Remember the last time you moved and you filled out a change of address form so that your mail would be forwarded to your new location? The web has something like that also, they are called URL redirects. A redirect is needed when your links change. Maybe you moved your site, the structure of your site changed, or you renamed your post titles to better fit your content. No matter the reason, when you change the URL you can end up with broken links. This destroys your SEO and all of your backlinks, social shares, links in email campaigns, and all the rest no longer work. Rather than start over building your SEO ranking from scratch, you can use redirects to tell search engines and visitor’s browsers how to find the content they were looking for. People often talk about the importance of 301 redirects in terms of preserving SEO, but I think they are just as important for ensuring a good customer experience. Nothing gives a worse impression than a dead link. 301 Redirects Pro is a WordPress plugin for managing URL redirects.
There is a free version available in the WordPress.org plugin directory. It has more than 100,000 active installs.
The free version has a simple interface for entering your redirects with limited options. Here I have installed the free version on a test site. The 404 tab has a coming soon message, so this screen is pretty much it.
One nice feature of the free version is that in addition to typing in the destination URL, there is a lookup list that you can pick from.
The Pro version has more options and features making it more suitable for advanced usage. In this post I’m going to do a walk-through and review so that you can see how it works and decide if you want to use it on your site. I was given access to 301 Redirects Pro to try and installed it on WebTNG.com. I don’t usually test out plugins on a live site, but I’ve been a happy user of the WP Reset Pro plugin from the WebFactory developers and so was confident giving 301 Redirects Pro a real world test.
Installation and Configuration
When you install the 301 Redirects Pro plugin you start with a screen asking for your license key.
I entered my license key and saved and activated the plugin. This took me to the first page of the setup wizard. The plugin does some initial checks to make sure that everything is ready to go.
On the second page of the wizard there is the option to auto-redirect 404 pages. Here the 301 Redirects Pro plugin will use some smarts to try to detect some minor typos and find the correct page for the user. This is also the screen where you set your 404 page.
Some themes come with a 404 page template. Other themes don’t and so people have to create one manually. A feature of the plugin is that you can use a page you create in WordPress as your 404 page, which simplifies the process if your theme doesn’t provide one.
I’m using the Kadence theme and so I checked on disk to see if there was a 404 template, and I saw there was.
I tried a URL that I knew doesn’t exist, going to a page called “doesnotexist”, to see what it look like.
Satisfied that my 404 page was in place, I toggled the 404 page redirect feature on and continued through the wizard. I set the log retention to 30 days and clicked on to the next screen.
The last page of the wizard was just a success screen.
User Interface Tour
After the setup wizard completes then the admin page for the plugin opens to its first tab.
Import from Free Version
If you had already entered redirects using the free version then there is the option to import those to the pro version.
Now, going through the tabs in the pro interface:
The first tab is for the rewrite rules. This is the heart of the plugin and we will come back to it to add some rules below.
The next tab is for the Redirect logs. Since it is a new install, there are no results to show, but we will soon see some start to accumulate.
Like the Redirect Log tab, the 404 Log tab starts off empty.
Then we get to the Setting tab. There is a sub tab menu and the General section has some of the settings from the setup wizard. At the bottom there is an option to upload to the 301 Redirects dashboard. This is an agency feature and we will look at that further on.
The Advanced tab has some feature toggles and an option to recreate the database tables, if needed.
The Tools tab is where you can import or export your redirect rules.
Finally, the Support tab has links to documentation and online support.
Adding Redirect Rules
So I wanted to add some redirect rules. When you click the green add new redirection rule button, you get a popup. On the right side of the popup there is some help text. I’m not a fan of light gray text on a white background, as I found it difficult to read. I imagine that they did this to focus attention on the left side settings area, but there are other ways to accomplish that. Also, this would be a place to add some links to the help docs in case the user has any questions about the formatting of a redirect. Here is the link to the help doc on adding a new redirect.
At the top there is an option to enable / disable the rule. The there is a “Redirect From” text box. Since this by its nature is on your site, you skip the domain part of the URL and start with the first slash.
There are several options for handling query parameters. Query parameters are the variables at the end of the URL. You can ignore them, require that the have to match but can be in any order, ignore them and just pass them through, or ignore them except for the UTM parameters, usually associated with Google search variables.
You can use a regular expression in the source URL. You can also make the match case sensitive is your server requires that. It is possible to assign an order to the processing of the redirect rules, and you do that using the Position enter box. The lower numbers are processed before higher numbers. Tags are available to help you remember what the rules are for and do not effect processing.
There are several redirect types and the Redirect Type drop down gives you the option to use the type you want. The number codes are part of an Internet standard that is understood by webservers and web browsers.
This is a summary of the different types of redirect:
For most people and uses, I think you would want to use a “301 Permanent Redirect” when the URL has changed permanently and a “307 Temporary Redirect” when the URL was changed temporarily, such as when doing major maintenance on a site. We will test out the “Cloaking Redirect” in below.
Here is an example of a redirect I added. In this case, the title of the post had the word “to” included in it and that link was shared, but the permalink was changed to not have the word “to” in it.
After I created this redirect I tested it. It is a good idea to always do that to make sure it works as expected. When you are on the screen where all of the redirect roules are listed, there is a verification button to check the rediret.
I tried it out and got this result. It looks like it uses a 3rd party service to test the redirect.
I was curious how the Cloaking redirect worked, so I created a redirect using that redirect type on a local test site. Here is the rule I entered. When you hit a URL on my test site of “/go/divi” then go to:
And here is the result. It still shows the link as being to my site in the address bar.
The Redirect Log Report
When I first checked the Redirect Log report there were no logged events, as shown in the screenshot above. Now, however, the plugin has been active overnight and I see 47 redirect events showing.
Taking a look at some of these more closely and I found some interesting items. The first one in the list is a record of when I tested the 301 redirect I created earlier. So I see the logging is working.
Next I see some hits to an “author” link. These are probably hackers trying to get the user names for the site. My security plugin redirects these to my author page.
Next I found some where the URL being searched for seems to be cut off. For example, this post about the current state of WordPress themes.
The permalink for this post is:
However, the title for this post is “Current State of WordPress Themes – Analysis and Recommendations”. Notice the dash in the title. I searched on the Internet and found sites liking to my post, but their links stopped with the dash! I’m why that happened, but I noticed it for several articles where I used a dash and now realize that using a dash in the title was a bad idea. Remember when I went through the setup wizard there was the option to automatically try and fix broken links? In this case, the 301 Redirects Pro plugin saved me by figuring out the full URL. Nice!
The 404 Log Report
There were already 103 page not found items in the 404 report. Notice the green button to the right of each record. That button allows you to add a 301 redirect directly from the 404 log report.
The idea with the 404 report is that you can look through it to find broken links or missing images and then fix them either by creating a 301 redirect or by uploading the missing resource. Here are some of the items from the 404 report. Yikes, these all seem to be the result of bad bots searching for known vulnerabilities and not the events from real users. There were no real 404 events that I’d want to create a 301 redirect for.
With all of the spam links it was tedious to page through the report. I imagine that using the 404 log report would be important if you just made a lot of changes to your URLs and you wanted to check that you hadn’t missed anything.
The 301 Redirects Pro Dashboard
A nice set of features for agencies or users with multiple sites is found at the online dashboard. Some of these features depend on the plan you purchase, the plans with more sites attached having more features. When you log in you get an overview quick start page. The pages are accessed using the vertical menu on the left side of the page. Under the Dashboard link there is one to download the plugin. There is no page for that. When you click on it the plugin downloads. The next link is to a page that shows a record of your purchases.
The Licenses section is a pretty powerful and unique feature of some of the WebFactory plugins. Basically the license manager allows you to create your own license keys or setup a license for a specific domain. This means that you can assign a unique license to a client site without worrying that the client might gain access to your license key. You can also disable a license from this screen.
While one the license manage screen, there is a link and a button to create a new license. This opens a screen where you can set the parameters of the license, including its expiration time frame, should you desire.
Below the License link there is a link for Brands. This takes you to a screen where you can white label the plugin and supply your own branding. The first Brands screen shows the brands that have been created already. There is a sample that you can modify if you don’t want to start from scratch.
When you edit a brand or click on the Add New Brand button then you go to a screen to enter the brand information, color, and logo. You would do this when you are providing the plugin as a service for a client.
The next link down the list is the Sites page. Here it lists your sites. You can manage the licenses and block a site.
Under Remote Actions you can sync the license, stats, and logs.
Under Logs you can view the redirect or 404 logs.
You can also download the reports as PDF files.
Here is a page from the PDF report. This would be useful for sending to a client.
If you synced your sites with the dashboard then you can view the logs for the sites on the dashboard. Again, another nice feature if you are managing client sites or multiple sites of your own.
The Profile link is where you can change your user information. The Document link goes directly to the documentation site and the Support link opens the online chat.
Summary and Conclusions
There were a few minor items where I think there could be improvement:
There are lots of things that I like about 301 Redirects Pro:
In addition to the usual download plugin, get license, and change password functionality, the 301 Redirect Pro dashboard has a number of standout features:
Overall, I think that most of items that could be improved are minor and there are several features such as the autofix, license manager, and white label implementation that make 301 Redirect Pro a standout choice.