Linking to 3xx Redirects in your Internal Links Can Cause Bad Things to Happen
Linking to Nowhere
We had a company recently come to us with a problem. They had dropped more than 4 pages in Google almost overnight and they couldn't figure out why it happened.
It took us a bit of time to find it and we don't pass on too-much blame to the client except to state that it is so important that when you make changes to a site they should be clearly documented and able to be undone quickly if the page/site sinks like a lead balloon.
This one is worth mentioning because you may not even know it happened and it shows that the minutiae can greatly affect rankings. Now this was obviosuly a Google algorithmic penalty as you'll see from its recovery.
So, what’s the scenario? (Intended pun = nod to Tribe Called Quest)
The client wanted to remove some pages from the site which they felt were low-quality or outdated pages. They were absolutely correct to do so and we salute them for having done it.
The issue came about when they didn’t redirect those pages to specific pages of like content but left them as 404s.
There is already enough of an argument for not having 404s but for redirecting to like pages (e.g. there could be backlinks to those old pages or you get more from redirecting to relevant content than to nowhere).
However the real issue here was that they didn’t catch that there were some links to those pages which were hard-wired into their navigation menu and in text links on the site.
Furthermore they had a redirect as a 404-handler which sent all 404 traffic to their homepage. We would recommend a custom 404 page but this isn’t the only reason for the issue. The real reason for the drop was that they were potentially flagged as balckhat.
Essentially Google saw that the site (including the homepage) was linking to a page which no longer existed but which was now a dead link. However their 404s are redirected (3xx) to their homepage.
You see the issue? Having a link on your homepage, in the navigation menu, to a redirect to that very same homepage can be taken as a bit spammy. Since this wasn’t just one link but it was actually 3 different links (one in a sub-category and 2 in a sub-category beneath that one) you can see that Google saw multiple link-redirects to the same page (the homepage).
So, redirecting in links (in content or in the nav menu) which link right back to the same page is a clear no-no, as their subsequent swan-dive in the SERPs illustrated. Once we found the issue and fixed it we then fetched the homepage and some others where the links were found and within a couple of days they not only went back up but actually ranked higher. The Spring cleaning they did worked so the client came out on top in the end.
We tried to think if we’d seen that done or discussed and we couldn’t find anything specifically on it so we thought we’d add this to the web in case someone is going through and cleaning house on their content.
The take-homes here are:
· To make sure you don’t redirect in links to the same page
· Don’t put links in your navigation menus which link to either 4xx or 3xx. Just change the link to the real page’s link or if none exists then remove the link altogether. If you really want that link then create a page or update a low-quality one
· To double check throughout the site for all instances of that link (when changing links and redirecting)
· Make sure that anything you do you keep track of so you can undo them if things go sideways
· Have a custom 404 and don’t redirect traffic willy-nilly to the homepage
· Try to replace the old low quality page with quality content or redirect to a relevant page
We all make mistakes and learning from them is what makes us better and we’ve found that clients really understand that every swing of the club doesn’t result in a hole-in-one. Being able to quickly undo those mistakes is vital to fixing the issue and, of course, keeping a client or job.