What is a redirect, and why are they a frequently employed facet of web navigation? Picture a bored traffic cop trying to manage a detour after a bridge has collapsed. Due to habit and training, said traffic will automatically try and cross the bridge – so to avoid disastrous, albeit probably humorous, consequences this traffic must be redirected to a safe, alternate route. The same is true after a website alteration. It may take months for search engines to reindex and reflect your new URL structure or domain name. So in the meantime, and likely permanently, a similar technical detour should be implemented to keep you from losing valuable traffic to the ether.
Redirects are the genesis of a lot of confusion in the wild, wide world of SEM – because if applied for the purposes of black hat SEO, they can get you penalized. It was common practice in the early days to set up groups of sneaky redirection pages that all targeted similar and related keywords or phrases. The only links on these pages are links to other pages in the same family creating a phony sense of related linking that once managed to trick algorithms. But the 301 redirect is completely safe and should not be feared.
For a practical example, if you have removed or renamed a page on your site, and want to avoid displaying a 404 error page, set up a 301 redirect to push traffic to your new page. The code 301 means “moved permanently” and it’s the easiest way to preserve your search engine rankings for that page. Redirects are implemented differently depending on the language your site has been written in. What works for PHP won’t work for .NET and so on. The common element of the 301 redirect is that they are always easy to implement. Have a look at these multi-platform instructions and don’t fear the redirect!