What is a Redirect Chain?

Although they are often followed by a bad reputation, redirects are essential for keeping your site working properly and traffic coming in steadily after the site has undergone all sorts of changes, such as structure, content, and permalink updates, as well as a migration to another domain and so on.

While to some people they might seem like it, redirects aren’t in any way nuclear science – they are actually something quite simple. Basically, redirects are a class of HTTP status code that is used to indicate that a specific URL is no longer available and that it has been replaced with a new one temporarily or in some cases permanently.

Your reasoning behind implementing redirects can be a lot of things, such as deleting pages/sections from your site and replacing them with new ones, merging existent pages or pieces of content, wanting to use temporary/seasonal pages or content, essentially anything that involves making changes to your site’s existing URLs. Quick tip – if you are prone to making changes on your website frequently and want to do it in the safest manner possible, I heavily suggest you check out WP Reset, a plugin that allows you to reset your website quickly and easily.

If implemented correctly, redirects aren’t bad for your SEO, but in some cases, mostly because of a mistake on your or someone else’s part, they can cause something that is commonly referred to as a redirect chain which pretty bad for your sites user experience, load speed, and SEO.

To help you better understand redirect chains and make them a thing of the past, at least on your own site, in this article we will cover the most important aspects of redirect chains, those being, why redirect chains occur in the first place, why they are considered to be a bad thing, how to identify them and how to successfully get rid of them.

So let’s cut to the chase and dive into our short but sweet redirect chain crash course!

What are redirect chains and what causes them?

Before we start defining redirect chains, it’s best that we talk a bit more about what single redirects are. That way we will make understanding redirect chains a walk in the park.

In a nutshell, a redirect is a process that automatically forwards a person from a URL they requested which is currently not available to one that is now used in its place. They come in a number of types, but can generally be divided into those of permanent and those of temporary nature.

If a redirect is not implemented, anyone who is trying to reach the old URL, no matter if it’s a real user or a bot that’s trying to index your site, will end up on a 404 page. This situation is something you want to avoid at all costs because it can completely deteriorate your SEO and rank among the search engine results, but also give the people trying to visit your site, a very unpleasant and confusing user experience.

On top of all of that, without a permanent redirect, all the SEO a page under the old URL has accumulated won’t be transferred to the page under the new URL, meaning that all the authority and rank it once had will go to waste.

Having said all of that, redirects have their downsides as well. The downsides can range from minor ones that can be seen as sort of bearable to more serious ones that can result in issues that aren’t so bearable.

The minor issues include:

  • An increase in latency – having a redirect placed means that your server will have to process not just one, but two or sometimes even more requests in order to get to the final destination. Doing this will add quite a bit of latency to the request and also time to the period it takes for your users to get the content they asked for.
  • Less time for search engine bots to crawl your site – When search engine bits crawl your site, they do put a limit on the time they will spend doing so. That time is very precious because, within it, they are supposed to find all the important and valuable content on your site so it can be indexed accordingly. If your site is full of redirects, a significant amount of that time will be wasted on only taking the bot to a specific page, meaning there’s a big chance that some of your content might never get to be indexed.
  • Loss of link equity – Although redirects are pretty damn good at preserving and transferring link equity and SEO from one location to another, they will never be able to pass 100% of the value for either of those things. Some statistics show that about 90-99% of the SEO gets transferred while for link equity that number is around 85%. While that is not a terrible decrease in value, it’s definitely a decrease you will notice when looking into your site’s analytics.

Now that we have covered the minor issues caused by redirects, it’s finally time to focus on the biggest issue which is also the main focus of this article, that issue being a redirect chain.

Defining what a redirect chain is

Put in plain English, a redirect chain is a redirect that is followed by another redirect, that is followed by another redirect and so on. A more formal definition would be that a redirect chain represents a series of redirects that continue from one URL to another, prolonging the time needed to reach the final destination by however long it takes to go through all the redirects.

Redirect chains bring with them all the downsides we mentioned earlier when talking about single redirects, just in this case those downsides are multiplied by the number of redirects that have been chained together.

It is believed that for every redirect that is included in a redirect chain you lose approximately 10% of the authority you had. Even worse, in cases where there are too many redirects, search engines might give up on following the chain. The limit is about 5 redirects per chain, which is without a doubt too much.

While redirect chains do happen for a number of reasons which we will get to in a minute, it’s best you avoid creating them whenever possible. Why? Well besides, slowing down your site, confusing search engines, wasting your crawl time, ruining your SEO, and user experience, redirect chains don’t serve any purpose at all.

We understand that in some situations, adding another redirect on top of your existing ones might seem like the easiest solution for your redirecting issues, but it’s way easier and better in the long run if you just take a minute to set up only one redirect that will point straight to the final destination.

Okay, so if people are aware of how bad redirect chains are, why do they keep occurring then? Well, for several reasons and in several different situations such as:

  • Different people stacking redirect on top of redirect without consulting each other or anyone else prior to doing so
  • Redesigning your site without taking into consideration the best SEO practices
  • Switching CMSs a few times
  • Having a website structure that doesn’t do a good job of supporting the growth of your site and the evolution of your business
  • Having URLs that are based on article titles and causing your CMS to create a redirect every time you alter the title of an article
  • Moving the site to another domain or migrating from HTTP to HTTPS URLs.

How to identify a redirect chain?

Since redirect chains, unfortunately, aren’t a rare occurrence, there are plenty of tools on the market that can be used to identify them. Those tools range from SEO auditing tools such as Ahrefs or SEMrush to crawlers such as Screaming Frog, DeepCrawl, OnCrawl, Moz Site Crawl, etc.. Which one should you use, really depends on your personal preference.

How to remove a redirect chain?

Although redirect chains can be a pretty serious issue, fixing them is quite easy.

In a nutshell, to fix a redirect chain what you will have to do is redirect the oldest page (the initial one) to the newest one (the currently used one) and in that way remove any jumps/redirects in between.

Your first task in that process is to identify the redirect chain using a tool of your preference. After that, simply replace the chained redirects with a proper single redirect, either manually or using a plugin such as WP 301 Redirects, and that’s it, you’re done.

Final thoughts

Hopefully, this article gave you a better understanding of all things related to redirect chains.

Our last piece of advice would be that besides fixing the redirect chains, preventing them in the first place should be your main focus.

Some suggestions on how to do that would be:

  • Having a solid website structure that can easily be modified and upgraded
  • Tasking only experienced developers and SEO specialist with implementing redirects on your site
  • Writing down all your redirects in a spreadsheet that will be available to all your team members
  • And finally, doing regular checkups on the state of your redirects

Thank you for reading and if you’re on the hunt for more tips and tricks on how to improve your user’s experience, feel free to explore My WP Tips!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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