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October 21, 2016 // 8:00 AM

What is a 301 Redirect, and When Should You Use One?

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I moved five times in the last year. And every single time I moved, I forgot to sign up to have my mail forwarded to my new address.

Mail forwarding is an important step in any moving process, as it ensures you don't lose any valuable information that's sent to you. And the same can be said for your website: If you're moving a website from one URL to another, you need to take the necessary steps to ensure your visitors get sent to the right place. In the world of tech, this is called a 301 redirect.

A 301 redirect is key to maintaining a website's domain authority and search rankings when the site's URL is changed for any reason. It easily sends visitors and search engines to a different URL than the one they originally requested -- without having to actually type in a different URL. Download our free guide here to learn more about 301 redirects and common SEO  mistakes to avoid.

Here, we'll cover the details of a 301 redirect, why websites use them, and how they differ from other redirects. 

What Is a 301 Redirect?

A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect from one URL to another. 301 redirects send site visitors and search engines to a different URL than the one they originally typed into their browser or selected from a search engine results page. These redirects also link various URLs under one umbrella so search engines rank all of the addresses based on the domain authority from inbound links

Let's put it into practice. Below are two different URLs that take you to the same site. That's thanks to a 301 redirect. That way, when people link to HubSpot Blogs using either URL, the URL we direct blog traffic to (blog.hubspot.com) retains the search engine authority associated with inbound links to either URL.

  1. blog.hubspot.com
  2. http://blog.hubspot.com

Did you notice that even though the second link has "http://" at the beginning of the URL, by the time you arrived at the blog, the URL in your browser read "blog.hubspot.com"? That's because of a 301 redirect. It's essential to set this up so the domain authority from inbound links to the http:// address are linked to blog.hubspot.com to improve its search rankings.

Why Set Up a 301 Redirect?

The big reasons marketers might set up a 301 redirect are:

  1. To associate common web conventions (http://, www., etc.) with one URL to maximize domain authority (hint: this is the same situation as the scenario we outlined above.)
  2. To rebrand or rename a website with a different URL
  3. To direct traffic to a website from other URLs owned by the same organization

In the second scenario, when a brand is changing its company or website name, a 301 redirect is integral to maintaining the power of inbound links to the original URL on the migrated new domain. Additionally, the 301 redirect is necessary in this case to do exactly what redirect means -- to send website visitors to the right web address to get what they're looking for.

In the third scenario, brands sometimes purchase domains that are similar in name or subject matter to their brand to generate more search traffic to their website. A 301 redirect is necessary to make certain that the brand's original domain maintains its search authority in the process.  

What's the Difference Between Permanent HTML Redirects and other Redirects?

Generally speaking, a 301 permanent redirect is better for search engine optimization than a temporary redirect because it transfers the inbound links from the redirected domain to the new one, which helps the website maintain its search rankings and prevent any dip in search traffic.

There are few situations where a 302 temporary redirect would be preferable over a 301 permanent redirect -- except for when website content needs to be moved temporarily, such as when a site is undergoing maintenance and visitors need to be directed to a different domain to consume their content.

301 Redirect Mistakes to Avoid

Now that you understand the importance of the 301 redirect, we'll review common steps in the process to review to make sure you don't make a mistake that could adversely impact your site's SEO.

1) Set up a 301 redirect between the http:// and http://www versions of your domains.

301 redirects point the power of inbound links from one URL to another, and although it might not look like it, http://blog.hubspot.com and blog.hubspot.com are two different URLs. Make sure you set up a 301 redirect from all of the different iterations of your brand's domain to boost your search engine results.

2) Don't move to a new domain without first setting up a 301 redirect.

Back in 2010, Toys 'R Us purchased the toys.com domain without setting up a 301 redirect first, and their new site's SEO results plummeted because it was re-crawled by Google as a brand-new domain without inbound links from the original Toys 'R Us domain pointing to it. Be sure to set up the 301 redirect before migrating your website content so your site doesn't lose traffic in the process.

3) In almost all cases, set up a 301 permanent redirect instead of a 302 temporary redirect, which may be the default setting of your website management software.

Unless you're temporarily migrating your website's content while updating or repairing your website, use a 301 redirect to maintain the inbound links and your search rankings while making changes to your domain.

4) Set up redirects to older internal links on your website.

If you don't set up redirects from the older internal links on your website (such as a link to your company blog on your homepage), you'll create a bad user experience for site visitors who click on these older, not-directed links. The old internal link will eventually kick over to the new domain, but it might take several seconds or show a white screen in the meantime.

The good news is that it's easy to set up a 301 redirect correctly following the steps above and if you're using HubSpot software to optimize your website. We wish you the best of luck with your next website redirect and moving process. (P.S. - We can help with one of those.)

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in December 2010 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

free guide: common SEO mistakes
  free guide: common SEO mistakes

Topics: SEO

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