Redirections are a natural component of running a website, be it that a product is discontinued, a page being made redundant or perhaps a technical issue. Problems occur when these redirects fester over time without management, often leading to something called a redirection chain. These chains can cause issues with the user, search engines and overall user experience with the site.
There isn’t often a key component when it comes to root cause analysis, most of the sites I see have a combination of manual error alongside technical problems with the site. The age of a website too can also play its part in how much of an issue redirection loops or chains are, as the risk of stacking redirects becomes much higher.
Two of the main reasons you really want to get a handle on the redirection loops is the delay it takes for a user to reach their destination, if they do – sometimes redirections go on for too long or loop and users won’t get to where they are going. The second reason is a delay for search engines to find the relevant source of a page, adding unnecessary loading time to the crawling of the site. Underlining this is where the link is found that creates these chains, if it’s a prominent link with a lot of traffic, I’d certainly prioritise these over links nobody will likely ever click – although for SEO hygiene I’d recommend getting on top of these and fixing them all.
You have a couple of options but I’d recommend running them together. Almost every single SEO crawling software will pick these up – Screaming Frog does a great job and it’s one I’ve found provides the best data. You can also use Google Search Console to find any redirects in general, this can be seen by going into the Google Search Console > Coverage and then Excluded, this will give you pages with a redirect thread, allowing you to see all the redirects on your site that Google has found. It’s worth pointing out at this stage that the links shown here will not necessarily be a redirection chain.
There is a spectrum of fixes to be applied here, starting with the preferred to least preferred way of fixing these errors. Firstly, I’d always recommend updating the link on a page to point to the final destination rather than the redirection link. Getting users to their content as quickly as possible with no redirects is the best way to go. If the link is absolutely essential to be a redirect then try and whittle down the total redirects to 1, pointing to the end source URL. If you are using redirects regarding user authentication then try to find another way which doesn’t require redirects. The third fix is the least preferred but try and update the code / htaccess file to only redirect a minimum number of times, occasionally there will be a conflict redirection loop in there which you may need to troubleshoot. I typically use redirects at the domain level when a full site has rebranded or moved, anything else I use the native URL without any redirects. 302 redirects are slightly different as they are temporary but can still be subjective to redirection chains and loops.
This task really does come down to housekeeping. If you haven’t done any technical SEO before then buying a professional SEO audit (that I provide), can help you get a handle on how bad they are. With this being the main issue with SEO most SEO tools will suffice in identifying them so feel free to have a go yourself. Regular checking in on the redirection plugins/files/htaccess will allow you to regularly review if a redirect is required, this will naturally lower your risk of redirection chains. Also, try and keep user communication open either through live chat or simple forms to complete for feedback – users can often get frustrated with these redirection issues and can be valuable in flagging them. Lastly, if you create a new redirect then always check it works – it’s a little tricky to assess if the new redirection rule creates chains elsewhere but this is where your SEO audit or crawling tool will come in handy.
More feedback on redirection loops and chains
- A redirection loop means it won’t provide a user with a destination and just circles around the same URLs in a never-ending cycle, such as /home/ redirects to /home2/ that then redirects to /home/ and so on. Most modern browsers do a fantastic job at stopping these after 1-2 cycles.
- If you don’t know what you are doing with redirects then please get professional help, especially in a high-risk site – redirects can cause issues in areas of the site you wouldn’t expect.
- Search engines will likely not go beyond 5-7 chain redirects and will likely not see the destination.
- There are much better ways at handling the triage of users, use the final destination URL where possible and check that any redirects do not impact the wider site with frequent SEO crawling, the frequency can be set by how often you normally spin up redirects.
- An eCommerce store with regular product discontinuation or variation changes is more prone to redirection chains, especially if they are manually doing it.
- If you are struggling with legacy / broken links on your site, you may be tempted to use redirects to fix this issue, but I’d recommend heading over to my feedback on how to handle internal broken links for SEO.