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

 - by Alex Zorach

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?

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