What is a 301 Redirect?

301 redirect

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’m going to show you two of my favorite 301 redirect tactics (that produce massive results).

But let’s start with the basics:

How 301 Redirects Work

A 301 redirect signal to search engine crawlers that a page has been permanently moved to a different page.

what is a 301 redirect

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 be covering 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 Illyes 30x redirects

Gary is saying that all 30x redirects (including 301s, 302s, & 307s) 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.

302s 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

A 301 redirect permanently moves a page and it is no longer visible to the user. On the other hand, when you use “rel canonical” the page is still live and visible to the user. Only search engine crawlers 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

The best tool to use for handling all technical issues related to redirects is Screaming Frog SEO Spider. 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.

The good news is that Screaming Frog SEO Spider makes this super easy.

Just enter your root domain and start the analysis.

Screaming Frog

Then click on “Protocol” and then select “HTTP” from the dropdown.

Screaming Frog Protocol

This section will show you all the URLs that are currently insecure.

Screaming Frog Protocol Results

Make it a priority to fix these.

Check #2 – Redirect Issues

There are two types of redirects that need to be handled: 302s and redirect chains.

Find and Fix 302s

To find 302s, simply click the “Response Codes” tab and select “Redirection (3xxx) from the dropdown.

Screaming Frog Response Codes

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 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.

Confusing, right?

Well, here’s a visual representation that makes it easier to understand:

Redirect Chain

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 if find these redirect chains and then break the chain like this:

Fix Redirect Chains

To find them, simply open up Screaming Frog SEO Spider, click on “Report”, and then click on “Redirect Chains” to export all existing ones.

Screaming Frog Redirect Chains

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.

  1. An accidental 404 page
  2. A 404 page with existing backlinks

The first step is actual find all your existing 404 pages.

I use a combination of Screaming Frog SEO Spider and Google Search Console to find these errors.

Open up Screaming Frog SEO Spider and click on the “Response Codes” tab. Then select “Client Error (4xx)” from the dropdown and export.

Screaming Frog 404s

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)”.

404s Google Search Console

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 Ahrefs Bulk Analysis tool.

Open up Ahrefs, click on “More” and click on “Batch Analysis”.

Ahrefs Bulk Analysis

Then enter all the 404 page URLs and start the analysis.

Ahrefs Bulk Analysis Tool

If any of the 404 pages have backlinks, then you need to identify a relevant page on your website.

Ahrefs Backlinks

If you’re not able to find one, then you should 301 redirect the 404 page to the homepage.

Those are a few different technical ways you can 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 choice 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 an authoritative powerhouse.
  • Makes content promotion easier – It’s easier to acquire backlinks and promote a single content asset. Plus, 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:

The Cake Technique

Here are the steps to executing The Cake Technique:

  1. Identify content assets that are targeting the same or closely relating keywords.
  2. Decide what content asset is going to be your “Mother” asset.
  3. Map out how you’re going to combine these content assets into a single piece of content.
  4. Consolidate the content.
  5. 301 redirect all the supporting assets to the “Mother” asset.
  6. Annotate your actions in Google Analytics to measure the performance of your new asset.

I’ve used this exact technique with many clients and even 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 decided to consolidate them into a single asset (my backlinks guide).

Here are the results:

SEO Results

Now let me show you one of my favorite 301 redirect link building methods.

How to Use 301 Redirects for Link Building

Fix Backlink Redirect Chains

I already showed you how to fix on-site redirect chains, but a lot people overlook fixing off-site redirect chains.

Backlink redirect chains usually occur because of:

  • rebrands
  • SSL certificate installs
  • or when websites don’t use your preferred URL.

You should always assume that redirects don’t pass full PageRank to your desired URL.

With this assumption, you should try to fix all backlink redirect chains. That way you know that you’re getting the full link power.

Fortunately, Ahrefs makes finding these backlink redirect chains super easy.

Just open up Ahrefs, enter your domain, click on “Backlinks”, click on the “Link type” dropdown, and select “With redirect chain”:

find backlink redirect chains with Ahrefs

Then Ahrefs will show you all the backlinks with existing redirect chains:

backlink redirect chain example

After you’ve found all the backlink redirect chains, you just need send a simple outreach email.

Here’s an example:

Hey [NAME],

My name is [YOUR NAME] and I’m the [YOUR POSITION] at [YOUR COMPANY].

I was digging through our link profile and noticed that you link to our website from this article: [URL]

Thank you for that.

When you get the chance, would you mind changing our URL to [YOUR PREFERRED URL] because [we just rebranded|we just installed an SSL certificate].

I’de be so grateful.

Thanks for your time!

[YOUR NAME]
[POSITION]

This method has a pretty high success rate because the linking websites are already warm to your brand.

Now let me introduce to the most powerful 301 link building tactic:

Use The Merger Technique

Before I jump into this strategy, you first must understand what a “merger” actually is. Investopedia defines a “merger” as:

investopedia logo“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.

The Merger Technique

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.

Here’s what has happened:
256 Percentage Growth

Although these results were awesome, I wanted to make sure 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 my site.

The redirect pushed the target keyword to the first page:

Merger Technique Results

I then did the same exact thing for local website and grew it’s organic search traffic by 425%:

Merger Technique Results

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:

Neil Patel Growth

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 the search engine.

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.

With The Merger Technique, you will only be using expired domains that have similar Topical Trust Flow topic to your site.

The reason why you want to use Topical Trust Flow topics is because it’s based on link relevancy.

For example, if you were in the “health” niche, you need a domain that has “Health” as it’s TTF Topic.

Unoptimized Anchor Text

There is a strict criteria 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 criteria when looking for a domain to “merge” with your business:

  1. The site should have a Topical Trust Flow topic similar to yours
  2. The site should have a Trust Flow above 15
  3. The site should only have quality links (editorial, earned links)
  4. The site should have at least 20 referring domains (more is better)
  5. The site should have unoptimized anchor text and a high percentage of branded anchors
  6. The site should be indexed in Google (not entirely necessary, but my preference)
  7. The site should not have been used for spam in the past
Use Domcop

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:

Domcop-Research

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:

Majestic Topical Trust Flow Check

Step 3: Check the anchor text distribution

You will see the sample below that 18% of this domains 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.

Majestic Anchor Text

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 domains link profile. Click the “Backlinks” tabs and check out the links:

Majestic Link Quality

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:

Expired Domain Link Quality

With this discovery, this domain would be back on my “good” list.

Then I scroll down and see a foreign anchor text…:

Spammy 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.

With that said, you need to investigate the foreign anchor text to make sure it isn’t spam.

Go to the site and use Google Chrome to translate the page:

Translate Google Chrome

If you have the Moz bar installed, use it to highlight external links:

Moz Toolbar Link Highlighter

After translating this site, I can conclude that it isn’t spam 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’t 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:

Google index check

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 domains history

If the domain in this example was indexed, we would want to check its history.

Go to Archive.org:

wayback machine check

In an ironic turn of events, this site has been used for redirects 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.

Use Flippa

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 a keyword relevant to your business:

Flippa domain search

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 domains pages to your homepage.

This isn’t the best route to take.

Instead:

You should invest in hosting because then you’ll be able to redirect on a page-by-page basis.

Here’s a simple criteria 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 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 were thin, low-value pages.

To see what pages have backlinks, just open up Ahrefs, enter the domain, and click on “Best by Links”.

Best by Backlinks Ahrefs

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.

That’s It!

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.

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About the Author

Author
Nathan Gotch

Nathan Gotch is the founder and SEO director at Gotch SEO. Listen in to our new podcast, The SEO Life or watch some of our actionable SEO training videos on YouTube!

Comments

  1. Hi Nathan,
    one additional method to find Merger Domains is to find broken links of a powerful relevant domain in ahrefs.

    In the travel niche for example, 2 or 3 years ago, I was searching for the official tourism website of a destination or travel print magazine websites. Usually links from these kind of websites are impossible (or if possible, very expensive) to get. In ahrefs.com I was looking for outgoing broken links and check out the target domains. With this method I found some really good results.

    For example am I ranking the name of a very popular vacation island on Pos. 6 in google. This keyword has 180.000 monthly searches and 29.000.000 results in google. It is only one domain redirect and no direct link to this subpage. The keyword was not in Top 100 before the redirect and the redirected domain has only one backlink. BUT this backlink comes from the official tourism website of this island.

    So yes, it is a very powerful technique even if the domain has less than 20 backlinks, like in this case just 1.

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