The Missing 301 Redirects
Disclaimer: The following tale is a true story. Identifying details have been removed to protect the innocent, and the wrong-doers. Gather round, read this tale of woe, and take heed – this is yet another illustration of Why You Should Hire An Expert.
It was a blustery February night and all seemed well to the store owner. He had no idea that when his site went live the next day, he would face imminent doom…
This story really begins like so many others do. With a business owner’s desire to make a change for the better, while also wanting to find the best possible deal. Unfortunately, as in most circumstances, “the best deal” can often end up costing you significantly more in the end. That is what happened in this case.
Sales had been steady and traffic good. The store owner decided it was finally time to go ahead with the new website platform he had been dreaming about for months. After lots of diligent research and planning, this store owner made the plunge and hired someone to move his successful store onto a new platform. Sure, the platform would cost more per month, but it had better features, and would be able to support his flourishing business. Besides, he could always save money in hiring a DIY-programmer to make the change, instead of hiring an expert. It wasn’t like he needed a new site built, after all. It was a simple switch, carrying data over from one platform to the other. Tragically, the less-experienced programmer made an error.
The error didn’t result in broken or missing pages. There was no thunderclap or flash of lightning. But the consequences may have been catastrophic. What was the error? The developer didn’t create 301 redirects.
A 301 redirect ensures that the link you’re using is redirected to the right place. Consider moving to a new house. Employing 301 redirects is like filling out change-of-address forms for your bills, utilities, and magazine subscriptions. If no-one knows your address has changed, then Grandma’s birthday checks won’t arrive in the mail. Your utilities will be turned off. You’ll be left without power.
The same happens when you move to a new site platform – or even consolidate your content pages – if you don’t remember to use 301 redirects. When the content disappears from the original source without redirecting to the new address, Google loses track of it. If Google (Yahoo, Bing, etc.) don’t know where to find you, they won’t be able to present you as search results, and very quickly, your site ranking dies.
Perhaps in the developer’s inexperience, it didn’t seem like a necessary step. Or maybe it was just a task that fell through the cracks, a risk when a developer is new, overworked, or doesn’t have a skilled team to provide back-up. Regardless of how it happened, the store owner felt the effects.
The mistake wasn’t made maliciously; the store owner didn’t even know it had happened, at first. Unfortunately, that meant it was left unchecked for far too long. By viewing the domain traffic analytics, we were able to see very clearly when the switch was made. Those woefully flat lines represented weeks of no impressions, and almost no clicks.
On that chilly day in the middle of February, the site owner’s store lost all visibility to Google, and the number of clicks and impressions plummeted. For all intents and purposes, the site had died in Google’s eyes. All because he didn’t hire an expert.
A Happy Ending…?
In most stories, this is where the hero swoops in to save the day. However, in the case of this store owner, they had decided to hire on that developer as part of their in-house staff. As a result, the flat-lining carried on for weeks, potentially costing the store owner thousands in revenue. Legend has it, the developer eventually noticed something was amiss, and corrected the error. While the developer may have had his redemption, the revenue and potential customers that were lost during that time remain lost forever.
Had the store owner hired an expert, the 301 redirects would have been created, leading to happy customers, happy Google, and a happy store owner. Let this be a cautionary tale to all those who consider cutting costs. This is just one of many examples of Why You Should Hire An Expert.