Building websites can be a tiring, repetitive business, and every once in a while – after creating your tenth new page of the day, for instance – you might make a silly, basic mistake that you don’t immediately notice. It’s OK. There isn’t a site on the Internet that doesn’t have a single flaw, and most of the time these things go unnoticed.
Every once in a while, though, you might make a mistake that has a direct and serious impact on the success of your site. One of the most common such mistakes is a misspelling in the URL.
But how would a misspelled URL impact your site? Surely it wouldn’t matter, as long as the search engines know how to find your content. After all, who types the full page URL directly into their browser when looking for a specific page on your site? Nobody, that’s who.
Unfortunately, a typo in your URL can have a small but damaging effect on your SEO, and in some cases it could even keep you from getting any significant search engine traffic at all – especially for a competitve keyword. Here’s an example. Let’s say you run a site called Blue Widgets, with the domain bluewidgets.com. You write a sales page called ‘Where to Buy the Best Blue Widgets’, but while writing your title you accidentally type ‘Where to Buy the Best Bue Widgets’.
Now, depending how you have your WordPress theme set up (presuming, for the sake of argument, that you’re using WordPress), when you mistype the title the URL will be auto-generated as something like www.bluewidgets.com/where-buy-bue-widgets/.
It’s been a long day, you’re draining your fifth coffee and you don’t immediately notice the mistake. In fact, you don’t notice it until two weeks later, long after the search engines have already indexed the page and you notice you seem to be ranking very high for the phrase ‘bue widgets’.
You slap your forehead in dismay. Everything was perfect. Your title was carefully crafted, your keywords were well chosen and perfectly spread through the text, and you’ve even built up some excellent external links pointing to the page. The only problem is that your URL isn’t appropriate for the keyword. It’s not the end of the world, but that little SEO edge can be the difference between your content reaching page one on Google or page five.
So what can you do to fix the problem? If you simply change the URL of the page you’ll lose your position in the search engines. What’s worse, Google has a nasty habit of taking an extremely long time before reindexing pages with altered URLs. This little mistake could set you back by weeks or even months before the situation resolves itself and you can start receiving traffic. Surely there must be an easier way.
Fortunately, there is. A 301 redirect is a simple forwarding technique you can use to tell visitors and search engines that your content has moved permanently to a new address. If you know what you’re doing you can create a 301 redirect yourself by modifying a .htaccess file with information about the new and old addresses.
The problem here is that most entry level and intermediate webmasters aren’t comfortable modifying essential files and folders. It seems all too easy to make a simple mistake that will bring a site crashing to its knees, and most of us wouldn’t want to start tinkering with code if we could help it.
Luckily, when using WordPress there is an extremely simple, non-invasive and idiot proof way to implement a 301 redirect without having to go anywhere near a .htaccess file. The Simple 301 Redirects WordPress plugin makes the process painless. All you have to do is enter the old, incorrect URL and tell the plugin where you would like to redirect. In just a few days the search engines will detect your new 301 redirect and amend their search results.
Of course the best thing about creating a 301 redirect is that you will not lose the ‘link juice’ that’s already flowing to the incorrect URL from external sources. You can simply continue to build links that point to the new, correct URL and pretend your five-coffee mistake never happened. What could be simpler?