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What Happens When 301 Redirecting a Large Site

Updated on November 5, 2015

Why Change URLs?

There are a handful of reasons sites want to do large scale 301 redirects.

A few common reasons

  • Moving site: A site wants a new domain
  • Reorganizing an existing site: A site wants to move content into a logical directory structure for content organization purposes

The observations here are based on reorganizing a site on the same domain to create logical content organization and to improve the presentation of URLs in mobile search results. We also chose to move from subdomains to subdirectories so that we can access all of our data in Google Search Console.

After we are done, we expect URLs to be displayed like this:

Google should display URLs like this on desktop for a Hub with this URL ( › … › Farm Animals & Livestock › Bees & Beekeeping

and like this on mobile › animals › Bee-Stings-on-the-Eye

How Long Will It Take For Google To Re-Index a Site after Redirecting

We are moving about 250,000 indexible articles to a new URL structure, plus thousands of QnA and forum pages. The time it takes for Google to fully move a site completely appears to vary by URL to URL and not by site.

Some of our very strongest pages moved within a few days, while other popular pages appear to move in stages. Our assumption is pages with strong backlinks and more robust signals move more quickly.

Stage One: New URLs and Redirects in Place

Stage one is when the site is launched under the new URL structure with 301 redirects in place.

What we see here is that Google is crawling the site and following the 301s. We see an initial surge in traffic because we may end up with two identical pages ranking for the same queries (the old url and the new url). If two pages show up for the same query, it results in incremental traffic. This stage appears to be short lived and lasts for most queries we follow less than one week.

In the screenshot below, notice the same page is ranking twice, but they have different URLs and, the dates are different. One shows Google discovered it 9 hours ago and the other shows it was last updated in 2014. This is a double listing for a query. Eventually, the pages are consolidated into a single listing.

Stage Two: Partial Processing

Stage two: Partial processing. We don't know exactly what's happening in Google, but we have lots of examples of where a page was previously ranking for several queries. For example a page may have been ranking for query1, query2, query3. The page gets partially processed and it resumes ranking for query1, query2, but not query3. This results in a loss of traffic because the page is ranking for less terms. I call this stage partially processed, but like I said, I'm not sure why/how this happens. Now, if you append "hubpages" to query3 so it looks like "query3 hubpages", you'll likely see the old url rank or even a url with a tracking code or a parameter added to the end of the url. If you click through on one of these old URLs, it will go through a single 301 redirect to the proper page url.

The image below illustrates the traffic moving over to the new URL and then the dip that follows.

Stage Three: Full Processing

The amount of time for each URL to get fully processed seems to vary, but from what we can tell, their rankings will eventually return. It can be a bit nerve wracking to watch this, but if you are concerned that it's taking too long, there is something you can do.

If a page hasn't returned to its previous ranking after two weeks, the best thing to do is to update the content on the page. A fresh date and content seems to jumpstart getting the page back to it's previous traffic levels. This can be a good time to fix up a page and make it even better!

In the example above, it took about ten days for the page to go through the full cycle. After 4 days, the page dropped significantly and seems to have bottomed out 7 days after moving. Days 8 and 9 saw a recovery begin. After day 10, the page had settled in to its previous traffic level.


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    • Lionrhod profile image

      Lionrhod 2 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Are our profile urls changed? I've been giving out my profile url for MONTHS to customers.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      So after the process is done, do I have to share my hubs URL at social medias again? The URL are different right?

    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 2 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      Some of my page 1 hubs are moved now, which bothers me. I guess that happens often, that they get indexed by a bot and later reindexed. I hope things get better.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      I have been really busy with my day job and so I have skipped reading HubPages Weekly for about a month. Today I finally read about it and discovered that things have changed and everything is moving smoothly. I'm kind of glad I came late to the news because I would have gotten all panicked about how the change would affect my hubs. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

    • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

      Sondra Rochelle 2 years ago from USA

      It's been more than two weeks now for me. At first, it seemed like there was only a minor drop in views. I went offline for a week and now find there is an even worse drop of about 200-300 views per day. Am hoping this will balance itself out so that at least some of those views return. What concerns me is that during the first week I updated several of my best performing hubs, and they are now lower than ever. It's very disconcerting.

    • Dorsi profile image

      Dorsi Diaz 2 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

      Thanks Paul for the information, it's really helpful.

    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 2 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      I found that several hubs that were never on page 1 are updated to and appear on page 1. This is really good news for me. Increased views made me do some further checking. Another one that is a medical hub is moved way up to page 3 from oblivion.

    • kbdressman profile image

      kbdressman 2 years ago from Harlem, New York

      Thanks for the update! I'll go through and update everything appropriately then. Thanks for the incentive to do a good update!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Thanks for keeping us informed.

    • ReviewsfromSandy profile image

      Sandy Mertens 2 years ago from Wisconsin

      Thanks for this informations.

    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 2 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      Pinterest is redirecting my pins without any trouble. Surprises me that anyone gets 50% of traffic from there. Very commendable. Thanks Paul for everything.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      Thanks for explaining how this works, Paul. I just Googled "Serta 3 inch gel memory foam mattress topper reviews" to see if and how a review I posted here on HP ranks. It came up number nine on page one, with the new URL. I don't see the previous URL showing on that page at all. What I find cool, is in the review I mention I bought it at Big Lots. The link to my article is found three spots above Big Lots' link to the product. Pretty cool!

    • CorneliaMladenova profile image

      Korneliya Yonkova 2 years ago from Cork, Ireland

      Thank you very much, Paul. I hope my traffic will improve. Of course, I have to share more and try to make my tuts more popular. :)

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Thanks for this hub, Paul. You cleared many of our doubts through this post. And the clarification about temporary fall in traffic and issues with Pinterest are also much informative. Thanks a lot.

    • Paul Edmondson profile image

      Paul Edmondson 2 years ago from Burlingame, CA

      We let pinterest know we were going to do this before we did it and they said it should be OK. If a problem arises with Pinterest, we will reach out to them. So far, it looks like it's referring traffic as expected.

    • janderson99 profile image

      Dr. John Anderson 2 years ago from Australia on Planet Water

      Paul, Do you know how Pinterest traffic will be affected by the URL changes. Their help says that they do not allow redirects. ["We may block a link if: The link redirects from one page to another"].

      While I have been changing 4000+ pins to the new URL- which has taken days - all the re-pins that generate the traffic cannot be fixed. This could potentially cause a loss of traffic for HP - for example 50% of my traffic comes via Pinterest. Breaking the Pinterest rules could also cause a ban. Any feedback in this would be appreciated.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Paul, Thanks for this detailed explanation. I noticed with my stats that Stage One already happened and that we are in Stage Two now.

      I had a nice increase in traffic shortly after the move without realizing that it was only due to the double indexing. And now traffic dropped considerably. I was concerned, but only until I read your hub and understand what's happening.

      I trust the process, as I know the change HP made is an important one due to how Google "looks" at site structure these days. So it's just a matter of being patient.

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando FI Chor 2 years ago from Andalusia

      My traffic went up, sunk a little, and is now higher than ever. Should I be hopeful? I mean surely if he intention of the move was to increase traffic in the long run, maybe you have succeeded? Otherwise there would have been no point in the venture.

      But of course, only more time will tell.

    • lobobrandon profile image

      Brandon Lobo 2 years ago

      Yeah thanks for writing this hub and Nate for linking to it on the forums. You say after day 10 the page had settled to its previous traffic level. Hope this is not going to be the case after the change here on HP.

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 2 years ago from California, United States of America

      Thanks for this, it is a good clarification of the process. It answers question I had about my own traffic.