If you have a very old website that can’t be salvaged and absolutely has to be overhauled using modern code or a CMS (such as WordPress), you’ll face many problems from an SEO stand point. Ideally, you’ll want your old website’s URLs to redirect to the new website’s pages.
Why You Need to Redirect Old URLs
Even though your old site might be lacking when it comes to aesthetics, features, ease-of-use and UX, it does one thing going for it. And that is search engine value. As a site ages, search engines like Google and Bing get used to its URL structure and the corresponding web pages.
The old web pages have value because they’re already ranking or have been properly indexed. If you overhaul a website but don’t redirect the older site’s URLs to their corresponding ones in the new site structure, you’re giving up a lot of search optimization.
What is a 404? Why Do Broken Pages Exist?
404 is the error code a website shows when you visit a URL that doesn’t have a corresponding web page attached to it. This is analogous to going to a home address where the home doesn’t actually exist.
If you’re launching a new website, you’ll have to watch out for 404 errors. That’s because your older site’s URLs are still indexed by search engines, so they’ll show up in search results. So if you haven’t created new pages using the older URLs, users will be greeted by a 404 error.
How to Find Broken URLs On Your Website
Finding broken URLs manually can be an arduous process, and in most cases impossible. The right way to find broken URLs is by using tools built to do this job.
Screaming Frog is a free tool that ‘crawls’ your website and finds broken pages or URLs containing 404 errors. Since it’s a free tool, it will only scan 500 URLs on your site, which should be fine for most medical practice websites.
Why Not Delete a 404’ing URL?
Technically, you can delete a URL that’s throwing 404 errors on your site. Remember, a URL is just an address to a page. So if a page doesn’t exist, its URL just points to nothing. The thing is, search engines will still have the URL in their directory.
So if you want to get rid of the URL from that directory, you’ll have to submit a de-index request for that URL. However, this is not recommended.
It’s just a better idea to redirect the URL to another page on your site, a page with content that’s relevant to that URL.
How to Do URL Redirect
So you’ve discovered a few broken URLs on your site, but want to keep them (good job!). What you do now is decide which pages they’re going to redirect traffic to.
Make sure that the old URLs redirect to relevant pages, as you don’t want to catch your visitors off guard by serving something they weren’t expecting.
Fixing a 404 in WordPress
WordPress makes it relatively easy to fix your broken URLs. To redirect an old URL to a new URL, we’re going to use what’s known as a 301 redirect. We love it so we’re going to go over how to fix errors in this platform.
Email us and we can go over other platforms, but if we went over all of them this book would never get finished.
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A 301 redirect tells search engines that the old URL has moved permanently. Let’s create a 301 redirect for an old URL that redirects users and search engines to the new URL.
⚠️ This guide makes use of the Redirection plugin for WordPress. Redirection makes it extremely easy to create 301 redirects within WordPress. Install it before following the next steps.
- Navigate to Tools > Redirection in the WordPress dashboard
- Under the Add New Redirection section, enter your old URL in the Source URL text field
- Set the Match option to URL only. And set the Action to Redirect to URL (since we know what the new URL is)
- In the Target URL text field, enter the new URL. This URL is going to be the address the old URL will redirect to
- Complete the process by clicking on the Add Redirection button
To test this redirect, simply navigate to the old URL in your browser. If the browser redirects you to the new URL, your 301 redirect is successful.
Difference Between 301 and 302 Redirect
A 301 redirect not only tells your browser to redirect you from the old URL to a new URL, but it also sends a signal to search engines that the page has moved permanently to the new URL.
A 302 redirect will also redirect users to the new URL, but it tells the search engines that you have moved URLs only temporarily.
There are very few use cases where website owners will temporarily move a URL. Plus, it isn’t considered good practice.
Further complicating matters for 302 redirects is that Google will actually try to figure if the redirect is intentional or a mistake. If it ‘thinks’ it’s a mistake, it will index the old URL and ignore the new URL altogether.
So why take the chance of doing a 302 redirect at all?
How Often Should You Check Your Site for Broken URLs
There is no right answer for this, because this is a difficult process when done manually. Even if we were to say check for broken URLs biweekly, who would have the time to do that?
A much more practical method is to schedule a tool like Screaming Frog to carry out site crawls weekly.
Looking out for broken URLs might seem like a chore if your site hasn’t had a lot of changes, but it is part of essential site maintenance. The whole point of having a website is to attract patients and get more appointments. If a potential patient lands on a page that displays the 404 error, it might tarnish your reputation for good.