Have you ever spent hours creating a killer blog post and later realised there’s an annoying spelling mistake in the URL?
You might notice straight away. You might not notice until weeks or months later.
But when it happens, what can you do?
The first choice, of course, is to leave it as it is and don’t worry about it. The other option is to fix the spelling mistake, which means also changing the permalink.
But what happens if you’re article gets lots of traffic or has thousands of social shares? If you change the permalink and do nothing else, you’ll lose all traffic because the page returns a 404 error (page not found)
How to change the permalink without losing traffic
Luckily, there is a way to change a URL without losing traffic (but there might not be a way to change a permalink and retain share counts). It’s done using a server-side redirect command, which automatically redirects people from the old URL to the new one.
It’s called a 301 redirect.
A 301 redirect informs search engines the old URL has changed to the new URL and all traffic and link equity should now point to the new URL.
When set up correctly, a 301 redirect automatically sends users from the old URL to new URL.
Don’t worry. It’s not hard to do and of course, there’s a WordPress plugin to handle the techie side. More on how to do this later.
Fixing the spelling mistake is the easy part. Before you go ahead and do that, it’s important to understand the consequences of changing a URL.
Let’s take a look at three typical scenarios we’ve all come across.
1) Brand new post with no traffic or social shares
If the post is brand new and you haven’t shared it on any of your social media accounts or with your mailing list, you can go ahead and fix the spelling mistake straight away just by editing the URL.
Luckily, because the post is new, nobody knows the URL so you don’t have to worry about losing traffic or sending people to a non-existent page.
To fix the spelling mistake, click on the Edit button next to the URL. You should now be able to edit the text.
Fix the spelling mistake and click OK.
2) Brand new post with some traffic and social shares
If your post is live and you’ve shared it on social media or sent an email to your mailing list, you can change the URL using the method above but you’ll also need to set up the 301 redirect I mentioned earlier.
Once set up, this redirect automatically sends anyone who visits the old URL to the new one.
The redirect happens instantaneously too, so most people won’t even notice.
In order to set up the redirection, you’ll need a plugin called, funnily enough, Redirection. There might be a few others that do the same thing, but this is the one I use.
Out of the box, and with no changes to the settings (at the time of writing), you can install and activate this plugin, then fix the spelling mistake on the affected page and it automatically sets up the redirect for you.
To check it, type or paste the old URL (the one with the spelling mistake) into the address bar in your browser and check the URL of the page you land on.
It should be the new one and not the one with the spelling mistake.
If the redirect doesn’t happen and you’re sure you set it up properly, clear your browser’s cache and try again.
Alternatively, try incognito mode or another browser.
Here are the steps again:
- Install and activate the Redirection plugin (how to install a WordPress plugin).
- Fix the spelling mistake.
- Save or update the page (important!).
- Type or paste the old URL into the browser to check the redirect works.
If set up correctly, you shouldn’t lose any traffic or rankings but it’s impossible to say it won’t happen.
Google does its best to honour redirects, and in all the years I’ve used them, I’ve never once seen a major loss in traffic.
That’s not to say it doesn’t happen because it does. You just have to be careful, make sure you use a 301 redirect and check it’s working properly.
Use an online tool to check the status code
Once the redirect is set up, use an online tool to check your page generates the correct HTML status code.
Here’s a screenshot of our 301 redirect from https://digital-internet.com to https://digital-internet.com. I used this site to run the test.
Pay particular attention to the result section. It shows the 301 is working as it should.
3) Aged post with traffic and social shares
If your post is a few months old and you notice a spelling mistake in the URL, and you don’t want to leave it as it is, you should follow the redirect method above.
One thing you should be aware of is the social share count. Unless you’re using a plugin or system to retain the number of social shares a post has, you will lose them all because you’re starting again with a brand new URL.
Losing the social share count isn’t a big deal if the numbers are low, but if you’ve hit a winner on Pinterest, you might prefer showing those numbers instead of fixing the spelling mistake.
As you can see, there are pros and cons to fixing a misspelt URL on a WordPress (or any type of) website. The same applies if you want to change the URL for another reason – maybe the original one was too long, for example.
It’s down to you to weigh up the benefits and consequences of fixing this type of spelling mistake. If you’re worried about losing traffic, I’d advise you to put that notion to one side. As long as you set up the correct type of redirect (301) you shouldn’t lose any traffic at all. And if you do, it should only be for a short time.
Of course, I can’t guarantee you won’t lose traffic. All I can do is share what I know from experience and what other folks on the web are saying.
So, what are you going to do?