SpontaneiTea

A casual tea blog by Alex Zorach

SpontaneiTea

Bigelow Tea’s Website Redesign – Major Oversights and Recommended Fixes

May 30th, 2014 · 4 Comments · Uncategorized

Bigelow Tea recently redesigned their website:

The new Bigelow website, highlighting different photos.

The new Bigelow website, highlighting different photos.

While I like the site design overall, they did some things that I think will harm them from a business perspective.  In particular:

  • The new site changed its URL scheme, without using redirects from the old pages.
  • Some of the old pages have been turned into “Pseudo 404″ pages, which confuse google, not to mention people who come to the site.
  • The site’s search is broken and returns frequent error messages for certain searches.

Here I go into depth about these errors, and explain how they may be hurting Bigelow, and what they can do to correct them.

Old Product Pages Become Pseudo 404 Pages With No Redirects

For example, here is the link to the old page for Bigelow’s Earl Grey.  This page returns the HTML status code “HTTP/1.1 200 OK”, which is the code browsers (and search engine crawlers) expect if the page is found as-is.  But if you look at the page, it’s not a page for Bigelow’s Earl Grey, it’s just a generic form page.

Because these pages are not being redirected, and because the HTML code returned suggest the page was “found”, rather than a “not found” 404 error page, Google doesn’t seem to have figured out the new URL scheme yet.  Look at this search result for “Bigelow Earl Grey”:

Screenshot of broken search results

The search results for individual Bigelow Teas now lead to broken links with no Meta Description and a cryptic comment about the page being blocked by robots.txt

Bigelow’s site still comes up as the #1 result, which is good for Bigelow, and which is what most people would expect, but there are three problems with this search result:

  • The link is broken, leading to the old page.  Google has not yet discovered the new page for this tea, even though the site has now been up for some time.
  • There is no description displaying for the item, under the headline.
  • Instead of a description, the result shows an error about the site’s robots.txt not allowing a description to be available.  This doesn’t look particularly professional or good for Bigelow.

It’s unclear where things will go from here, but as-is, this is going to hurt Bigelow considerably, because they will lose a lot of potential traffic coming through search results like this.  If the problem isn’t fixed gracefully, and persists, they may even fall out of search results–Google doesn’t like to return broken or useless search results like this.  This could hurt Bigelow even more.

Broken Search on the new Website

The new website has a search box, and, if you visit the company’s webpage normally, and then type something into the search box, it works as expected.

But if you try typing something into the search box from the old, broken product pages that are still included in Google search results, you get this error:

Error message saying Internal Server Error (500)

The error shown if you type something into the search box on a broken, old product page.

Very bad for Bigelow!  The first problem above is bad enough, but this problem compounds things…if someone sees that they haven’t found the proper product page, the logical thing for them to do (exactly what I did, and I suspect most users would do this) would be to type the name of the tea they are searching for info about, into the search box.  Then they will get this error message!

Note that this error page only displays if you go to the broken product page, which lives at the old URL (which is currently being returned in Google search results, and which will likely appear on various blogs and other websites linking to the Bigelow site).  Form the new page, things work just fine.

The only way I found to navigate to the new product pages, is by manually browsing the site.  For example, the Earl Grey tea can be found under the Black Tea section.  Because there are several pages of each type of tea though, this process requires several clicks and some concentration or searching of each page to find many of their teas.

What I’ve Done To Help Bigelow

I care about Bigelow, and I’ve taken some measures to minimize the damage caused by these oversights, through some of the work I’ve done on RateTea.  I’ve been drinking their teas for years, and I still enjoy them from time to time, especially Sweet Dreams, which is my all-time favorite of theirs.  I want to see them survive and thrive.

I’ve already taken the care to quickly manually update the URL’s to the new pages on RateTea, for the most-frequently-viewed Bigelow teas on the site.  I plan to go through and manually fix all of them as time permits.  Until then, I’ve removed all broken links to the old product pages.

This will both minimize the damage from visitors coming through RateTea to the Bigelow site, and hopefully, will also help Google to find the new product pages more quickly and more easily.  But I don’t think my site has very much influence relative to the structure of Bigelow’s site itself, which is why I think it is critically important that Bigelow fixes this themselves.

How To Fix This?

The problems described above are serious, but they are easily fixable.  Some time ago, on my old tea blog, I wrote a series on Best Practices for Tea Company Websites.  I particularly recommend reading the post on Link Permanence, where I explain about using redirects.

Bigelow has already hurt themselves with this poorly executed site redesign, but it’s not too late to salvage things.  I recommend a quick course of action:

  • Get redirects operational, ideally via a 301 (permanent) redirect that automatically returns the new product page.  If they have an archived copy of the old site, this will be easy, but if they’ve lost it, this could be considerably difficult.  In this case, I would recommend using web analytics to look at what URL’s most traffic to the site comes through, and focus on fixing the high-traffic URL’s…the other ones can probably be left alone with minimal loss.
  • Make any broken pages that do not redirect, return a custom 404 error page, with a 404 HTML status code instead of the 200 “found” code currently returned.
  • Fix the search box on the broken pages.
  • Check robots.txt to see if there are any problems with the descriptions and with the crawlability of key pages on the site.  Depending on how the site is designed, this problem may fix itself if the other problems are fixed, or it may require a special fix.

Lastly, I recommend Bigelow to take a long, hard look at their web design team or whatever company they contracted with.  The site, in my opinion, looks beautiful, and is easy to navigate, so clearly this company is doing a lot of things right.  My own visual web design skills can be pretty miserable, so I want to make completely clear that this post and these remarks are not in any way intended as a put-down to the web design team.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses…and clearly the visual design and usability of the Bigelow site far exceeds my own web design ability.

But the errors outlined here are huge oversights in the realm of SEO and web marketing, which is something that I think I’ve learned a lot about over the past 5 years or so working with RateTea.  Ideally, the employees or company that carried out the redesign will not only fix the problems, but will learn from their mistakes, and grow as web designers.

If I had hired a company to redesign a website, and they made oversights like this, I’d prod them gently to fix the problem for free.  If I made such an oversight, as a web developer, I’d be going above and beyond to fix things ASAP, in order to show that I was committed to the highest level of quality.

What Do You Think?

What do you think of the topics covered here?

  • How do you feel about it when companies redesign their websites and break their URL scheme without using redirects?
  • How much do you think the oversights and errors here will harm Bigelow?  Do you think that they will quickly recover even without fixing the technical issues?
  • How big a difference do you think it would make for Bigelow if they swiftly and thoroughly addressed the technical and web marketing issues I raised here?

Tags: ··

4 Comments so far ↓

  • Profile photo of xavier xavier

    This is trully a 101 guide on what to do or not to do when upgrading/changing one’s website.

    • Profile photo of cazort cazort

      Thank you! Maybe I could actually write a more detailed, full guide, going into more depth about the howto, in the near future.

  • Profile photo of jackie jackie

    Interesting points. Has Bigelow read your post? They certainly should! I’m not really excited by the new design, but I’d love to compare it to the old version. It’s not easy to create a “modern feel” website with the old fashioned Bigelow logo. At the moment I think the look isn’t streamlined and doesn’t flow easily. It’s almost as if there is confusion about what image the company wants to present.

    • Profile photo of cazort cazort

      I don’t know! I tweeted at them as well as shared it on their Facebook page…so I hope they can take quick action.

      My experience with these things, having worked in IT consulting, is that in many real-world situations, there can be politics, psychology, and sometimes legal contract issues at play that can make the problems very hard to correct.

      I have no idea whether Bigelow’s web design is done internally or externally. The issues can be very different.

      From a Web Design company’s perspective, if they don’t know how to do redirects, or if they don’t have access to the old webpage’s URL scheme, after the fact, retroactively figuring out how to do these redirects could be a lot of work, even though to someone with my knowledge, and access to the old URL scheme, it could be carried out pretty easily. A tricky thing though is that the ease of redirects also depends on the complexity of the old website and URL scheme.

      If the old scheme were very clean and neat (which Bigelow’s wasn’t), then it’s much easier.

      It also depends on if Bigelow is using web analytics and has easy access to them. If they do, then the job would also be very easy, because usually, it’s a small portion of the pages on a site that are bringing in an overwhelming majority of the traffic, and in that case, it would probably fix 80-90% of the damage to just manually make redirects for those pages.

      My experience working with small to medium businesses, in IT, is that most companies don’t know what technologies they’re using, and what data they have access to. The data they have often takes quite a will to get access to, and sometimes it’s not in the best form. Then when you get access to it, you need to talk to a lot of people to get things done.

      This is one thing I love about running my own company and being both the owner/executive, and the tech guy. If there’s a problem, I fix it. Quickly, and without having to wait on anyone to get back to me.

      I’ll be curious to see how this plays out. It may not matter a huge amount though in the end, because it may be that Bigelow really relies primarily on people buying their teas in supermarkets and stores…and I don’t know how much their website matters, if they even make a substantial portion of their sales online or not. If not, this whole thing may be a moot point. But if the online sales are a big deal, it may be more of a big deal to them.

Leave a Comment