SEO: 301 Redirects Don't Pass Existing Social Shares

    by Brian Whalley

    Date

    August 10, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    Whenever you consider a website redesign or changing the layout of your website, there are a number of extremely important questions that you should ask yourself. For example, you should think carefully about where you are going to move your key resources or pages, what impact the shift might have on them, and how to make sure that you’re easily able to get found.

    One of the factors that can be easily overlooked on this front is the value of social sharing , particularly factors that show up in search engines or other formats, like the number of tweets or Likes a page has gotten.

    Over the last month, as we prepared to shut down the Performable website after HubSpot’s acquisition of them. We took careful stock of each of their webpages and the statistics of them, so that we could carefully measure what would happen to each of them. For each page on Performable.com’s blog, we recorded the number of views that page had in the last month, and the number of tweets, likes, LinkedIn shares, and so on for the page.
    Having established our base data, we want to check on if we could take advantage of these shares in any way and preserve their value as we moved the website .

    After we did all the redirect work on Thursday afternoon, we checked right afterwards for the social sharing stats for each of the pages for Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that any of the shares passed through to the new pages. All of the new pages on the HubSpot domain showed having no social shares at all, and the old pages still showed their old data.
    Putting a redirect on an old page and then pointing it to a new one didn’t move those shares through. This was somewhat a surprise to us - Since anyone who clicked on that old share or tweet still came through to the new site, we had hoped the share might come through too.

    That led us to the weekend, and I checked the statistics on Monday. Something interesting had happened over the weekend though: As people occasionally tweeted the old URLs from the now-redirected Performable.com, those tweets counted towards the total tweets for the relevant page on HubSpot.com.
    When Twitter formulates the count of tweets for a certain page, they first read the URL that was tweeted and then follow any and all redirects off of that URL. As a result, the following tweets afterwards did count towards HubSpot’s pages. It makes a lot of sense for Twitter to do this - that way, no matter what URL shortener someone chooses to use, they make sure they’re always recording the final URL that was being tweeted by someone. The fact that matters for the tweet count is the final URL that was tweeted, and not anything in between or if that URL was redirected.

    For the other sites besides Twitter, none of the social sharing factors carried over at all and we didn’t notice this same phenomenon with them. Sharing addresses on the Performable blog or other parts of their site didn’t impact the sharing totals for HubSpot at all. It looks like Facebook and Google+ aren’t counting the redirects and final URLs in the same way that Twitter does as a result, or the results would have matched theirs. In summary:
       Twitter   Facebook   Google+   LinkedIn 
    Passes Social Shares?  No No No No
    Reads Redirects? Yes No No No

    It's also worth mentioning that while Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn don't read the redirect when deciding where to send people, they also often don't properly realize that they are being redirected as part of the new URL. For example, if you try to share www.performable.com today on Google+, you end up with a very strange looking preview with the Performable logo and a page on HubSpot.com, as below: social sharing redirects
    If you are ever considering moving a website or a section of your website, be very conscious not just of the obvious factors, like making sure that the pages have redirects. Also be aware that there may be things that you lose or cannot control, such as losing the social shares that may exist of your current pages.
    Don’t let something like this stop you from making important changes to your website or re-architecting how things are laid out, but if you need help we have a website redesign kit to help.

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