Unexpected website redirects can be very frustrating. You click on a link or type in a URL, expecting to go to one website, but instead, your browser redirects you somewhere completely different.
This confusing phenomenon is known as getting redirected elsewhere when you click on a website. These annoying and unexpected redirects can happen for a variety of technical reasons. The redirect may send you to an unrelated website, an error page, or even a malicious site.
What causes these frustrating redirects and how can you avoid them? By understanding the common causes of getting redirected elsewhere when you click on a website, you can troubleshoot and prevent many of these redirect issues.
What is a Redirect?
A redirect is when you try to go to one URL, but your web browser takes you to a different URL instead. There are a few main types of redirects:
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect that passes along link equity. It tells search engines “This content has permanently moved to a new URL.” 301s are commonly used when migrating websites or consolidating content.
For example, if example.com/page1 has moved to example.com/newpage, the old URL would 301 redirect to the new one. 301s are meant to be permanent, so avoid using them for temporary redirects.
A 302 redirect is a temporary redirect. It tells search engines “This content is temporarily available at a different URL.” 302s are useful for things like maintenance pages, temporary promotions, or testing content.
Unlike 301s, 302s do not pass link equity. Search engines will continue to credit the original page, not the redirected page.
A meta refresh tag tells the browser to automatically refresh to a new page after a certain time delay. For example:
<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”5;url=http://example.com”>
This would make the browser wait 5 seconds, then load example.com. Meta refreshes used to be used for redirects before 301 and 302 status codes were introduced.
<script>window.location = “http://example.com”</script>
Why Am I Getting Redirected Elsewhere?
There are a few common reasons your browser might unexpectedly redirect you:
1. Intentionally Implemented Redirects
Sometimes the owner of a website intentionally implements redirects as part of their website strategy. For example:
- Redirecting all traffic to the home page (e.g. example.com/anything goes to example.com).
- Redirecting individual pages to relevant content (e.g. example.com/oldpage goes to example.com/newpage).
- Temporary redirects for things like maintenance, special promotions, or testing.
These types of redirects are intentionally implemented by the website owner. As long as they redirect to relevant content, they are perfectly legitimate strategies.
2. Domain Expiration
If the owner of a domain fails to renew their domain name registration, the domain can expire. Expired domains are often snapped up by someone else.
The new domain owner may implement redirects to their own websites. For example, an expired domain could redirect to an advertising page, an affiliate site, or even malicious pages.
Always be cautious clicking on links to expired domains, as you don’t know where they will send you. Use WhoIs tools to research domains and check their expiration status.
3. Malware or Hacking
Malware infections or hacked websites can sometimes cause malicious redirects. For example:
- Adware browser extensions can inject pop-ups, and pop-unders, and redirect ads into websites.
- Compromised sites may load hiddeniframes that redirect visitors to spam or scam pages.
If a website suddenly starts redirecting without an obvious cause, it may indicate a malware infection or hack. Reach out to the site owner to notify them of the issue.
4. Poor Website Development
Sometimes sloppy website development can cause unintended redirects:
- Bad default settings or leftover code accidentally implements redirects.
- Using incorrect redirect status codes (like 301 for temporary redirects).
- Typos in canonical or redirect tags.
- Outdated meta refresh tags.
Web developers should carefully check for accidental redirects on their sites by thoroughly testing pages and links.
5. ISP or Network Issues
Problems with your internet service provider (ISP) or network could potentially cause redirects:
- Censorship and filters may redirect banned domains.
- Public wi-fi hotspots frequently inject advertisements and redirects.
- DNS hijacking and router issues can redirect DNS lookups.
Try connecting from a different network or device to see if that stops any redirect issues.
6. Search Engine Mistakes
In some rare cases, search engine bugs could cause incorrect redirects:
- Search engine crawlers can accidentally flag legit pages as hacked or dangerous.
- Search engine caches may serve outdated redirects.
- Algorithms may associate the wrong URLs together.
If a redirect only seems to happen when clicking search engine links, it may be a search engine issue. Report any incorrect redirects.
7. Browser Extensions
Some browser extensions are known to cause unwanted redirects, including:
- Miners that use CPU resources for cryptocurrency schemes.
- Adware that injects additional advertising.
- Scamware that redirects to phishing pages.
Check your browser extensions. Remove any unknown or suspicious add-ons.
8. Man-in-the-Middle Attacks
Man-in-the-middle attacks intercept your web traffic and inject their own content, including redirects. These are more common on public Wi-Fi networks.
Use a VPN or encrypted HTTPS connection to better protect against man-in-the-middle attacks. This forces traffic through a tunnel, avoiding interception.
How to Prevent Annoying Redirects
Here are some ways to avoid common redirect issues:
Be Cautious Clicking Links
Carefully check any unfamiliar links before clicking. Redirect issues often originate from shady, expired, or hacked sites. Use URL preview tools to inspect links. Check for any obvious signs of spam or cloaking.
Use WhoIs to Check Domains
Research domains on WhoIs databases to check their registration status and owner details. This can reveal expired or suspicious domains.
Look for frequent changes in ownership as a warning sign. Use Domain Authority tools to identify low-quality domains.
Inspect Browser Extensions
Browser add-ons are a common source of redirects. Comb through your extensions and remove anything unfamiliar or unnecessary.
Only install reputable extensions. Check reviews and watch out for fake imposter add-ons. Disable extensions one at a time to identify any causing redirects.
Update Software and Plugins
Keep all website software updated to the latest version. Outdated CMS systems, forums, galleries, and plugins often contain vulnerabilities that can be exploited to cause redirects.
Subscribe to updates and alerts from vendors to stay on top of the latest security fixes.
Use Reputable Hosts and Ad Networks
Choose established ad networks, and avoid shady pop-under networks. Use reputable web hosting providers who proactively monitor for malware.
Checking for redirects should be part of any website’s regular maintenance and security monitoring.
HTTPS encryption prevents man-in-the-middle attacks that can inject redirects. It forces traffic through a protected tunnel between endpoints.
Use HSTS headers to make sure browsers only access the site over HTTPS, preventing any HTTP redirect issues.
Be Cautious on Public Networks
Public Wi-Fi hotspots are breeding grounds for redirects and man-in-the-middle attacks. Only access sensitive accounts over VPNs or mobile data connections, never public Wi-Fi.
Unexpected redirects can be caused by a variety of technical issues, from old meta-refresh tags to expired domains to malware infections.
By being cautious with links, keeping software updated, inspecting browser extensions, using HTTPS, and avoiding public Wi-Fi, you can protect yourself from many redirect headaches. Pay attention to any sudden redirect issues on a website, as that may indicate an underlying problem needing investigation.
Report any misleading or suspicious redirects to the website owner or search engines. With proper troubleshooting and maintenance, website owners can minimize accidental redirects being served to visitors.