Usability, Content Management

How to Handle Reorganization and Redirection: Using Redirects

redirectsIn my previous post, I discussed how the use of dependency tags helps when reorganizing content on your website. But what about search engines when change occurs?

Depending on the file you are referencing, there may be additional steps you want to take to ensure that visitors can still find your content. Recently, I was working on a section of our site that had to do with an upcoming event, and there were multiple registration forms and informational documents in PDF format in OU Campus from previous years. When I googled the name of the event, these multiple PDF files were all in the search results. I had received the new materials very close to the registration deadline and there was no preexisting main landing page, so the most likely way a visitor would find the event was using a search engine. I needed to make sure that the current version of all the documents was available and that links to any previous version from search engines would go to the right place, no matter what old versions of the documents came up in the results.

I solved the problem using redirects. A redirect is a special instruction your web server can give to a web browser or search engine that tells it whatever used to be here is now there. The most common ways these special instructions are typically generated are through configurations of your web server and through a server-side scripting language such as PHP. You will want to get help from a technician to set up either of these kinds of redirects, but it is useful to know a few things about them before you pick up the phone.

There are several different kinds of redirects, but there are two primary kinds that pertain to us as web publishers: “301” redirects, which are permanent redirects, and “302” redirects, which are temporary redirects. The difference is subtle and matters more from a search engine optimization (SEO) perspective than from a browser perspective. Either redirect will tell a web browser to load a different file from the one initially requested, but a 301 permanent redirect will tell the search engine that you have moved a file permanently from one spot to another, and the old location can safely be removed from search engine results. A 302 temporary redirect will tell the search engine to keep the old location in its database, because eventually the file will be moved back.

Let’s look at an example. Let’s say that you have a page at the following web URL:

http://www.example.com/student-activities.php

You’ve decided to reorganize your site so that the same page will now appear at this location:

http://www.example.com/student-activities/index.php

Luckily, you have deployed dependency tags across your site, so instead of links to http://www.example.com/student-activities.php, every time you link to that file in your .pcf files, the link is actually to a dependency tag such as "{{f:10687807 }}". To move the file, you might follow these steps:

  1. Create the new folder location /student-activities/
  2. Use OU Campus “File | Move” to move /student-activities.php into the folder you created
  3. Use OU Campus “File | Rename” to rename student-activites.php as index.php
  4. Have your technical people create a 301 permanent redirect that tells web browsers the file that used to be at /student-activities.php is now at /student-activities/index.php

OU Campus takes care of internal links to the file and your redirect will, over time, clean things up in the search engines. Proper use of sitemaps will also help the search engines to find your new file, and you may be able to take additional steps to accelerate that process (procedures will be different for each search engine). But even if you do not take those additional steps, proper use of dependency tags and redirects will help keep your site clean and broken-link-free, and will help your visitors find what they need in no time!

Check out my previous post on this topic.


About the Blogger
After almost two decades of web development experience, Michael Jones returned to his alma mater, Oral Roberts University, where he now works as a website programmer and OU Campus user trainer. He lives in Bixby, Oklahoma, with his wife Cathy and two children, Mike and Hannah, and various furred and finned family members.
Michael Jones

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