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

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?

How Not To Do An April Fool’s Joke

April fool’s passed this year, and in case any of you noticed, there were no april fools pranks on RateTea or any of my tea blogs.  I did prank one of my birder friends, claiming to have seen both a LeConte’s sparrow and a Henslow’s Sparrow in a Philadelphia city park (she believed me!).

LeConte's sparrows in habitat
LeConte’s sparrow, a very unusual, but possible species here in Philadelphia. A good example of about how esoteric something needs to be to make a good April Fool’s joke.  Photos from the Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds by Richard Crossley, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

But there was no big RateTea prank this year, nor last year, like the 2012 Teavana Buyout of RateTea April Fools Prank.

The Best And The Worst April Fool’s Joke

My 2012 fake post about RateTea being bought out by Teavana was simultaneously the best and worst April Fool’s joke I’ve ever pulled off.  It was the best, in that I “got” more people than I’ve ever gotten before, with the prank.  But it wasn’t necessarily the best, because it may have caused RateTea some harm.

To understand why it could have done some harm, I first need to explain why it was such a “good” joke, why I tricked so many people.  The main reason was due to a basic fact that happens on the internet with nearly every blog post or news article: many people read the headline, but most people didn’t read the post.

I don’t know exactly how many people read the headline, but my best guess is that it was in the thousands, possibly tens of thousands, because the post itself got about 250 views, and click-through-rates on articles as low as 1% are quite common…so it is very likely that as many as 25,000 or more people saw the headline.  Most of these people formed a mental association, taking note: “Oh, RateTea was bought out by Teavana.”

Years later, I’m still talking to people who saw that headline, didn’t read the post, and still believe that RateTea was bought out by Teavana.  These people include old friends and acquaintances, people I haven’t kept in touch with, but who loosely keep in touch in the sense of occasionally scanning my Facebook posts.  These people also include people in the tea industry.  At the Philadelphia Coffee and Tea Festival this year, and at World Tea East last year, I encountered numerous tea people who also had been tricked by that April Fool’s joke.

How could this hurt me?  Because many people don’t like Teavana.

One thing that I found interesting was that many people reacted positively when they learned that my post had been a joke.  People also expressed a greater desire to work together with me, after learning that I still owned and managed RateTea.

A large Teavana sign over the New York Stock Exchange
Teavana is a big corporation, which many people don’t have the most favorable impression of.  Photo by David Shankbone, licensed under CC BY 3.0.

I’ve heard numerous people complain about Teavana, on many different grounds.  Most people who have set foot in a brick-and-mortar Teavana store have experienced their pushy sales tactics first hand.  Yes, I’ve been to that exact store, in Willow Grove, PA, referenced in that post; it’s quite near where I live.  But then there is also the buying out and closing down of SpecialTeas (one of my friends, a former loyal SpecialTeas customer, is still shopping around to replace some of the products he used to buy from SpecialTeas), and there’s the general issue of being overpriced, something that nearly all tea connoisseurs seem to agree on.

And then there’s just the question of Teavana’s size.  I get the sense that, all other things equal, people prefer to work with smaller companies.  A lot of businesspeople I know have expressed that working with big corporations can involve a lot of headaches, roadblocks, and hoops to jump through, and the payoffs aren’t always worth it.  And people like to work with people with whom they have a personal connection.

Some Positive Takeaways Too

The impact of this prank was certainly not strictly negative–there may also be some ways that I have benefited by people falsely believing about the Teavana-RateTea buyout.  I think there is a degree to which people may reason: “If this site is big enough to be bought out by Teavana, it must have a certain degree of influence and importance.” and this impression could certainly benefit RateTea.

And of course, there’s also the inspiration and boost in my confidence, just knowing that so many people could believe that the site was bought out by Teavana–which confirms to me that most people now have an impression of RateTea being big and influential enough to be bought out by a company like Teavana.  That makes me feel good, at least, and provides some additional encouragement to keep working on the site.

Lessons Learned?

In the past few years, I’ve come to learn a lot about how the internet works, and also, how to pull off a really great April fool’s joke.  Next time I get people on this large a scale, I want to be more careful.

I want to pick a headline, an idea, which will cause only good to come, and do no harm, not to me or to anyone, if people are tricked into believing it.

What do you think?

  • Are you one of the people who I tricked with the April fool’s prank about RateTea being bought out by Teavana?
  • Have you ever pulled off an April fool’s prank that you think inadvertently caused some harm by people believing your joke?
  • How do you feel about Teavana as a company, vs. RateTea?  Regardless of whether or not you knew about the original prank, do you think that you’d be any more or less eager to work together with RateTea, knowing that I still own and manage the site, and not Teavana or some other bigger corporation?

Jumping the Gun – Companies Self-Promoting on the Web Without A Functional Website

Today I’m writing about something I see surprisingly often, a form of “jumping the gun” when it comes to marketing, that yields wasted effort and can even form a negative impression of your company.  The way I most often see this manifest is when a company promotes itself through social media or even outreach to other webmasters, before it has a functional website.

I do not believe that tea companies need to have a website in order to be successful.  I wrote some time ago about tea companies without websites.  But I think that if you are engaging in web marketing or social media networking, and especially if you’re giving out the URL of your website, it is jumping the gun to do so without having a functional website.

One example of this sort of wasted promotion

Today someone followed me on twitter, and they had a URL listed in their twitter profile.  When I followed it, it led to a parked domain on GoDaddy, displaying the following page:

Screenshot of a Godaddy parked domain

Clearly, this website isn’t up yet.

This is hardly the first time this has happened…I see this happen surprisingly often.  It seems like a big waste of effort.  When someone follows me on twitter, especially if it’s a tea company or other user with a direct interest in or relationship to tea, and I don’t know them or their website, I nearly always check out their website.  In some cases, a new user merely following me has sparked me to research their company and add it to RateTea.

When people follow me and they have a broken link, I feel like it’s wasting my time and I think it sends me the message that they are jumping the gun like I described above.

Another example of jumping the gun

A while back, I added a new tool to RateTea that allows tea companies to submit a brand application to list themselves on the company.  You can find it at the bottom of the brands page on RateTea, and here’s a direct link.  The idea was for me to streamline the process for listing new brands on the site–allowing companies to format the information I want to show on the site, in a format that makes it easy for me to quickly add them.  The goal is for it to save me time, and also get the brands listed quicker, which benefits the companies being listed.

Several companies have already used this successfully, and I’ve added them.

I’ve been sorely disappointed though, with the typical use of this form.  It’s not that people are submitting overt spam in the form, so much as that they’re submitting incomplete applications, or applications for companies that aren’t even launched and don’t have a functional website.

For example, today a company submitted an application which was almost completely empty, providing no information about the company beyond its name, website URL, twitter handle, and Facebook page, and the fact that it was based in China.  When I followed the URL to check out the page, I found the website wasn’t even up yet, and it just had a few Chinese characters redirecting to a Google+ page.  This is a waste of my time, and it makes a negative impression on me.  It’s clear to me that the person did not follow the instructions on the page.

This is probably the worst example of behavior I’ve seen in using this form, but I’ve found that the norm is for companies to not fill the form out completely.  The questions I ask on the form are very basic: where is the company located?  Who owns the company?  If a business owner or representative of the business is not forthcoming about these basic questions about their company, I don’t see why I would want to list them on RateTea.  I am cautious of listing companies that aren’t real tea companies, i.e. sites that make money off affiliate links (I saw one “tea company” just “reselling” Teavana teas through affiliate links) or operations that just drop-ship from other companies.  To me, a lack of openness about ownership and location send up red flags and make me suspicious.

Even if the company in question isn’t suspicious, it’s a missed marketing opportunity.  I ask questions about the location, ownership, and history of a company because I want to highlight the company.  I want to share interesting facts and details and write a captivating mini-story about the company, and share these things with an audience of people interested in learning about the company.

When people don’t fill out the form, it makes me think that they’re not prioritizing effectively–they’re cutting corners to get the company listed quicker, and passing on an opportunity to talk more about their business in such a way that will benefit them much more in the long-run, by making it seem more personal, captivating, and appealing.

What do I recommend instead of jumping the gun?

My recommendation for best practices is simple–hold off on marketing until you have a working website.  It doesn’t have to be the most extensive website, it doesn’t even have to be fully-featured.  A basic placeholder page with basic information about your business, perhaps a contact form and about page, is much better than a parked domain, broken link, or referral to a Google+ or Facebook page.  If your web development is complex and involved, but you’re really itching to promote your company on the web, then whip up a quick, bare-bones site to start, and then make the full site come later.  But don’t market on the web without any website at all!

What do you think?

Have you ever seen companies jump the gun in web marketing, promoting a website or distributing materials with its URL, before the website is up and functional?  Do you think that this represents a missed opportunity, and can harm the company?

  • Have you ever seen companies jump the gun in web marketing, promoting a website or distributing materials with its URL, before the website is up and functional?
  • Do you think that this represents a missed opportunity, and can harm the company?
  • Do you think that the practice of creating a very simple, bare-bones website, doing promoting, and then rolling out the elaborate, full-featured website later is a good approach, or do you think that’s still jumping the gun?  Do you agree that that’s at least better than having no website at all?
  • How do you feel when you follow a link to a dedicated domain, only to find it redirects to a social media page like a Facebook or Google+ account?  Does this seem like jumping the gun, or do you think this can be a valid model of business or marketing?
  • Are you suspicious of companies that don’t identify basic business information, like location, ownership, and history of the company?

Lipton Improving the Visual Design of Their Packaging for Pyramid Sachets

It is common for brands to change their packaging.  As I run RateTea and work to keep the site up-to-date, I frequently notice changes in packaging.  Most of them are changes I see as improvements, some are ones I see as neutral, and sometimes I see changes that I actually dislike.

I want to highlight an aesthetic change that I particularly like.  Unfortunately I just have the thumbnails of the old image, so I’ll show it together with an equal-sized thumbnail of the new packaging.  Click through to Lipton’s site to see a full resolution image.  The tea I am focusing on as an example is Lipton’s Mandarin Orange Green Tea, part of Lipton’s line of pyramid sachets.  Lipton changed the packaging on both their flat tea bags and pyramid sachets, but it’s the pyramid sachets that I think exhibit the most noticeable improvement.

The old packaging:

A green box of Lipton pyramid tea sachets
Old Packaging

The new packaging:

New Packaging
New Packaging

I think the new packaging looks a lot better.  I think it looks warmer, and I also think that it looks more professional.  At a glance, I think the new packaging really strikes me as having the look-and-feel of a high-end brand, whereas the old packaging looked more like a typical supermarket brand.

Notice that instead of the small, scattered Mandarin oranges in the top graphic, there is instead a closeup of a lucious, juicy-looking mandarin orange.  I find this much more enticing.  I especially like the beige color at the top of the new packaging.  I think that this, combined with the closeup of the orange, creates a warmer color-scheme.  I also like the change of green-on-white lettering to white-on-green lettering for the tea’s name.

Also, note that the pyramid bag in the bottom picture now shows the leaf floating upwards, almost as if the tea is in the process of being steeped.  I think this is subtle but smart–it is an illustration of the primary benefit of the pyramid sachet, the fact that it gives the leaf room to expand.  Also note how the bottom package, which shows the pyramid sachet overlapping two layers of distinct color, illustrates the transparency of the sachet more powerfully than the old packaging.

In the end though, packaging isn’t very important to me.  I notice it, and I may use it to make an initial guess about a new brand with which I’m unfamiliar, but in the end I care most about how the tea tastes, its price, and its sustainability.  I suspect packaging makes less of a difference in whether or not I buy a tea, than it does for the typical person.  I definitely notice and pay attention to the packaging, but I also go out of my way to sample a wide range of teas, and choose what to drink on the basis of the tea itself.

What do you think?

  • Do you like the new packaging on this Lipton tea more than the old one?
  • Have you noticed any other brands of tea changing their packaging recently?  Did you have an opinion on the change?
  • How important is packaging to you?  Do you think it makes a big difference?