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HTTP 301 Response Status Code Guide: What is it, Usage, Methods

May 15 2024 by Oskay Günaçar

What is HTTP 301 Status Code?

The HTTP 301 status code is used to indicate that a requested resource has been permanently moved to a new location. It is known as a "permanent redirect." When a server returns this status code, it also provides the new URL where the resource can be found.

Web browsers and search engines will update their links to the resource, replacing the old URL with the new one provided in the response. This ensures that further attempts to access the resource are directed to the new URL, preserving SEO rankings and directing traffic appropriately.

Importance of the HTTP 301 Status Code in SEO

The HTTP 301 status code plays a crucial role in search engine optimization (SEO) for several reasons:

  1. Preserves Link Equity: When a URL permanently changes, the 301 redirect ensures that the link equity (the value passed through links) is preserved and transferred to the new URL. This is essential for maintaining the authority and ranking power that the original page had accumulated.

  2. Avoids Duplicate Content: Using a 301 redirect can help avoid issues of duplicate content by clearly signaling to search engines that the old URL should be replaced by the new one in their indices. This prevents both URLs from being indexed and competing against each other, which can dilute SEO efforts.

  3. Improves User Experience: Redirects prevent users and search bots from landing on broken or dead links (404 errors), which can negatively impact user experience and site credibility. A smooth redirection to the correct page enhances user satisfaction and engagement.

  4. Consolidates Signals: It helps consolidate ranking signals for a particular piece of content or site resource to a single URL. This is particularly useful in scenarios like site migrations or when merging websites, where it’s important to unify the SEO strength of similar or related pages.

  5. Management of URL Changes: Whether due to a site redesign, a move to a new domain, or changes in URL structure for better alignment with SEO strategies, a 301 redirect is a tool to manage these changes effectively without losing SEO value.

  6. Long-term Strategy: Because the redirection is permanent, it sends a strong signal to search engines about the new location of the content, making it a reliable tool for long-term SEO strategies.

In summary, properly implemented HTTP 301 redirects are vital for maintaining and improving search rankings during website changes, ensuring that the SEO value built over time is not lost due to URL modifications.

How to Use HTTP 301 Status Code for a Website?

Implementing an HTTP 301 status code for a website involves setting up permanent redirects from one URL to another. This can be done in several ways depending on the server or platform your website uses. Here’s how to use HTTP 301 redirects on common server types and platforms:

1. Apache Server

If your website is hosted on an Apache server, you can use the .htaccess file to set up 301 redirects. Here’s a basic example of how to redirect from an old URL to a new URL:

Redirect 301 /old-page.html /new-page.html

Or using mod_rewrite (which allows for regex and more complex redirection):

RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule ^old-page\.html$ /new-page.html [R=301,L]

2. NGINX Server

For websites on NGINX servers, redirects are set up in the server configuration file. Here’s an example:

server {
    server_name www.example.com;
    location /old-page {
        return 301 $scheme://www.example.com/new-page;
    }
}

3. Microsoft IIS

In IIS, you can manage redirects through the IIS Manager:

  • Open IIS Manager.
  • Navigate to the website you want to redirect.
  • Open “HTTP Redirect” and enter the new URL.
  • Check “Redirect all requests to exact destination (instead of relative to destination)”.
  • Select “Permanent (301)” under Status code.

4. Content Management Systems (CMS)

Many CMSs like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal have plugins or built-in tools to manage redirects:

  • WordPress: Plugins like "Redirection" or "Yoast SEO" can handle redirects. You can simply install the plugin, and use its interface to set up 301 redirects.
  • Joomla: Use components like "Redirect" which can be found in the System -> Manage section.
  • Drupal: The "Redirect" module can be used to set up 301 redirects directly from the administrative interface.

5. Using PHP

For dynamic pages, you might want to set a 301 redirect directly in PHP:

<?php
header("HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently");
header("Location: http://www.example.com/new-page");
exit();
?>

Best Practices

  • Test your redirects: After setting up 301 redirects, it's crucial to test them to ensure they work as expected without leading to errors like redirect loops.
  • Document your changes: Keep a log of all redirects, especially if you're implementing many or making complex changes. This documentation can be crucial for troubleshooting and maintaining your site’s architecture.
  • Update internal links: It’s a good practice to update all internal links that point to the old URL to point directly to the new URL, avoiding unnecessary redirects which can slightly slow down the user experience.

Setting up 301 redirects is essential for site maintenance, SEO, and providing a good user experience by ensuring that users and search engines are directed to the appropriate content on your site.

How to Check HTTP 301 Status Code?

To check if an HTTP 301 status code is being correctly implemented for a URL redirection, you can use various tools and methods. Here are some effective ways to do it:

1. Browser Developer Tools

Most modern browsers, like Google Chrome, Firefox, and Edge, come with built-in developer tools that can help you inspect network traffic and see the status codes for each request.

Steps:

  • Open your browser and navigate to the page you suspect is being redirected.
  • Right-click anywhere on the page and select "Inspect" or press Ctrl+Shift+I (Windows) or Cmd+Option+I (Mac) to open the developer tools.
  • Go to the "Network" tab.
  • Reload the page to capture the network activity.
  • Look for the request to the old URL in the list of network requests. Click on it, and check the status code and the "Headers" tab to see if a 301 status code is returned along with the "Location" header indicating the new URL.

2. CURL

The curl command in the terminal or command prompt can be used to check headers and see if a 301 redirect is being sent.

Command:

curl -I http://example.com/old-page

Look for a line in the output that starts with HTTP/, showing the status code, and ensure it reads 301 Moved Permanently. There should also be a Location: header showing the new URL.

3. Online Tools

There are several online tools available that can check redirects and show you the HTTP headers, including the status code. Tools like "Redirect Checker", "HTTP Status Code Checker", or "SEO Site Checkup" can provide this information. You just need to enter the URL and the tool will display the results.

4. Browser Extensions

Browser extensions like "Redirect Path" for Chrome or "HTTP Header Live" for Firefox can track and display all HTTP Headers and status codes. These extensions will show you the path a request takes, displaying any 301 redirects that occur.

5. Programmatic Checks

If you're developing an application and want to programmatically check for 301 redirects, you can use HTTP libraries in most programming languages, such as requests in Python.

Python Example:

import requests

response = requests.get('http://example.com/old-page', allow_redirects=False)
if response.status_code == 301:
    print(f"301 Redirect to {response.headers['Location']}")
else:
    print("No 301 Redirect")

Best Practices

  • Check frequently: If you make changes to your site's URL structure, check the 301 redirects regularly to ensure they are functioning as expected.
  • Monitor user behavior: Sometimes, unexpected issues can arise. Monitoring tools like Google Analytics can help detect problems with redirects based on changes in user behavior or traffic patterns.

Using these tools and methods will help you ensure that your 301 redirects are set up properly, maintaining the SEO integrity of your site and providing a good user experience.

Which HTTP Method is used with HTTP 301 Status Code?

The HTTP 301 status code, indicating a permanent redirect, can be used with any HTTP method. However, it's most commonly associated with the GET and HEAD methods.

When a 301 status code is returned in response to a GET or HEAD request, the client (usually a web browser) is expected to automatically follow the redirect to the new URL provided in the response's Location header.

For methods other than GET or HEAD, such as POST, PUT, DELETE, etc., the behavior can vary depending on the client's implementation. According to the HTTP/1.1 specification, when a POST request receives a 301 response, the client may prompt the user for confirmation before redirecting, as the subsequent request should also be a POST to the new URL, and this could have unintended effects (e.g., re-submitting data).

In modern web development practices, it's recommended to ensure that any significant actions, particularly those involving state changes on the server (like those from POST, PUT, DELETE requests), are handled cautiously with redirects to prevent unintended operations or data loss.

What is the Browser Compatibility of HTTP 301 Status Code?

The HTTP 301 status code, which indicates a permanent redirect, is universally supported across all web browsers. This compatibility includes all major modern browsers like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Safari, Microsoft Edge, and others, including their mobile versions.

Given its fundamental role in web navigation and SEO, the HTTP 301 status code has been implemented in browsers for many years. It is an integral part of the HTTP protocol, which is the backbone of web communication. Thus, its support is essential and expected in any web browser.

In practical terms, when a browser encounters a 301 status code in response to a request, it automatically redirects to the URL specified in the response's Location header. This behavior is consistent across all browsers, ensuring that users and search engines are directed to the new location of the moved resource.

Furthermore, since HTTP 301 is a standard response defined by the HTTP protocol, its behavior and implementation are also supported and respected by other user agents and clients like search engine bots, ensuring consistent behavior across the internet.

Best Practices for Handling HTTP 301

When using HTTP 301 redirects, which indicate permanent redirection, it’s important to follow best practices to ensure that they serve their purpose effectively without causing issues. Here are some key best practices for handling HTTP 301 redirects:

1. Use When Appropriate

Only use a 301 redirect when a page has been permanently moved or when you need to consolidate duplicate pages. It is important because it signals search engines to transfer all ranking power to the new URL.

2. Update Internal Links

Whenever possible, update all internal links to point directly to the new URL instead of going through a redirect. This helps improve load times and reduces the load on your server.

3. Avoid Redirect Chains

Try to avoid long chains of redirects (e.g., Page A to Page B to Page C). Instead, redirect directly from Page A to Page C. Redirect chains can cause delays in page loading and might confuse search engines.

4. Implement Correctly

Ensure that the redirect target is a functioning URL that loads correctly. Always test your redirects after implementation to ensure they work as expected and that there are no broken URLs.

5. Use Relative URLs for Same Domain

If the redirect is happening within the same domain, using relative URLs can simplify your .htaccess or server configuration files and make them easier to manage.

6. Monitor and Document Redirects

Keep track of all your redirects in a spreadsheet or a database. It helps in managing them over time, especially for large sites, and ensures that you can audit and remove unnecessary redirects.

7. Be Cautious with Redirecting on Domain Level

When redirecting an entire domain, make sure that you have mapped all pages from the old domain to relevant pages on the new domain. Avoid redirecting all pages to the home page as this provides a poor user experience and could harm your SEO.

8. Consider SEO Implications

Make sure that the pages you are redirecting to are optimized for SEO and provide similar or better content than the original pages. This ensures that the transition maintains or improves your search engine ranking.

9. Communicate Changes

If the redirects could affect users (especially in cases of major site restructuring or rebranding), consider informing them about the changes, possibly through announcements or updates on your site or via email newsletters.

10. Regularly Audit Redirects

Periodically review and audit your redirects to remove or update those no longer needed or those that could be optimized. This is especially important for sites that undergo frequent changes.

By adhering to these best practices, you can effectively manage HTTP 301 redirects, improving your site’s usability, SEO, and maintenance.

Conclusion

In conclusion, effectively managing HTTP 301 redirects is essential for maintaining the integrity and performance of any website. These redirects not only help in preserving SEO value during URL changes but also enhance user experience by ensuring seamless navigation. By adhering to the best practices outlined above—such as using redirects appropriately, updating internal links, avoiding redirect chains, and regularly auditing your redirection strategies—you can ensure that your site remains efficient, SEO-friendly, and user-centric. Remember, the goal of using HTTP 301 redirects is not just about redirecting traffic but about maintaining the trust and engagement of your users while safeguarding your site's ranking power. With careful planning and execution, HTTP 301 redirects can be a powerful tool in your website management and SEO arsenal.

Oskay Günaçar
Oskay Günaçar is a Technical SEO expert and backend developer. His main areas of interest are back-end programming, Python, Django, Go, semantic SEO, technical SEO. With more than 5 years of SEO experience, he has held SEO specialist positions at İkiler, Webtures, Boosmart, and Storyly.io companies, and has been involved in numerous projects as an outsourced expert. Through the TechSEOHub website, he aims to share the expertise and experience he has gained from managing and developing (SEO) processes for many successful and large websites in the industry, and to produce content for easy access to accurate and high-quality information.