What are redirect chains and loops and how do I fix them?

SEO | HTML | CMS | Redirect chains
“So, this is called a CMS,” explained my new media director, way back in 2005. “It’s the future, it means that one day, anyone will be able to update their own website, without any knowledge of HTML, JavaScript, cascading style sheets or FTP. It’s going to be great," he said. "You can all be web developers.” And that was the moment when it all changed. For the worse. As Richard Stone explains.

I know it’s good that in the intervening time we’ve liberated people across the globe with free access to information and the ability to share their most profound and important thoughts.

I know it’s good that we can blog, build and populate our own web sites and create legions of fans on other owned media platforms, from Friends Reunited to TikTok.

I know it’s good that we’ve created influencers and a whole generation of content creators. We’ve all become Wiki editors and we’ve learnt to change the world from our bedrooms.

George Orwell said, “If I can shoot rabbits, I can shoot fascists.” The 21st century equivalent would be, “If I can send tweets, I can create revolutions”. And that’s great.

But we have also unleashed a whole generation of amateurs on our most important marketing asset — our website. Anyone who is a bit techy, from the finance director to the work experience kid can make any changes at their leisure.

And guess what? They normally make the wrong ones.

This is where redirect chains come in. They are a super simple iterative error that crops up when multiple people manage a website over time and some of them make lazy or poorly informed changes.

It normally starts with a new website. “We’d like every page redirecting to its unique equivalent on the new site,” says the strategist.

“No problem,” says the developer. “I’ll just direct everything to the home page. That’ll do the job. And some things I won’t re-direct at all. And sometimes I’ll just randomly change the name of a page for no reason. For instance, I’ll make the URL slug ‘/contact’ into ‘/contact-us’ and not tell you.”

“I don’t understand what you just said,” enthuses the strategist. “But it sounded techy, so let’s do it!”

Later, someone else steps in and installs a plug in, like Yoast, and decides to make some more re-directs. Sometimes they even re-direct something that’s already been re-directed back to itself and don’t check to see if what they’ve done works. This is also part of the freedom CMSs have created for us, sadly.

The problems caused by redirect chains and redirect loops 
Lost link equity: A re-direct chain, such as ‘/contact’ to ‘/contact-us’ to “contact-us-we-are-ace” results in a loss of equity on the links to the original page.

A 301 redirect only passes about 85 to 95 per cent of link equity. So, if you have a backlink pointing to ‘/contact’, and you redirect ‘/contact’ to ‘/contact-us’, ‘/contact-us’ only gets about 85% of the value of the backlink.

It gets worse. When you re-direct ‘/contact-us’ to ’contact-us-we-are-ace‘, you lose equity again. Now you only have around 85 per cent of 85 per cent, which is about 72 per cent.

Loss of indexing: If a search engine bot has to follow too many re-directs, it eventually gives up. It’s supposed to behave like a person and if a person had to wait more than a couple of seconds for a page to load, they would just give up as well.

This obviously has negative search repercussions.

Re-direct loops: A redirect loop is when ‘/contact’ points to ‘/contact-us’ and ‘/contact-us’ points to ‘/contact’. In the real world there is normally at least one other page the original is going via to reach its destination re-direct, all created by our series of amateur SEO people; but you get the gist. This will keep the browser in an infinite loop and the webpage will never be displayed.

Re-direct loops can be an SEO killer and should be addressed immediately.

The message you are sending to the search engine, which acts like a person remember, is, “I don’t know what pages are on my own web site, I don’t care, and you, you can do one mate; because I also don’t care about you. Goodnight, and thank you.”

Would you look positively on a company if one of its staff said that to you? Why should a search engine be any different?

How to find redirect chains and loops 
The first task is to trace the problem. Redirect Detective will allow you to do this, by presenting a very simple view of where any given URL re-directs to and whether it goes via another URL to get there.

When you know where the URL is re-directing to, you should establish how it’s re-directing there. If you are using a CMS like WordPress, you should look for a plug-in called any of the following:

  • Redirection
  • Quick Page / Post Redirect Plugin
  • Simple 301 Redirects
  • SEO Redirection Plugin
  • Safe Redirect Manager Plugin
  • Blogger to WordPress
  • Easy HTTPS Redirection

You will also find that SEO plug-ins, notably the paid version of Yoast, will offer similar opportunities.

If you have a problem with re-direct chains and loops, it’s possible that more than one of these tools could be running simultaneously. For instance, Yoast could be re-directing ‘/contact’ to ‘/contact-us’ and Quick Page could be sending it back.

Your hosting package could also contain re-directs. If you are using a commercial package like GoDaddy or similar, that’s very likely. If you have a higher-level hosting package with a more professional provider, it is less likely.

If this is the case, you will be able to access this information and trace any re-directs via the control panel provided by your host.

Another common option for creating re-directs is through a .htaccess file. If you have one of these on your site, you will find it in the root folder and you can read, and edit, it in Notepad
Yes, to do this, you will need FTP access and coding — the horror, the horror!

A re-direct will look something like this:

redirect 301 /old/oldURL.com http://www.newURL.com

You might also find that your pages have been re-directed using a meta re-direct. You can find out by looking at the code on the page and, in the header, checking for something that looks a bit like this:

.<META http-equiv="refresh" content="0;URL=http://www.newsite.com/newurl.html">

(If you don’t know how to look at the code that sits behind a web page, don’t panic, it’s easy. But first, congratulations on getting this far through the post without any prior understanding of SEO or development. You are a trier and I salute you. All you have to do is right click on the page in your browser and click on ‘view page source’ or ‘inspect’ and you will see the code.)

How to fix redirect chains and loops 
Once you’ve found the problem, the solution is simple. If you have multiple plug ins, delete the re-directs from all but one and re-create them in your preferred plug in. Always make sure you download a back up first, so you can recreate the necessary re-directs.

If you have re-directs in your hosting package or a .htaaccess file and plugin, it makes sense to choose one option and stick to it. Delete the option you don’t want and re-create the re-directs using your desired method.

If you have meta-redirects, it’s probably better to replace them with one of the other methods. They look a bit spammy to a search engine, because they are both a common hacking technique and a tool from the dark days of dodgy, black hat SEO.

Go forth and optimise  
I would like to say a big thank you to Alison Gardner from Stone Junction, who inspired this post with her diligence and creativity in tracking down and fixing bad links on our clients’ websites.
Alison is a link ninja of the highest order, unlike the person whose idea it was to install a CMS and let everyone from the finance director to the work experience kid loose on your most valuable marketing asset.

If I can shoot rabbits, I can shoot bad SEO strategists. That isn’t George Orwell, that one is me.

Kirsty McMahon

Stone Junction is a cool technical PR agency based in Stafford. We work for all sorts of businesses, with a particular focus on technology, technical and engineering companies. We like being sent cake and biscuits by clients, journalists and prospects.

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