What are redirect chains?

A redirect chain occurs when there are multiple consecutive redirects from one URL to another before reaching the final destination. This can happen when URL A redirects to URL B, which in turn redirects to URL C, and so on, before the final page loads. This phenomenon lengthens the loading process of a Web page and can have adverse effects on both user experience and search engine optimization.

How and why redirect chains arise

Redirect chains often arise due to website renewals, changes in URL structure, or the merging of different web pages. Sometimes redirects are implemented without removing or updating existing redirects, leading to chains. A lack of coordination between teams can also contribute to the unintended creation of these chains. Maintaining a Web site without a clear overview of all redirects can result in a complex web of redirects that is difficult to manage.

Why are redirect chains a problem?

Each additional redirect in a chain requires additional HTTP requests, which increases page load time. This may be especially noticeable for mobile users or those with slower Internet connections. A longer load time can lead to frustration among users, possibly causing them to leave the website before it fully loads.

The effect of redirect chains on SEO

Search engines, such as Google, use loading speed as a ranking factor. Thus, longer load times can have a negative effect on a website’s position in search results. Moreover, any redirect in the chain can reduce the amount of link equity passed (the value transferred from one page to another). This means that the end destination of a long redirect chain may not receive full SEO value, which can affect the organic visibility of that page.

Potential user experience (UX) issues

Besides increasing load time, redirect chains can also cause confusion and frustration for users. When a visitor is referred multiple times, it can lead to uncertainty about the reliability of the website. This can undermine a site’s credibility and discourage visitors from returning. Additionally, some browsers or network settings may limit the number of redirects, which may result in pages not loading at all for some users.

In summary, redirect chains are a significant obstacle to optimal website performance and experience. Identifying and resolving these issues is essential to maintaining a fast, accessible and SEO-friendly website.

Identifying redirect chains

Detecting redirect chains requires the use of specific tools that can track and visualize the paths of redirects on a Web site. Some popular options include:

  • SEO audit tools: Many all-in-one SEO platforms offer the ability to scan an entire Web site and report on redirect chains. These tools can automatically identify and map complex chains.
  • Browser extensions: There are several extensions for Web browsers that allow you to see the HTTP status codes of requests, including any redirects that occur when a page loads.
  • Crawling software: Specific Web crawlers can be configured to search a Web site and report all redirect chains. These tools are particularly useful for larger Web sites with thousands of pages.

Using these tools allows administrators to get a clear picture of how traffic is routed through their site and where potentially unwanted chains exist.

Examples of common redirect chains

Some common scenarios in which redirect chains can occur are:

  • HTTP to HTTPS: A page is first redirected from HTTP to HTTPS and then to a new page within the secure environment.
  • Trailing slash issues: A URL without a trailing slash is redirected to the same URL with a slash, which then leads to another page.
  • Obsolete content: An old URL leads to a slightly less old URL, which eventually redirects to the current page.

How do you solve redirect chains?

Solving redirect chains requires a systematic approach:

  1. Use the above tools to identify all existing redirect chains on the website. Document the full chain of redirects for each chain found.
  2. Determine the most direct route for each set of redirects. This involves identifying the final destination of each chain and planning the shortest possible route to it.
  3. Update redirects so that each original URL points directly to the final destination, removing all unnecessary intermediate steps.
  4. Test the new redirects thoroughly to ensure that they work correctly and that the end destinations load properly without unwanted redirects.

Analyze redirect chains

When analyzing redirect chains, it is important to understand the origin and destination of each redirect, as well as why each step in the chain was implemented. This can provide insight into how the site has grown and changed over time, and can help identify the most efficient way to streamline the structure. The goal is to minimize the chain of redirects, improving site load time and optimizing SEO performance.

Planning the new redirect structure

When restructuring redirects, it is crucial to have a clear plan. Start by mapping all current URLs and their destination pages. Next, identify the most direct route for each redirect chain, aiming to eliminate any redundant step. This requires a thorough understanding of website architecture and the relationship between pages. Create a spreadsheet to document the old and new redirect paths to provide a clear overview of the changes that will be made.

Implementation of direct redirects

After planning the new redirect structure, it’s time for implementation. This process varies depending on the server type or content management system (CMS) used. For example, for Apache servers, redirects are often set in the .htaccess file, while for NGINX servers, configuration files are modified. For CMS platforms such as WordPress, there are plugins available that make managing redirects easier. Make sure any old URL redirects directly to the final destination without any intermediate steps.

Testing after adjustments

Once the new redirects are implemented, extensive testing is essential. Use tools such as HTTP status code checkers to confirm that all redirects function correctly and lead directly to the intended destination. Also note any broken links or pages that are no longer accessible due to the changes. This is also a good time to compare the load times of the updated routes with the old ones to measure the impact of the changes.

Tips for preventing future redirect chains

  • Regular audits: Perform periodic audits of the website to detect and remove unnecessary or unwanted redirects.
  • Documentation: Keep accurate records of all changes to the URL structure and associated redirects in a central document.
  • Planning ahead: When launching new pages or restructuring the Web site, plan redirects carefully to ensure direct routes to the destination.

Best practices for redirect management

  • Use 301 redirects for permanent changes to inform search engines that the page has been permanently moved.
  • Limit the use of redirects: Try to minimize the number of necessary redirects by using direct links to appropriate landing pages whenever possible.
  • Monitor Performance: Use tools to monitor website performance and load times so that any negative effects of redirects can be addressed quickly.

How do you keep your redirects clean and efficient?

Maintaining a clean and efficient redirect structure is an ongoing process. Consistent monitoring and revision are essential. Use a redirect management tool or plugin to keep track of all active redirects. Regularly eliminate unused or duplicate redirects and make sure that all redirects serve a clear and legitimate purpose. Following these practices keeps the website accessible, performs better in search engines, and provides a better experience for visitors.

Senior SEO-specialist

Ralf van Veen

Senior SEO-specialist
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With this broad experience within SEO, I have developed the SEO course and helped hundreds of companies with improved findability in Google in a sustainable and transparent way. For this you can consult my portfolio, references and collaborations.

This article was originally published on 27 March 2024. The last update of this article was on 19 June 2024. The content of this page was written and approved by Ralf van Veen. Learn more about the creation of my articles in my editorial guidelines.