Do you have a website? Then you’ve probably heard of search engine optimization (SEO) – the process that makes your website easier for search engines to find, crawl, and rate.
The better your SEO, the higher your website will land on search engine ranking pages (SERPs). As a result, your website is more likely to get noticed by potential customers.
And since 68% of all website traffic comes from organic and paid searches – rather than social media shares and other marketing channels – having the right SEO strategy is vital.
Many SEO techniques are straightforward: No keyword content. Keep your content relevant. Improve your website’s user experience (UX) by reducing complexity and increasing speed. But other metrics also play a role.
A typical example? Redirect chains. These interconnected internet problems create problems for search engine spiders, frustration for users, and potential problems for your page ranking.
But What exactly is a forwarding chain?? Why is it potentially problematic? And How do you find and rRemove these unintended course corrections on the website? Here’s what you need to know.
Learn what web optimization is and how to do it with this free course.
What is a referral chain?
A redirect chain occurs when there is more than one redirect between the first link the user clicks and the final landing page.
There are two common types of redirects: 301 and 302.
301 redirects occur when the landing page is permanently linked to a new URL and 302 redirects point to temporary pages while new content is being created or websites are being created. From an SEO perspective, both are treated the same.
Consider a backlink from a reputable site that leads to a page on your site that we visit URL A.. If users click the link and are taken directly to URL A, it is a single 301 redirect. Perfect.
But what if the content of URL A needs to be updated? You update the content with URL B and then set URL A to redirect users to the new page. This results in a redirect chain – your backlink goes to URL A which redirects to URL B. Add new pages and the chain just keeps getting longer and longer.
Two reasons for redirects
In most cases, redirect chains are unintentional and usually occur for one of two reasons:
1. Content updates
Since changing backlinks on other sites isn’t easy – you need to contact the website owner, ask them to change the link, and hope they have the time to do so – it’s often quicker to just do the initial backlink redirect to a new url. However, as websites grow and the content changes, the number of steps between the first click and the final destination can dramatically increase.
2. URL specifics
Redirect chains also occur when companies grow their website quickly and small problems with URL specifics lead to larger redirect problems. For example, consider the url:
Since the https now expected for safely surfing websites is missing, update the url to:
This results in a redirect, but there is another problem – no trailing slash after “products”. So what is happening? You change the url again:
The result? You went from one to three redirects with only minor changes. Combined with generating new content and applying it to your website at scale, it’s easy to see how redirects can quickly get out of hand.
The negative SEO influence of redirect chains
What’s the big problem with redirect chains anyway? What if the links point users and search engine crawlers in the right direction when some additional steps are required?
As it turns out, large redirect chains can significantly affect your place in SERPs for three reasons:
1. Link Juice Loss
The “boost” your website gets from reputable backlinks is often referred to as “link juice”. The more juice you get, the better for your search rankings.
With just one redirect from a backlink to your website, you get 100% of the juice. If you add another 301 redirect, you get about 85% of the link juice (on average). If you add one more you get 85% of 85%, or just over 72%. The more links, the less juice.
2. Reduced site performance
It makes sense: the longer the chain, the longer your landing page will take to load, as the browsers work their way through link by link. And since website performance is now a huge factor in increasing SEO, more redirects mean lower rankings for your page.
3. Creeping concerns
Search engine bots only crawl so many times before they give up. Most of the smaller websites, known as “crawl budget”, don’t have to worry about search spiders spending all of their budget before they reach the bottom of the site – unless redirects pick up.
The larger and more numerous your redirect chains, the longer it takes for search engines to reach the end. At some point they just stop looking.
Redirect loops are also worth mentioning. Here first links lead to URL A, then to URL B and URL C and then back to URL A – which leads to a loop. Eventually browsers will stop redirecting and users will run out of content. Unsurprisingly, your SEO is suffering.
How to find redirect chains
You can search your website manually and rate every page, link and redirect. However, this is time and resource intensive – especially if you are in the process of expanding the website or introducing a new content strategy.
Best bid? Use Online redirect checker tools to determine where your links are working as intended and where they are creating potentially problematic chains. Some popular solutions include:
Simply enter your http: // or https: // url to find 301 or 302 redirects for a specific page. This free tool is great if you only care about specific URLs, but not ideal for checking your entire website.
Sitebulb provides a variety of reports that assess how crawl-friendly your site is, where there are redirect issues, and how links are distributed across your site. Sitebulb offers a 14-day free trial followed by a monthly subscription model.
3. Screaming frog
With the SEO Spider from Screaming Frog you can find broken links, check link redirects and discover duplicate content. SEO Spider is available as both a free and a paid version. The biggest difference is that the free version only crawls 500 URLs, while the paid version offers unlimited redirect reports.
DeepCrawl calls itself the “World’s Best Website Crawler” and offers three plans: Light, Light Plus, and Enterprise. The Light plan is designed for one project and 10,000 URLs per month, while Light Plus offers 40,000 URLs and Enterprise has unlimited redirect detection.
How to remove a redirect chain
Once you’ve found redirect chains, it’s easy to remove them. Just change the redirect link of the first landing page to the final url instead of pointing to another redirect.
In practice, this means that the redirect from URL A will be changed to URL C instead of URL B in our example above. Again, this skips the middle step and ensures that your website doesn’t lose any link juice or SEO ranking. If URL B is still linked from other websites, you can keep redirecting to URL C. If it only exists as a bridge between the older URL A and the newer URL C, then it’s worth removing redirects entirely and deleting or archiving the page.
Remember: every 301 redirect after the first jump will cost your site around 15% of the potential link juice. Fill your SERP mug by reducing redirects whenever possible.
How to prevent redirect chains
To prevent redirect chains from building up over time, you should regularly review your site using redirect tools like the ones above. It’s also a good idea to record new URLs as they are created – either using a shared spreadsheet or using automated tools for this purpose – to make sure that new URLs are connected to the first 301 redirect and not further down the chain.
Breaking Bad (chains)
While it is not possible to completely avoid redirect chains from backlinks and other dofollow sources, the longer these chains get, the longer SEO starts to suffer. Best bid? Use robust redirect tools to find long-tail chains, break them down into smaller pieces if possible, and develop URL management frameworks to reduce the risk of redirects.