Setting Redirects When Replacing a Site

If your new website is replacing an existing site, the URLs (aka web addresses) for all or most of your pages are likely to change, even if only slightly. This means any links to pages (other than the homepage) on your old site will break when your new site launches.

For example, if you have an “Our Programs” page:

  • On your old site, the URL may be yoursite.wustl.edu/Pages/programs
  • On your new site, the URL may be yoursite.wustl.edu/our-programs

Because the URL yoursite.wustl.edu/Pages/programs will not exist on your new site, any links or bookmarks to that page will turn up a “Page Not Found” message like this one after the new site launches.

There are two ways to minimize the breakage, both of which should be done prior to or immediately after launch:

  1. Identify your most important and most-visited pages, and set redirects for each of those pages from the old URL to the new. Learn more about identifying which pages need redirects below.
  2. Contact administrators for websites that link to your site and ask them to update links that have changed.

Which pages need redirects when a new site launches?

Ideally, you should set redirects for all of the pages on your existing site. Redirects don’t just get your site visitors to the right page on your new site; they also tell search engines like Google where pages have moved to. Setting redirects bestows the new pages on your site the equity that the old pages have built with search engines. Redirects also prevent links from search result pages from breaking.

Fortunately, the Redirection plugin used on WUSM Web Theme sites allows you to bulk import a CSV, so you can more easily set dozens or even hundreds of redirects at once.

However, depending on the number of pages on your old website, it may be impractical to set a redirect for every single page when the new site launches. In that case, determining which pages need redirects is an editorial decision based on each page’s:

  • Importance (to the site’s goals, visitors, owners, etc.)
  • Traffic (how many visits the page gets in a given period of time)
  • Obscurity (eg, if a page would be difficult to find on the new site, you might set a redirect)

After the site is live, keep an eye on 404 reports to see if any other pages warrant a redirect.

See the tutorial:
How to set redirects »

Domain- and subdomain-level redirects

Sometimes when a new site launches, the URL changes completely. For example, in keeping with the guidelines for choosing a web address, the Office of Diversity Programs changed their URL from medschooldiversity.wustl.edu to MDdiversity.wustl.edu. Other changes might be moving from a nonsecure to secure protocol (http:// to https://) or dropping the www.

If your protocol or subdomain changes, Medical Public Affairs will work with WashU IT to set up a subdomain-level redirect. This will forward all traffic to the new URL, where your page-level redirects will then get visitors to the right place.