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?

Iced Ahmad Tea, Karen Flam, Tea vs. Beer, and Starbucks/Tazo

It was quite hot yesterday and today, and I made up my first batch of iced tea of the season, and I’m drinking the last cup of it, pictured here on my windowsill.  It was raining as I took this pic.

A cup of cloudy iced tea on a windowsill
Iced tea, brewed from Ahmad Tea’s loose-leaf Ceylon tea

This was brewed from the regular loose-leaf ceylon tea from Ahmad Tea.  It came out quite cloudy, and almost pinkish in hue–I found it quite aesthetically pleasing.  I brewed it on the mild side so I could drink it in quantity, but this tea I usually prefer to brew strong when I’m drinking it hot.   If I had to be stuck with a single black tea to drink, this would probably be one of the contenders for my pick.  It certainly helps that it’s priced at around $8 a pound–and this tea offers exceptional quality for this price range.  It tastes good hot or iced, and has a good balance of strength and complexity, with a rich malty quality and the wintergreen tones that I so love in black tea.  You can read my full review on RateTea.

I started thinking about writing a post for Teacology on energy efficiency in brewing iced tea.  RateTea’s page on iced tea has a little section on this, but I want to go into more depth.  So stay tuned for that.

Meeting A New Tea Reviewer: Karen Flam

In other news, I recently met up with Karen Flam, who runs the Aromatherapy Alliance.  Karen, a.k.a. spaflam, started out reviewing teas with a big splash, shooting up to the #5 spot on RateTea’s top reviewers page after only a few weeks.  Will she be the first one to overtake me on the site, in terms of number of teas rated?  I don’t know, but if she continues at the rate that she has been, I won’t be in that #1 spot for very long!

I love meeting up with people in person; most of the people I interact with through RateTea live rather far away, so it’s refreshing to find people local enough that we can meet face-to-face outside of big events like World Tea East.

More on Reviews: Beer vs. Tea

It’ exciting to connect with other people who love reviewing things online.  I dream of a day when RateTea will look like the RateBeer 100 Beer Club.  123 users who have rated over 5000 beers!  Wow!  I wish people would get that excited about tea.  I know I am much more enthusiastic about rating tea than beer, so the disparate level of enthusiasm between tea and beer has been a bit unintuitive to me, especially given that it seems people are much more likely to drink tea than beer when at a computer and in a state of mind where they’re eager to write up an online review.  But as my mother pointed out–“the types of people who like beer are more the types of people who like rating things, like think of the guys who rate women on their looks”.  Ahh…not exactly the most pretty mental picture…but perhaps there’s some truth in it, which would explain both why there’s been a little less interest in tea rating, as well as why my intuition for why there is less interest may be a bit off.

But I’m happy for what I have–RateTea’s participation and the reviews have been steadily growing.

More Reviews

Stay tuned for some new reviews from me.  I’ve been sampling some teas from TeaVivre, and they’re pretty top-notch.  This tea was amazing.  And there are two more that are top-notch.  I want to brew them a bit more before I write up the final reviews, but there’s a Lu An Gua Pian that’s the best example of it’s style that I’ve ever tried, and some other outstanding green teas as well.

Tazo: Tea Bags (Filterbags) vs. Sachets (Full Leaf)

I’ve also begun breaking apart Tazo’s offerings into the tea bags (which they call “filterbags”, awkwardly IMHO) and sachets (which they call “full leaf”, a term I have a bit of beef with)…and I’ve begun reviewing them separately.  Yes, Tazo still offers both of these lines of tea separately, although you’ll only find the “full leaf” sachets in Starbucks coffee shops.  And in case you missed it, Tazo finally did away with their flash-only website.  Check out the new Tazo site.  I love it; I think this is an immense improvement and will go a long way to helping Tazo’s online presence:

Screenshot of the new Tazo website
Tazo finally abandoned their old flash-only website, and has a fully-functional, standard website. Yay!

What do you think?

  • Any thoughts on the beer rating vs. tea rating topic?
  • How do you feel about Tazo’s naming scheme fol their tea bags vs. their sachets?  What about the quality of these teas?  And do you like their new website?

Whole Leaf Tea, Immaculate Leaf, and Tea Companies Without Websites

I just published a new article on Whole Leaf Tea or Full Leaf Tea, on RateTea.  The article hits on several points, including the lack of a precise legal definition of whole leaf tea or full leaf tea, and how the term is often casually applied to larger broken leaf tea, and on the advantages (and possible downsides) of whole leaf.

Screenshot of the RateTea article on whole leaf tea

Tangentially related, I want to highlight a company that gave me some samples of outstanding whole leaf oolong tea, at World Tea East.  I’ve held off on posting reviews because the company’s website has been incomplete, but this may be a case of a company for which the website is not very important.  There’s an email, and if you’re looking for a supplier, contact info is all you need.

This company is Immaculate Leaf.  Their green Taiwanese oolongs are among some of the best I’ve ever sampled.  If you’re looking for a wholesaler supplier of top-notch Taiwanese oolongs, I’d recommend getting in touch with these people.  Their website has been “coming soon” for months now, which may signify that they haven’t pulled their business fully together yet, but it could also signify that they don’t particularly need the websites.  I put off posting about them for months, waiting for their website to be completed, but I finally decided that it’s more important for me to write about them while my impression of their teas is still fresh in my mind.

Can Tea Companies Get By Without Websites?

Although we are solidly in the information age, there are still many successful business out there that either have poor or incomplete websites, or no websites at all, simply because their marketing strategy is completely successful without a website.

To give another example of a successful tea company that has a broken or under construction website, check out Jacksons of Piccadilly.  This company’s website has been incomplete or under construction for at least three and a half years; it looks the same now as it did when I founded RateTea back in 2009.  Jacksons of Piccadilly is a UK based company that impressed me with the quality of one of their Darjeeling tea bags that I picked up in a discount market years ago in Delaware: the tea bag was stuffed with generous quantities of leaf, with a highly heterogeneous color tending towards the greener end of the spectrum, like a lot of good first flush teas.  It had all the qualities I love in Darjeeling, a complex aroma with a greener character overall, but a lot of bite to it too.  This company is, to my knowledge, still in existence.  Its teas have never been easy to get your hands on in the U.S., but there are a number of online UK-based retailers that sell their teas.

What do you think?

  • What do you think about the article on whole leaf tea?
  • Have you ever tried anything from Immaculate Leaf?  Did you have an opportunity to sample their teas at World Tea East?
  • How many businesses can you think up which don’t have a website or have an incomplete website?  Do you know of any tea companies like this?

Wild Tea Qi – Impressive Improvement in Quality and Consistency 2011 to 2012

The first time I went to World Tea East, in 2011, I encountered a company by the name of Wild Tea Qi.  The company got my attention, and struck me as interesting, but slightly inconsistent and not fully together yet.  I was excited to find them selling some wild-harvested teas and some unusual offerings that I had not seen elsewhere.  They gave me a series of samples, both in the expo, and to take home.  The samples ranged from wonderful to okay.  But the company’s website was sort of dysfunctional…although it had a lot of interesting information about the teas, it was often down and the page load times were so slow as to make it unusable.  I didn’t post reviews of all of last year’s teas, in part because the samples were small and I didn’t want to make the company look bad in case I just botched the brewing, but also because I was having a tough time getting info about the teas on the website.

Come 2012…I was really impressed.  I sampled some teas from this company, and when I went back after the expo to research them some more, I found their website to be improved as well.  Having sampled this company’s 2012 selections, I think they really ramped up the quality a notch.  This was impressive, because, like I said before, some of the teas from 2011 were wonderful.  The teas were not only better across the board, but were more consistently good.

Screenshot of the Wild Tea Qi Website
The new Wild Tea Qi website is much more usable.

You can read some of my reviews of Wild Tea Qi’s teas on RateTea.  Most are from the more recent batch of samples.

I recommend checking this company out.  It’s interesting and different, and I’ve had very good experiences with their teas in the recent year.

My one quibble with this company is that their brewing recommendations don’t work well for how I like to brew tea.  Even for gong fu brewing, their steep times seem absurdly short (6 seconds?  4 seconds?) and they give no recommendations for Western-style brewing.  I’ve had good experiences using much longer steeping times though than the ones they recommend though.

How about you?

  • Do you know anything about the company Wild Tea Qi?
  • Have you tried any of their teas?
  • What is your impression of this company from their website?