How-to: set up a redirect

Redirects have just a few steps, but for the most part they are pretty simple things to set up. You only have to make four decisions when creating one – whether it’s temporary or permanent, what the two URLs are, if you want the URLs to have www or not + if it’s a wild card redirect.

Temporary or permanent

Thankfully, this is one example where the words to describe the function were well chosen. A permanent redirect {301} will inform search engines that the original page is to be removed from their index + replaced with the new one. A temporary redirect {302} let’s the search engines know that the original page will be reestablished at some point so they should keep checking it.

URLs

When setting up redirects, you often know one of the two URLs right away, if not both of them. All you have to figure out is what URL people will enter into their browser + what page you want them to go to.

To www or not to www

This choice really has to do with user preference, but I rarely set up a redirect that requires a site visitor to enter www before the URL. It seems more likely that I’ll be excluding certain visitors from the redirect by doing that.

Wild card

This is an example of where the words don’t describe the function very well. The idea of a wild card redirect is that you are telling the server + search engines to look in a new folder for all pages of a site. I use these types of redirects when a client changes their domain name. That way I only have to set up one redirect to make sure every page is redirected.

For example: I could set up a redirect for www.someolddomain.com {not an actual site} to point to www.newandfast.com {again, not real} as a wild card. That way, if there are links to a popular post on someolddomain.com/really-useful-article, they will go to newandfast.com/really-useful-article without me having to set the specifics.

The benefits + uses of redirects

Since I’m a big fan of only dishing out information that is useful to you, there are lots of ways that you can use redirects to improve your online business. I already mentioned the first one – redirecting traffic if you change your domain name. Could you imagine losing every single link that you posted on Facebook, in blog comments or on Twitter? There’s no need to worry about that with wild card redirects.

Another great place to use them is if you have a crazy long URL that you want to share with others. Using a URL shortener is an option here as well, but it doesn’t give you the chance to create an easy to remember URL. A link could very easily go to http://slightlylongdomain.com/biz-coach/ from http://slightlylongdomain.com/services/coaching/business-coaching/.

You can also use redirects to make someone feel special. If you have a high-level service offering that you want to personally share with some important people, send them a note or letter with the details + at the bottom you could put http://yourdomain.com/theirname. As long as you created a redirect to forward that URL to a page that exists on your site, they will get the details in a fun + special way.

Creating redirects

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There is one other decision you have to make regarding redirects – if you are going to create + manage them with a plugin or on your server. I try to keep plugins to a minimum, so I rely on the server to set these up + you can too!

If your hosting account uses cPanel, the screenshot below will be very useful to you. if not, don’t worry, the same principles apply.

Once you log into your server, find the Redirects icon {typically under the section labeled Domain Management} to get started. From there, check the appropriate button for permanent or temporary based on what you are working on. Then add the first domain, which is the one that users will type into their address bar. This URL is usually the page that doesn’t exist anymore or is too long to deal with.

Note: you have to have the domain registered to your account in order to redirect from it. You cannot redirect traffic from someone else’s site to yours.

Then add the URL for the page you want them to go to. If you are setting up a wild card redirect, simply enter the new domain name with nothing after the .com {or .org, .info, .net, etc}. Check the appropriate www option – usually redirect with or without – and whether it is a wild card redirect or not. Once you click the Add this redirect button, you’re all done with your first redirect. *high five, nerd*

Your brand new redirect can be tested pretty quickly after you create it, which is great for those of us that like instant gratification!

Avoiding redirect issues

Before you go on a redirect creating spree, here are a few things to keep in mind.

You must direct traffic to a page that exists. When entering the URLs into your redirect, always think of the order that your visitors will see the pages – #1 = URL they type into their browser, #2 = URL they see in the end.

Most servers won’t allow you to point wild card redirects from your main directory to a sub-directory. This is just a nerdy way of saying that if you change your URL, you will have to put your old site into a folder on your server before you can set up a redirect. This is some high-level nerd stuff, so reach out to your developer or hosting company if you don’t feel good about tackling it.

Some crazy long URLs can be avoided by changing the permalink directly in WordPress. If you’ve already posted + shared the article, you’ll want to use a redirect. But if you haven’t clicked publish yet, take a moment to see if you like the permalink. Is it descriptive? Is it SEO friendly? Will I be able to tweet about this or is the link itself 149 characters?

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