What is a Wildcard Redirect? - How Does It Work

What is a Wildcard Redirect? - How Does It Work
Particularly when it comes to managing websites, mastering redirects is crucial. Redirects aren't just about leading a site visitor from an obsolete page to a new one. They bear a much more extensive capability, and that's where wildcard redirects come into play.

Wildcards play an essential role while you're conducting site migrations or restructuring your URLs, saving you from those dreaded broken links that can hurt your SEO efforts.

In our guide, we aim to answer the question “what is wildcard redirect?” and walk you through the process of wildcard redirect implementation.

What Does a Wildcard Redirect Mean?

If you had to change your website's domain name, would you manually map and redirect each of your old site's URLs to the new one, or would you rather apply a single rule that achieves the same result?

A wildcard is a symbol that stands for one or more other symbols - in case of domain management, it's usually an asterisk (*) that represents any string of characters. On the other hand, a redirect is a way to send both users and search engines to a different URL from the one they initially requested.

Put these two concepts together, and you have a wildcard redirect - a powerful tool that allows entire site URLs to be redirected to another location. 

A wildcard redirect uses * to represent any sequence of characters and lets you define rules. This way, not just one, but multiple URLs can get redirected en masse - whether it's an entire directory, a domain, or individual files. 

So the essence of wildcard redirect lies in its power to save heaps of time and energy by avoiding the otherwise tedious, manual work each time a URL needs redirecting.

illustrated web pages

👉 You may want to read: 13 Common HTTP Status Codes + Explanations

When is a Wildcard Redirect Necessary? 

The purpose of a wildcard redirect is to maintain the user experience and your site’s SEO authority in the event of substantial changes to your website. 

But it’s not just about major changes; wildcard redirect is also beneficial when:

↪️You’re shifting your site to a new domain.
↪️You're changing or reworking your URL structure.
↪️You've deleted pages but want to retain the traffic and backlinks they have amassed.

If any of the above situations apply to you, it’s vital to make yourself familiar with wildcard redirects. But like any other powerful tool, wildcard redirects also have some exceptions. 

A wildcard redirect can adhere to a large array of redirect rules but don’t mistake it for an all-encompassing entity. For example, wildcard redirects can’t distinguish between pages, they simply follow the rules you’ve set. 

If a specific page from your old site doesn't correspond to a page on your new site, the wildcard redirect may lead to incorrect redirects. In these instances, it might be more appropriate to do a manual redirect. 

However, these are very rare scenarios that hardly dampen the almost omnipotent efficacy of wildcard redirects.

👉You may want to read: 301 Redirect or URL Canonicalization

How Does a Wildcard Redirect Work?

redirected arrows

It’s time to take a closer look at the technical side of things, and understand about .htaccess and how it facilitates wildcard redirects.

Let’s discover the technological prowess of the .htaccess file and how it proves to be a mighty anchor holding the ship of redirects in place. 

What is .htaccess?

The .htaccess file, also known as hypertext access file, is incredibly powerful and crucial to your website's functioning.

The .htaccess file is a configuration file for the Apache web server (that a majority of websites are hosted on) that dictates the server how to respond to certain requests. 

It enables you to affect your website's performance and functionality in numerous ways - protect directories, prevent hotlinking, boost SEO, and yes, redirecting your pages, just to name a few functions.

The extraordinary feature about a .htaccess file is its flexibility. It can be created and modified with a basic text editor and uploaded to your host's server through FTP. 

Also, there can be multiple .htaccess files within different directories of your website, each affecting the directory they are in, and other directories within them.

How Does .htaccess Handle Wildcard Redirects?

What makes .htaccess an ideal base for wildcard redirecting is its ability to accept mod_rewrite rules.

These rules are nothing but code snippets that tell the server to intercept specific URLs and redirect them elsewhere. 

Our special character, the wildcard (*) comes into play by allowing you to define rules that include any and every URL matching a specific pattern.

Rules in .htaccess are declared by using the keywords Redirect or RedirectMatch, followed by the status, the old URL pattern, and the new URL. A simple rule might look like this:

Redirect 301 /oldpage.html https://www.yourwebsite.com/newpage.html

With this line of text, visitors trying to access oldpage.html will be automatically redirected to newpage.html. The 301 indicates this is a permanent redirect, thus helping with SEO and user experience.

Now, let's look at a wildcard redirect rule. Suppose we want to redirect all traffic from an old domain to a new one:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^olddomain\.com$ [OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www\.olddomain\.com$
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ "https\:\/\/newdomain\.com\/$1" [R=301,L]

The first line (RewriteEngine On) tells the server that we're going to use mod_rewrite rules. The next two lines look at the HTTP host – in our case, either the old domain or www-old-domain

If the server request matches either of these, it passes, and control moves onto the final line. The RewriteRule line takes the passed server request and appends it to the new domain, which effectively completes the redirecting process.

So, through just those four lines of code, we've successfully created a wildcard redirect from an old domain to a new one - easily, efficiently, and most importantly, en masse! 

Cool, right?

👉 You may want to read: How to Detect 3xx Redirect Chain

How Can You Implement a Wildcard Redirect?

There are two common ways to implement wildcard redirects. 

First, we will maneuver through the world of cPanel and then, we'll move on to WordPress - exploring two different methodologies using a plugin and making changes to the .htaccess file.

1) Implementing a Wildcard Redirect Using cPanel

cPanel is a popular web hosting control panel. It simplifies website management by providing a point-and-click interface to carry out various tasks - including implementation of wildcard redirects.

The beauty of using cPanel is that you don't need to deal directly with the .htaccess file, which can be risky if you're not comfortable with it. 

Here's the step-by-step process to implement a wildcard redirect using cPanel:

Step 1. Access your cPanel account: Log in to your cPanel. You can usually do this by typing /cpanel at the end of your domain in a web browser.

Step 2. Locate the Redirects section: Scroll down to the ‘Domains’ section and click on Redirects.

Cpanel redirect section

Step 3. Choose the type of redirect: Decide whether to move your site permanently (301) or temporarily (302) and select this from the drop-down menu.

redirect type selection

Step 4. Configure the redirect: In the ‘https?://(www.)?’ dropdown, choose the domain you want to redirect. Then in the Redirects to field, enter the new destination where you wish to send the traffic to.

Step 5. Enable Wildcard Redirect: To make this a wildcard redirect, tick the corresponding checkbox that says ‘Wild Card Redirect’. 

enabling wildcard redirection on cpanel

Step 6. Add the redirect: Click on the Add button to implement your wildcard redirect rule.

That's it! Your wildcard redirect is now live and running. 

Whenever someone tries to access the old URLs, the wildcard redirect you just set up will smoothly guide the traffic to your new destination.

2) Implementing a Wildcard Redirect in WordPress

WordPress is a vast platform with limitless possibilities. 

Implementing wildcard redirects can be done straightforwardly using a popular plugin called Simple 301 Redirects or by tweaking the .htaccess file manually.

a) Wildcard Redirect in WordPress Using Simple 301 Redirects Plugin

If you prefer an approach that involves fewer codes, Simple 301 Redirects Plugin is great. 

managing url redirections on

Here are the steps:

  1. Install and activate the plugin: Go to 'Plugins > Add New', search for 'Simple 301 Redirects', install and activate it.
  2. Access the settings page: Go to 'Settings > 301 Redirects' to access the plugin's settings page.
  3. Add your redirect rules: In the 'Request' field, enter the URL pattern you want to redirect from (without your domain name). In the 'Destination' field, type in the new URL where traffic should be redirected.
  4. Enable Wildcard Redirect: To make this a wildcard redirect, add an asterisk (*) at the end of the URL pattern in the 'Request' field or tick the box that says ‘Use Wildcards?’.
  5. Save the changes: Click 'Save Changes' to implement your wildcard redirect.

And just like that, your wildcard redirect is live, all set to guide your traffic to their new destination.

b) Wildcard Redirect in WordPress Using .htaccess

For an even more hands-on approach, you can edit your website’s .htaccess file directly. However, this method is slightly trickier, so be sure you have a recent backup in case something goes wrong.

htaccess file

Step 1. Locate your .htaccess file: Connect to your WordPress site using an FTP client and navigate to the root directory. The .htaccess file should be here. If you don't see it, you need to make hidden files visible.

Step 2. Backup your .htaccess file: Download your .htaccess file to your computer as a backup.

Step 3. Edit .htaccess file: Open the .htaccess file in a text editor, add your redirect rule, and save the changes.

Step 4. Upload the updated .htaccess file: Upload this updated .htaccess file back to your site's root directory using your FTP client.

You've now successfully set up a wildcard redirect using .htaccess in your WordPress site.

7 Steps of a Successful Wildcard Redirect Strategy

It’s not just about getting to the destination, but also about how smooth the journey is. So, as with any other course of action in SEO, a wildcard redirect calls for a planned strategy too. 

These considerations will ensure a seamless transition and guide you to keep your website’s SEO ship sailing smooth and steady:

1) Design Your Plan

Design your game plan with a strong map of old URLs paired to proper redirects to new URLs. This planning phase is fundamental to a smooth transition through the whirlpool of redirects and to avoid the calamity of broken links.

2) Test Your Redirects

Just like how you’d practice the safety measures before an actual fire drill, it's also crucial to test your redirects after you’ve implemented them. Navigating to your old URLs to ensure they’re correctly redirecting to the new ones gives you confidence in the implementation you’ve done. 

Use HTTP status code checkers to verify if the right codes are being returned. You can utilize SEOmator’s Free URL Redirect Checker to effortlessly identify 301, 302, and other redirect status codes online. Simply enter the URL you want to check and click Submit.

SEOmator's URL redirect checker tool

3) Watch Out For Redirect Loops

Redirect loops happen when Page A redirects to Page B, Page B redirects to Page C, and Page C redirects back to Page A, causing an eternal loop. 

To row your boat smoothly through the sea of transitions, avoid setting such loops, tornadoing your users into a cycle of endless frustration and your SEO ranking into sinking depths.

4) Check For 404 Page Errors

A 404 error means the server couldn’t find the requested page. This fog of errors rises when either an implemented redirect isn't functioning correctly or while a required redirect hasn't been set up yet. 

Resolve the issue immediately by fixing the broken redirect or setting up a needed one, and making the navigation clearer for your users.

looking for a 404 errors

5) Keep an Eye on Your Analytics

Any ship can navigate better when given the right coordinates. Hence, it's important to monitor your website analytics after you’ve implemented your redirects. 

Look out for any anomalies, shifting patterns, or changes in traffic flows. If you see discrepancies, it's time to revisit your wildcard redirects strategy. Be courageous and make the required tweaks to continue charting on the course of sailing high with flawless redirects and optimal site traffic.

6) Pan Out Your Sitemap

After a significant restructuring like wildcard redirects, remember to update your sitemap to reflect the new URLs. 

This map helps search engines to understand your website's structure better and hence, aids in your voyage to the island of effective results from the redirection.

👉 You may want to read: How to Find the Sitemap of a Website [8 Ways]

7) Notify the Search Engines

Lastly, keeping the search engines informed about your redirection via Google's Change of Address tool or Bing's Site Move tool helps in acknowledging your changes and accelerating the smooth transition procedure.

Wrapping Up

Imagine you’re a magician who can hypnotize the crowd, commanding them to ignore the old, dusty door on the stage (which leads nowhere) and to step through a new, shiny portal that directly opens to a wonderland - your new website or a fresh page. This is precisely the kind of enchantment a wildcard redirect can put into effect.

A wildcard redirect is like a magic trick under your sleeve when redirecting URLs en masse instead of manually redirecting hundreds or thousands of URLs one by one. 

Wildcard redirects are a powerful tool that allows website owners to redirect multiple URLs matching a given pattern to a new destination. 

Its versatile character, the wildcard ('*'), enables the efficient implementation of redirections, saving time, effort, and managing links on a large scale website effectively.

This lifesaver redirect places a resilient .htaccess file at the heart of its operations. It forms the core of the Apache server’s URL rewrite function, which is what makes redirects possible. 

Bear in mind that other servers may use different files but the concept remains more or less the same. Understanding the syntax of writing rules in this crucial file will be your key to mastering wildcard redirects!

👉 You may also want to read:

- How to Conduct an E-Commerce Site Audit to Fire up Conversions? 🔥

- How to Find Spammy Backlinks & How to Get Rid of Them

- How Often Does Google Crawl a Site? -Factors & Ways to Learn