You may have heard the old saying, “Don’t repeat yourself.” Well, it’s more like “Never Repeat a Redirect.” If you’re using a 301 HTTP response status code with your redirects and are looking for a lasting solution to keep them around forever in perpetuity, then this isn’t going to be easy!
Whenever there is some server transfer or website redevelopment (or even content migration), do we want all these different URLs containing our old links on other pages?
Taking a step back, our recommendation for the website moves to use 301 redirects. It seems that nothing is permanent in this world, so how long is permanent to keep when it comes to redirects?
Google reprocesses all web pages at least every few months. Most of the pages are checked much more often. However, the amount of crawling is limited, and there are many, many pages that Google Bots would like to crawl, so it gives them a priority. When a URL changes, the system needs to see the change in the form of a redirect at least a few times to record that change. It is said to be certain a redirect has been seen a few times to recommend keeping the redirect in place for at least one year.
You might have a redirect for many audiences, such as links in offline marketing or emails. John Mueller from Google says that it could take up to 1 year before they expire, so will this be enough time?
Estimating Traffic to Redirected URLs
A redirect is a special type of link that either bots or human beings can use to get back on track after being redirected from one page or website. You want your domain’s old URL dead and gone as soon as possible!
There are two ways you should measure when checking if traffic has been reaching the site correctly:
- Logfile analysis (which logs every visitors’ activity)
- Google Analytics UTM parameters (a little more complicated).
To make sure bots aren’t tricking us into thinking that there’s still life left in our SEO efforts – even though they might not have had any hits in ages. We also need to consider potential new visitor counts too with some other metrics providers.
1. Log File Analysis
Step #1: Download Log File
Your hosting company may provide you with only the last 24 hours’ worth of logs, but if they don’t, then there are other options. You can get more data by downloading and reviewing these files regularly!
Some popular sources for finding and downloading your web log file are:
- WP Engine
- IIS (Microsoft’s Web Server)
- Apache servers
You can find logs with either the user portal or through the main cPanel interface on these platforms.
Step #2: Open Access Logs
The next step is to open this access log. Typically, these files are compressed as TAR or GZIP archives. You’ll need an executable program like 7-Zip to extract them before they can be opened in any text editor of choice such as Excel (we recommend using Notepad instead).
Once extracted from their archive file(s), there are various ways you could go about looking at this information.
Step #3: Find All Redirects
Now that we know how to open and read our log file let’s find the redirects! We can do this with a little Excel magic. Start by setting up filters in your spreadsheet, only records with “301 redirect“.
Now filter again using other criteria: “Date Modified.” If you’re feeling organized, add them both together.
Step #4: Count Redirected URLs
In the last 24 hours, here were our top redirected URLs. Given this traffic volume, we would likely want to maintain these redirects. We may not need or even consider revoking any present on your log file but not enough for its frequency within such time frame (for example, 1 out 5 days).
Finally, you can now go through that list of URLs and count how often each URL occurs—declared a winner on their first try!
2. Google Analytics UTM Parameters
Step #1: Add UTM Tracking to Redirects
We can now track UTM tracking parameters on any destination URL with valuable information at our fingertips. For example, if I want to know how many people are using this redirect from:
Then all that needs to be done is add in some extra info after the “?” symbol and before the last slash mark (/), which will not affect either visitors or SEO but instead let us see what kind of traffic comes into Google Analytics via these redirected links so there may be something else going wrong with your site!
When you redirect one domain to another, it’s helpful if the new destination has a similar tone of voice. For example, I redirected my old company’s URL (whatisredirect.com) with an informative output and would like to know how many people still use this type of redirection.
So, I can measure our return on investment in secondary domains – which is usually more expensive than just using your main site as a landing page or doing SEO optimization consulting work for clients. It might need help getting found by Google.
Step #2: Review Your Redirect Usage
After the redirect is established, you can review Google Analytics. Set up an event or conversion action for your traffic numbers to reflect correctly in this report.
Click on Acquisition then All Traffic > Source/Medium (for R). If only one person used our old domain but successfully reached us over time, it means they found what was being offered through www.oldsite.com by clicking from somewhere else online – like another website someone linked them to.
Final Point of view
It’s also important to update all references to the old URL that includes links the page may have within your website and critical links from outside of the website. This is all somewhat simplified, and to be safe and fine to keep a redirect longer. But you should aim for at least one year.
I hope you found this how long keep redirects short answer useful. If there are other questions on your mind that we can answer like this, then drop us a note.