Approach
Now that you know why the old 301 redirect approach isn’t effective let me show you why the new approach works.
You’re Getting Link Relevancy
Relevant backlinks are king. Plain and simple.
In the Merger Technique, you will only be using expired domains with similar Topical Trust Flow Topics to your site.
You want to use Topical Trust Flow topics because it’s based on link relevancy.
For example, if you were in the “health” niche, you need a domain with “Health” as its TTF Topic.
Unoptimized Anchor Text
There is a strict criterion for anchor text distribution. More on this in a second.
Why It Works
It works because you’re focusing on relevant expired domains.
Relevance is the single most important factor when it comes to effective link building.
Google can detect traditional 301 redirect tactics because the content and links are irrelevant.
The Merger Technique is nothing more than you “acquiring” another business in your industry.
Now let me show you how to actually find quality domains.
How to Find Domains for Your Merger
The first thing you need to reinforce in your mind is to be patient.
You aren’t trying to build a network of websites. Take your time, and don’t jump on the first opportunity you see.
Second, follow this criterion when looking for a domain to “merge” with your business:
- The site should have a Topical Trust Flow topic similar to yours
- The site should have a Trust Flow above 15
- The site should only have quality links (editorial, earned links)
- The site should have at least 20 referring domains (more is better)
- The site should have unoptimized anchor text and a high percentage of branded anchors
- The site should be indexed in Google (not entirely necessary, but my preference)
- The site should not have been used for spam in the past
Using the criteria above, you will now go into DomCop and try to find a domain for your Merger. For the demonstration below, I will show how I would look for a Merger site if it were for Gotch SEO.
Step 1: Go into DomCop
Scroll through the list and look for sites with a similar Topical Trust Flow topic to yours. Within seconds, I found one that is relevant to Gotch SEO:
Step 2: Fact check with Majestic
If you click the Trust Flow metric below the domain, it will take you to Majestic. Run the prospective Merger site through Majestic to make sure the Topical Trust Flow topic is relevant, the Trust Flow is above 15, and there are at least 20 Referring Domains:
Step 3: Check the anchor text distribution
You will see in the sample below that 18% of this domain’s anchor text is for “FLV player”. This is a red flag. Compare this to its branded anchor text which only comprised 3.47% of its anchor profile.
Personally, I would have eliminated this domain after seeing the anchor text distribution.
I will continue on through the other steps to show you what domains you should NOT get.
Step 4: Check the link quality
The steps above will take you no more than a few seconds. Now you have to actually analyze the domain’s link profile. Click the “Backlinks” tabs and check out the links:
This is a critical step in the process for you to see.
Remember when I said I would have discredited this domain because of the anchor text?
Well, that would have been a big mistake because the “FLV player” anchor text was natural and coming from quality pages like this one:
With this discovery, this domain would be back on my “good” list.
Then I scroll down and see a foreign anchor text…:
Any type of foreign anchor should raise red flags. But, you shouldn’t immediately classify it as spam.
Popular websites get foreign anchors all the time because they have global recognition.
That said, you need to investigate the foreign anchor text to ensure it isn’t spammed.
Go to the site and use Google Chrome to translate the page:
If you have the Moz bar installed, use it to highlight external links:
After translating this site, I can conclude that it isn’t spammed, and there is no reason to worry about the link.
There is a big misconception in the PBN space that a foreign anchor equals low quality. That’s not always the case, and that’s well demonstrated in this example.
Step 5: Make sure the site is indexed
Grab the URL and toss it into Google:
Uh oh… everything was going so well up until this point. The site isn’t indexed.
You should run this check BEFORE doing all the steps above. I just wanted to give you a complete demonstration. It’s hard to say why this domain isn’t indexed, but there is no point in stressing over it.
Just move on to the next opportunity.
Step 6 (if the domain is indexed): Check the history of the domain
If the domain in this example was indexed, we would want to check its history.
Go to Archive.org:
This site has been used for redirects in an ironic turn of events on many occasions.
This domain is disqualified because A) it isn’t indexed and B) it’s already been used for the purposes we want.
Showing you what domains NOT to buy is the best way to show you what you SHOULD buy. I won’t go through another example, but just make sure you follow the steps above.
In addition to using DomCop, you can also look for domains using FreshDrop.
Flippa takes The Merger Technique to a new level. That’s because you can get a relevant domain AND qualified traffic to your site. This is the perfect equation for growing the authority of your site.
You’ll need capital to use this strategy, but it is by far the most effective. The only problem with using Flippa is that it’s challenging to find domains relevant to your niche (and that follow the Topical Trust Flow topic rule).
With that said, here’s what you need to do:
Go to Flippa and search for a keyword relevant to your business:
Follow the same vetting process as above, but with one key difference:
Always verify the domain’s traffic because Flippa is plagued with scammers.
Now let’s talk about executing a proper 301 redirect (using The Merger Technique).
How to Merge (301) Two Sites
The first decision you’ll have to make is whether you want to redirect your domain through your registrar or hosting provider.
A registrar redirect will redirect all the domain’s pages to your homepage.
This isn’t the best route to take.
You should invest in hosting because then you’ll be able to redirect on a page-by-page basis.
Here’s a simple criterion for deciding whether or not to redirect a page:
- Is there a relevant page on your website? If so, redirect.
- Does the page have existing backlinks? If so, redirect it to a relevant page. If there isn’t a relevant page, redirect to the homepage.
Don’t be afraid to let some pages 404 if they A) have no relevant sibling page to pair, B) they don’t have any positive signals (backlinks) or C) they are thin, low-value pages.
To see what pages have backlinks, open up Ahrefs, enter the domain, and click “Best by Links”.
One last recommendation:
Don’t go crazy with The Merger Technique.
Have extreme vetting standards and only consider the highest quality and most relevant domains. If you do that right, you don’t need many “mergers” to see an impact.
I hope this helped learn more about 301 redirects and please drop your questions below because I respond to every single one. Thanks for reading.