Landing Page Redirects: What to Avoid and What Not to Do?
Avoiding Landing Page Redirects is a major aspect of the website speed optimization guideline for Technical SEO, provided by the Google Developers Network. It is a well known fact that Google takes all possible precautions to enhance user experience. This includes optimizing any speed issues, broken redirects that trade a visitor like a commodity and URLs that produce a 404 error. This behavior stems from Google’s desire to enhance user interface. Discern the sites with actual value from the sites that actually try to trade their traffics.
Introduction to Landing Page Redirects
You can utilize redirects to divert the user from an obsolete page. It is a much better alternative to the dreadful 404 error messages that exponentially increase your bounce rates. However, HTTP redirects are used as the de-facto technique for websites that use different URLs to serve the same content.
Using an effective strategy for Landing Page Redirects is not as simple as that.
Redirects are considered a bad Technical SEO Practice. It increases the page load times and hinders the search engine’s crawl-ability.
Redirects trigger additional HTTP requests to the server, adding up the latency time of the page fetch. In essence, avoiding redirects equates to a faster loading website and lesser load on the servers.
But sometimes the use of landing page redirects is unavoidable due to some valid reasons. Reasons such as:
1- To divert the mobile visitors to the mobile pages.
2- The desktop visitors who arrive at the mobile page to the HTML page.
Beside these there are several other cases when it is absolutely necessary.
The Genuine Reasons to use Dynamic Redirects
Visitors arriving on your landing page can be needed due to a multitude of reasons. Those reasons include:
- Language/ Location Specific Sites: You might have location specific sites that redirect the visitors to a different version depending on the geographical location of the user.
- Device Specific Sites: You might also have different layouts based on different devices such as a mobile, tablet and desktop. Device Specific Dynamic Redirects involve conveying the user to a device specific version of the website.
- Domain Redirection: It is usually considered a good practice to maintain only one domain for your website and redirect all other sub-domains to the main domain.
Why and What Types of Redirects are Penalized by Google
In the past, some websites used to redirect the visitor to external pages just as a means to trade web traffic and monetize their domains. This turned out to be quite tedious for the site visitors who soon got wary of being traded around like sheep. Google took initiative and started to penalize the unnecessary redirects to and from web pages. Technical SEO analysis software includes Google Page Speed to identify these redirects besides other factors like Leverage Browsing Caching to establish an effective warning system for the visitors for such traffic.
One of the rules that define an allowable redirect policy is constant redirection.
For example: if a website
(A) redirects to (C)
and (B) redirects to (C)
It is allowable rather than (A) redirecting to(B) and (B) redirecting to (C).
In this scenario (B) has become an intermediate link with the sole purpose of conveying traffic. It brings no real value to the chain besides that.
Points to Ponder: Another rule is the relevancy of the redirected page. If the redirected page is in a completely different category as compared to the referring page. Google might find some way to reduce the link juice, sometime in the future.
One of the solutions is to serve the same content from multiple URLs without any landing page redirects between the two separate sites.
For instance, you can serve both the sites airportlimo9.com and limo9.ca with the same content.
But from the SEO point of view, these will incur a duplicate content warning and penalize the site that was crawled later. In such cases it becomes crucial to use 301 redirects to inform both the user and search engines that it was by design not duplication.
Now that we have a basic understanding of using of 301 redirects, we can work towards minimizing the use of landing page redirects. In the next few paragraphs we will discuss some alternatives to achieve this objective.
Tips to Effectively Implement Redirects
Avoid Chaining: Refrain from chaining redirections as much as possible, considering the earlier example. Links A and B should redirect directly to C. No intermediaries or chaining should be used.
Be Careful During URL changes: Make an effort to retain the existing URLs and to avoid changing URLs, even during a website redesign. This is especially true for links that are indexed by search engines and externally linked which brings you both traffic and link juice.
Responsive Web Design: Ever since Google’s emphasis on mobile friendliness, many SMEs have shifted to using responsive designs to create their website and layouts. This eliminates the need to create a redirection for different devices, such as tablets and smart phones with different widths.
Long Loading Times: only work after the whole page has been loaded in a browser.
Inefficient Method: Additional data costs are incurred when extra pages are downloaded.
Lack of Support of JS: JS is not supported on all devices and browsers. In such rare cases, the page navigation is affected.
HTML Redirects; Canonical and Alternative
HTML supports two types of redirects; the canonical and alternative. The two types are used for two complementary functions, one is used to point to the desktop site, and the other is used to inform the Google crawler of the presence of an alternative page.
Annotations for desktop and mobile URLs
To help our algorithms understand separate mobile URLs, we recommend using the following annotations:
- On the desktop page, add a special link rel=”alternate” tag pointing to the corresponding mobile URL. This helps Google-bot discover the location of your site’s mobile pages.
- On the mobile page, add a link rel=”canonical” tag pointing to the corresponding desktop URL.
The required rel=”canonical” tag on the mobile URL should still be added to the mobile page’s HTML.
Annotation in detail
Notice the attributes of the link tag on the desktop page:
- The rel=”alternate” attribute signals that this tag specifies an alternative URL to the desktop page.
- The media attribute’s value is a CSS media query string that specifies the media features describing when Google should use the alternative URL. In this case, we’re using a media query that’s typically used to target mobile devices.
- The href attribute specifies the location of the alternative URL, namely the page on m.example.com.
A webpage or the website itself can have more than one version of the URL pointing to it. This creates some issues for a search engine and for the SEO of the website itself.
Often referred to as the canonicalization issue. Canonicalization or c14n, is the process in which the best URL is chosen for a landing page where and when there is several possibilities.
One prime example is the homepage of the website, which usually has two equivalent URLs pointing to it.
Intro to the Vary HTTP
The Vary HTTP header has two important and useful implications:
- It signals to caching servers used in ISPs and elsewhere that they should consider the user agent when deciding whether to serve the page from cache or not. Without the Vary HTTP header, a cache may mistakenly serve mobile users the cache of the desktop HTML page or vice versa.
- It helps Google-bot discover your mobile-optimized content faster. A valid Vary HTTP header is one of the signals we may use to crawl URLs that serve mobile-optimized content.
The Vary HTTP header is part of the server’s response to a request, like this:
GET /page-1 HTTP/1.1
(…rest of HTTP request headers…)
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
(… rest of HTTP response headers…)
The Vary header tells the browser that the contents of the response will vary depending on the user agent that requests the page. If your server already uses the Vary HTTP header, you can add “User-Agent” to the list that’s already served
What is Vary: User-Agent?
- It is a http header stating that different content is served to different users
- Commonly used for mobile seo when pages have different versions for small screens
- Can help Google 1 and other search engines determine the mobile version for a page
- May be used by caches to determine if and how to cache page
Why use the Vary User-Agent Header?
When your web-server is providing different content to mobile users than it is to desktop users Google recommends using the Vary: User-Agent HTTP header. 1
- If you are using dynamic serving to provide mobile content to users or have a separate mobile url setup, this header is important to know about and use.
- If your webpages are using responsive web design, this does not affect you. Because your web-server is sending the same content to all users.
A web-server that is serving different content for different users gets a request for a URL (like www.example.com). The web-server then identifies the device requesting it and returns a mobile page to a mobile user or a desktop page to a desktop user.
Including unnecessary landing page redirects is one of the important factors that affects page load times. For this reason, avoiding landing page redirects is considered a good Technical SEO practice by most websites and SEO experts. However, it is a technique that solves many complex problems and has several valid use cases that can not be avoided whatsoever.