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The Internet changes quickly; companies change strategies, people change their minds, and competition for consumers’ attention can be a scarce commodity. One of the most important attributes about websites is that they are living documents; their content can change quickly.
There is one major problem with using a website as a living document. Hyperlinks coming into a site may be old, outdated, or point to a destination that no longer exists. Web designers demanded a tool that would allow links to remain permanent even though the document requested resides in a different location.
Internet Explorer 8 (IE8), like all of the major Internet browsers, supports what is known as a Meta redirect. Meta redirects allow a web designer to point a page to another document so that the user is not confronted with a 404 error (page not found). However, there are some caveats to using the Meta redirect. Luckily, several alternatives do not suffer from the same disadvantages of the Meta redirect.
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How to Set Up a Meta Redirect
Meta tags are pieces of code on a webpage (htm, html, asp, aspx, php, etc.) that are invisible to the user. Normally found at the top of a webpage’s code, they define certain parameters and information used by servers, search engines, and browsers.
To insert a Meta Redirect into a webpage, locate the rest of the Meta tags at the top of the webpage’s code and place the following line as the last Meta tag on the page (without the single quotes at each end):
‘<META HTTP-EQUIV=REFRESH CONTENT="1; URL=http://www.new-url-here.com">’
This Meta tag tells a browser to redirect the page to http://www.new-url-here.com after 1 second. Of course, you can change the URL to any location you like and you can also change the CONTENT variable to any number. The CONTENT number represents the number of seconds the browser should wait before redirection. This gives your visitors a chance to read a message such as “you will be redirected in 5 seconds" so that the redirection is not abrupt.
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Problems with Using Meta Redirects
Internet Explorer 8 recognizes this code and redirects a visitor to a new site after a pre-defined number of seconds. However, there are a few problems with using Meta redirects.
Search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft Bing may interpret redirects as an attempt to garner more favor with the search engines than is warranted by the content of a page. Some black hat search engine optimization (SEO) techniques include putting one page up to rank well with the search engines and then redirecting visitors to another page or website.
You may not be engaged in any black hat SEO behavior, but by allowing IE8 to initiate the redirect, the bots that crawl the web for the search engines will not be able to tell the difference between honest and dishonest attempts to rank well. Meta Redirects also do not allow the “back" button on browsers to work because every time a user of IE8 presses the back button, the Meta Redirect will just keep redirecting to the new URL.
“Imagine that the user presses the "back" button, the refresh would work again, and the user would bounce forward. The user will most likely get very annoyed, and close the window, which is probably not what you, as the author of this page, want." http://www.w3.org/QA/Tips/reback
This is especially true for black hat web designers who use a value of zero for the Content variable. There are a host of other ways to redirect users to a new site without appearing to be using black hat SEO techniques but the most useful are what are known as HTTP 301 and HTTP 307 Redirects.
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HTTP 301 Permanent Redirects
A 301 Permanent Redirect is much different from a Meta Redirect because the server where the page is stored is responsible for the redirection. When a user points IE8 to a page that has been permanently redirected with a 301 redirect, the server, not IE8, redirects the user to the new page.
HTTP 301 redirects are used when content on a page has been moved permanently to a new location. This type of redirect is not viewed by search engine bots as an attempt to fool search engine users that a page contains something that it really does not. It is a white hat approach to permanently moving content while at the same time avoiding the loss of incoming links to the webpage.
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HTTP 307 Temporary Redirects
There is a another type of HTTP redirect that instructs the search engines that the redirect is only temporary and that the content of a page is likely to return to its original location sometime in the future. Like a 301 redirect, the server, not IE8, handles 307 redirects. Also, like other HTTP redirects, it is SEO friendly and tells search engine bots that web designers are not attempting to rank higher in the search engines by showing one set of content to the bots and another to actual visitors.
This type of redirect is especially useful when troubleshooting a website. Web designers do not want to show non-functioning web pages to visitors and may wish to send visitors somewhere else for a short time while the error is fixed.
There are other types of HTTP redirects whose discussion goes beyond the scope of this document. Suffice it to say that it is better to allow the server to handle redirects than leave it up to IE8. You do not want the search engine bots to rank your page lower in the search engines because of a Meta redirect even if you are not engaging in black hat SEO techniques.
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Meta refreshes are no longer recommended due to the black hat SEO techniques of some web designers. Although you can redirect with Meta tags, it may make IE8’s back button inoperable and cause search engines to frown on your webpage or website. Your best bet is to use redirects and allow the server to do the redirecting, not IE8. Use HTTP 301 for permanent redirects and HTTP 307 for temporary ones.
Learn about Automatic Redirection to New URLs in Internet Explorer 8
Learn all about Meta Refreshes and 301 Permanent Redirection of Web content using IE8, Apache, and IIS 7. Also, get tips on how to implement a 301 Permanent Redirect in Apache and IIS.