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Conducting a Redirect Audit on Your Web Site

Mark Jackson
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Even if your Web site ranks well in the search engines and you think there isn't anything else you can do to "fix" your Web site, conducting a Web site audit is helpful. One major audit you should perform is a redirect audit.

A redirect audit looks at the server redirects that are happening on your site, and which sites are sending visitors to links on your site that are being redirected. It also looks at 404 errors (file not found), as well as other server status codes appearing in your site's log files.

This audit can take care of many issues that search engines might be having with your Web site and may help you "recover" visitors you may be losing due to technical issues.

Conducting a redirect audit is important for SEO purposes. Oftentimes, you'll discover redirects occurring on your Web site that need to be fixed (for example, places where you could change a 302 temporary redirect to a 301 permanent redirect). The 302 redirects can cause search engine ranking issues, whereas 301 redirects should be used because they can pass "authority" to the page at the receiving end of the redirect.

During a redirect audit, you might find that several Web sites are linking to your site using the wrong link. Fixing these issues with the proper redirects can help your site's search engine rankings. In this week's column (and Part 2 next week), I'll cover many of the issues you may discover during the site audit.

Get a Copy of Your Web Site's Log Files

Most likely you're using a JavaScript Web tracking service such as Google Analytics, StatCounter, or even WebTrends or IndexTools. If you're putting JavaScript code onto your site's Web pages to track your visitors, then your Web stats won't help with this "redirect audit." Redirects generally don't "show up" and aren't recorded using JavaScript-based analytics. You'll need to analyze your site's log files in order to view the site's redirects.

Once you have a copy of your site's log files (generally the last month's log files will be enough), you have several options. I like to use Analog, a free program that comes in several different "versions."

After you download the latest version of Analog, unzip the files into a folder on your hard drive. Copy the site's log files into the same folder, edit Analog's configuration file to specify which log files to analyze, and run Analog. Within a few seconds you'll have a report, usually presented in an HTML file.

From there, you'll get a good idea of the "real" traffic on your site (JavaScript-based counters don't record everything). It's important for this redirect audit to look at a few different reports.

Some other Web stats packages (ones that analyze a Web site's log files) will also give you access to these redirect reports. However, I prefer to use Analog because it's free and accurate for the purpose of a redirect audit.

Here are the important reports to look:

  • Host Redirection Report

  • Redirected Referrer Report

  • Failed Referrer Report

  • Status Code Report

  • Report Redirection Report

  • Report Failure Report

The referrer-based reports will be available in your Web site's log files if the referrers are turned on. If your Web site's referrer data (commonly referred to as the cs-referrer in your log file) isn't being recorded in your log files, then you'll need to turn them on immediately.

Referrer data is imperative to good Web analytics. For example, without your referrers turned on, you won't be able to see which keyword searches are driving traffic to your site. Even if you don't have your referrers turned on, you can still get some useful data from these reports.

Host Redirection Report

This report shows you how many redirects occurred on your site. This is important because you may find that a lot of your traffic/visitors are being redirected by either a 301 or 302 redirect. If the numbers are high (more than 100 visitors), you need to find out why visitors are being redirected -- and where they're being redirected.

In any case, if traffic is being redirected somewhere, then that traffic isn't getting to your site's main Web pages. Furthermore, the search engines aren't giving your site's main Web pages the "link credit" that will help your Web site's search engine rankings.

In "Conducting a Redirect Audit on Your Web Site - Part 2," we'll continue looking at the remainder of the redirection reports to help you identify where traffic is coming from and being redirected, as well as an example of a status code report.


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