Satisfying website visitors’ expectations today is a never-ending challenge—especially when it comes to avoiding a permalink mess.
It all starts with search
Today, SEARCH is relied more than ever to find content online. As Google reports, more and more people start with a search to shop, share, and learn about content—especially on their mobile device. And if capital markets reflect what’s important to people, search has helped Google achieve a market valuation of over a trillion dollars!
Recent data reveals the reach and impact of search:
- | +2 trillion searches are made on Google every year
- | +92% of all web traffic comes through search engines
- | 86% of global, mobile search is served by Google
- | 76% of desktop traffic is served by Google
- | 46% of all Google searches link to something local
- | 25% of all Google searches are the top million keyword queries
- | +12% of all Google clicks go to the top 100 domains
There are many reasons for the increasing reliance on search including:
- | 80% of all sales start with search
- | People are resistant to talk to a sales person until very late in the buying cycle
- | Web users are 3-5X more likely to click on a search result than on an online ad
As Andy Crestodina, co-founder of Orbit Media and author of Content Chemistry informs us in his recent post that leading search engines—including Google—continue to make changes to their algorithms and search results pages.
These changes to search results include more prominent PPC ads, related content queries and fewer search results displayed far below on page one. In order to get content found, organizations need to recognize these changes, continually apply best SEO practices and increase content creation volume and frequency.
Room for improvement in your visitor experience?
In a list as valuable as search results, it’s surprising how often internet users click on a search results link that’s either outdated or unavailable.
The result of this unfortunate experience can include:
- | Domain unavailable error
- | 404 page
- | Raw HTML or unformatted content not optimized for display
- | Or worse
A permalink mess like this can increase frustration, reduce visitor trust, diminish domain credibility, and forego lead capture + conversion opportunities. It can even reduce transactions or sales due to an outdated or unavailable link.
Hidden costs of new and improved
Most active domains have either been updated and upgraded many times since they were initially launched. These upgrades can include:
- | content management system replacements
- | new hosting providers
- | core infrastructure technology upgrades
- | new content
- | navigation adjustments to improve earlier website versions
A locator that never disappears
Every web page has a distinct and unique URL, a permalink, that a search engine like Google, Bing or Yahoo uses to find it on the web. And if every page in an older version of a website has been optimized for search, these outdated pages will be easy for a search engine to locate display in a search result listing.
It’s important to remember that search engines return page titles and display them in a ranked index when someone makes a search query.
Nowhere to hide from unmet expectations
When someone clicks on a listing in a search results page, they expect to be taken to a page that will add detail, dimension and more information about what they were looking for.
However, if they click on a title link in the search results page, this permalink could serve an old, outdated page. This is certainly not what a site searcher was expecting. Obsolete or outdated pages may include content that doesn’t appear on the front end of a website through navigation or links.
What’s important to remember is a permalink URL is attached to a domain forever. Hence, the appropriate name of the URL = permalink. So if you fail to remove it or adequately address how it may have changed, searchers will be disappointed if they can’t get to it.
Out of sight doesn’t mean out of results
Organizations and website developers may have intentionally retained old content in a Content Management System | CMS. If an organization was interested in reusing or repurposing this content for later use, deleting it or re-creating it could be both time-consuming and expensive.
This obsolete content may also have been made intentionally inaccessible from the front end of a website—what a site visitor sees. And as each new and improved version of a site was deployed, this unseen content could still be visible to search engines and wind up in search results. Without deletion or adequate management of it, user satisfaction is at risk.
301 redirect to the rescue
In order to mitigate a sour website visitor experience, setting up and managing automatic forwarding of outdated content is known as a 301 redirect. And if you’ve got a lot of legacy content to manage, it’s worth addressing it ASAP with a 301 redirect.
A 301 redirect works similar to forwarding US Postal mail when you change a physical address to a new location. To ensure that you don’t miss out on any important deliveries—think clicks to your website from a search results page—this forwarding delivers everything to the new correct address. That’s exactly what a 301 redirect does for old or obsolete content that’s no longer accessible on a live website.
Opportunities for enabling a 301 redirect include:
- | Moving content from an old URL that will never be displayed again
- | Changing URLs to better align with key search terms + phrases
- | Aligning links to a campaign or another page for ranking + measurement
How to avoid a permalink mess
1. | Search around
Make some keyword and phrase searches in a browser incognito window to discover what search engine users actually see in the results listing.
2. | Check Google Analytics
Check your Google Analytics for your site’s most visited pages. If an old, obsolete permalink is one of your most visited pages, that’s a problem that needs attention right away. You don’t want be directing visitors to obsolete or irrelevant content.
3. | Map a plan
To avoid a permalink mess, use a simple text editor or spreadsheet to make a log that you can name and save. It should include:
- | Name of the redirect
- | Old link you want to direct FROM
- | New link you want to re-direct TO—what you want visitors to see
Be sure to give each re-direct a name and make it obvious what it is. Chances are you’ll forget all of this soon after you’ve implemented it. But if you have to return at a later date to adjust a 301, your simple naming convention will be appreciated and make your job a lot easier.
4. | Rely on a quality host
If you use a quality web host, like WPEngine, they make implementing 301 redirects super easy. Quality resources like this should have an easy to use tool or dashboard that will catalog and display all of the redirects that you make.
5. | Test the result
Wait a day or two and do some web searches for your old content. When the search results are displayed, click the title links to see if you are successfully taken to the right content that you want web visitors to see.
If you want to check if you have properly configured your 301 redirects, Redirect Check is a great free site that can trace the paths of your URL’s.
6. | Have patience for latency + propagation
When you deploy a 301 redirect, it may take a few days to clear out of the Internet due to normal latency-related propagation. Over time, the problem of old, obsolete pages can turn into valuable linkable assets.
Keep it in place + keep your SEO rankings
When you implement 301 redirects from old URLs to new ones, it’s a good idea to keep them active and in place for at least one year.
And if you’re moving entire domain content to a new host or domain, you should keep 301’s active for as long as possible. The result is you will retain your domain authority and maintain hard-earned search results rankings.
A properly configured 301 ensures that your visitors are sent to the right destination without having to type or understand your new URL.
Avoid a permalink mess to satisfy web search visitors
To recap, old content with a unique, permalink URL that’s not properly managed can put your web visitor satisfaction at risk. So before someone sends a flame email to your contact form, get organized, get to work and get your 301 redirects in place.
The result is your domain credibility won’t be compromised, visitor satisfaction will be positive, and visitors will thank you for directing them to the content they were looking for.