It’s the hidden SEO/website problem that affects thousands of UK small businesses selling products online.
THIS is the blood-curdling ‘redirect problem’.
It happens a lot more than you think. You will have been a victim of it at some point.
As a small business owner or marketing manager, this one’s for you. It’s your website and it’s your job to make sure it’s managed well.
The redirect problem can hurt your visitors directly and damage your presence in Google.
This post could save you money AND make you money.
What is the ‘Redirect Problem’?
Louise, your ideal customer, is looking to buy a product online. She searches on Google and your product page appears.
She clicks on your page in the search results, eager to get the final bits of information before she buys.
After she clicks, instead of the product on the page, she sees an unhelpful message: “404 – Page cannot be found.”
Louise realises there’s no easy way to find the product she came to see.
She’s frustrated, but no problem. There are other websites showing in the Google results that offer the same product or service.
Louise hits the back button and off she goes to another website.
You’ve just lost a sale.
Of course, as a business owner you must avoid this experience at all costs. But all too often, it happens and the small business owner never knows.
How would you know if someone like Louise experienced the above problem on your website? Could it have been happening hundreds of times without you knowing?
The Cost To Your Small Business
If your business gets this wrong, £100s or £1000s could come off your bottom line every month.
That’s not overstating it.
You could already be losing money due to the problems I state in this post.
It might be tempting to leave your website manager or web agency to fix this problem. But as the owner, you need a good understanding of this issue.
Make sure ‘the redirect problem’ doesn’t rear its head in your business.
Reasons Why The Redirect Problem Might Happen To You
This poor customer experience could happen if:
- The product page was moved on your website to another product category.
- You physically added/removed words in the URL.
- You stopped selling the product and replaced it with a similar product.
- Another reason could be you launched a new eCommerce website and the majority of the products have new URLs.
- It’s not just product and category pages, this applies to all pages on your website.
In every case, the business forgot to redirect website users and search engines from the old page/s to the new page/s. That results in a poor website experience for your customer.
What a Redirect Is Not
When I say redirect we’re not talking about putting a notice on your webpage saying “This webpage has moved, please click below to go there….”. We’re not in 1999. For a long time now this has been a seamless process. The end goal is to simply redirect the visitor from the old page to the new page without them lifting a finger.
POOR USER EXPERIENCE
THEY VISIT THE OLD PAGE:
THERE’S NO REDIRECT
USERS AND SEARCH ENGINES CAN’T FIND THE NEW PAGE AND GIVE UP
GREAT USER EXPERIENCE
THEY VISIT THE OLD PAGE:
THERE’S A PERMANENT REDIRECT IS IN PLACE
NEW PAGE: yourdomain.co.uk/this-is-the-url-of-the-new-product-page
USERS AND SEARCH ENGINES FIND THE NEW PAGE. YEY!
If done well, this whole experience should be seamless. The visitor won’t even notice that they clicked on an old URL. If it’s done poorly, then it could be an SEO disaster for your eCommerce shop. Visitors and search engines like Google will have no way to find the new page and will stop looking for it.
Are your eCommerce site’s visitors victims of this redirect problem?
If you’re doing this wrong, fix it. It could be one of the quickest ways to get more Google visitors.
When Old Pages Die
When I say “moving a product page” I mean when you change the webpage’s URL. That happens a lot more than you think.
A change of URL is more common when you get a new website, but can also happen during the normal running of your website.
Think of a page’s URL in a similar way to the address of your house.
If you give someone the wrong home address, they will struggle to find your house. It’s the same with a URL that you change. If site visitors follow your old product page URL and you haven’t put a redirect in place, they could just see an error page or your home page.
What a horrible user experience.
Do you want them to spend money with you? Then please make life easy for your site visitors. They’ll secretly love you for it and show their thanks by spending.
If you ever change a URL on your website, delete a page, or move a product, make sure you redirect your site visitors to the next best place.
It sounds simple doesn’t it. But can changing your product’s URL really kill your online sales?
Yes it can have consequences for your business if you get it wrong.
Don’t miss this chance to increase online sales, instead of killing them.
Why I Need To Get This Right
Delete or move a product on your website and you could lose the opportunity to sell to your site’s visitors.
Your visitors will leave if they’re not automatically redirected to the next most helpful place on your site. That could be the new URL of the existing page, new page, or a category page that sells similar products.
The issue is similar to when you move house. How does Royal Mail know where to deliver your post? If Royal Mail don’t know your new address, they will simply deliver your post to your old address.
That’s why Royal Mail has a redirection service, You continue to get post, even when it’s directed to your old home.
What’s The Impact On Your Google Rankings?
It’s hard to say what the impact could be on your rankings. And will you even notice the problem? If you don’t put a redirect in place when a product or category is moved, it could be serious for your business.
It could take £100s or £1000s off your bottom line because organic traffic from Google could plummet. Sales could tank.
As a business owner you must be aware of the permanent redirect problem to get peace of mind.
How To Help Your Visitors & Google Find The New Page
There are lots of easy ways to help users and search engines find the next best content on your website after you delete the old page or move it.
But in all cases, the answer is to put a permanent redirect in place on your website (also known as a 301 permanent redirect).
What Is A Permanent Redirect?
A permanent redirect is when your website tells the visitor’s web browser that the page they want has been moved. They seamlessly get taken to the new page without them knowing about the redirect.
Why Put A Redirect In Place?
The obvious reason to put a redirect in place is to help a website user find the correct product page. Doing this will mean there’s more chance of a sale. If they click through from Google and see an error page, then it’s bad news.
They’re unlikely to buy from you.
GOAL: You need to redirect them to the next best product or category page.
A successful redirect will eventually remove your old page from the search results and replace it with the new page.
After a time, your listing in the Google search results will appear up to date. You will see the new pages title and meta description.
One reason for to put a redirect in place is to solve broken links from other websites to yours. External links need your complete attention.
Don’t Mess With Your External Links
One of the big factors in how Google judges in which position webpages should rank is the quantity/quality of external links.
A key route to success in Google is to get a good number of external links from other websites. This benefit is the one that many miss.
An external link is a link from another website that points to a page on your website. You will gain a bigger advantage from Google if the page that links to yours is relevant in some way.
eg. Let’s say your webpage sells flowers. Get a link from another website that reviews florists and it will give you more weight in Google because it’s relevant. If you get a link from a spammy page that contains links to lots of random products, then that’s not quite as relevant. You’ll get less ranking power from Google.
If another website links to a specific page on your website then Google sees it as a vote for that page. That helps to give a boost to how Google judges your webpage and website.
What happens if you have lots of links from other sites to a page on your website and then you move your page…without a permanent redirect?
Stop Killing Your Links
If you don’t have a correct permanent redirect in place, then when someone clicks on the link, or when Google follows it, then they will hit a dead end.
That’s terrible for your visitors, Google or your business. Google will find it harder to transfer all the ranking power from the previous link. There’s a real chance that your Google rankings will plummet.
The websites linking to you could even see that their link is no longer working, and then remove it. A double disaster.
There are SEO specialists out there who will be looking for your dead links and asking websites to change the link to their client’s website.
It’s a potential SEO disaster.
A correct redirect would stop all these problems and help to carry over the link’s ranking power from the other website to yours via the link.
That is a beautiful thing.
It Happens More Than You Think
I’ve worked with clients who didn’t realise that during a previous website move, many of the links to their site were not redirected. I worked with them to get permanent redirects in place to the most relevant content on their site.
This exercise usually results in significant boosts to my client’s Google organic traffic.
If you’re unsure about the SEO health of your website then consider my comprehensive (easy-to-understand) SEO Audit. Do you have links to your site that wrongly point to 404 error pages? My audit could be a good option to check the status of external links.
If you don’t put a redirect in place then:
- Google is will no longer give that product on your eCommerce store the boost it deserves. There is no specific content on your website getting a boost/vote from the link in the eyes of Google.
- The linking website could see that your webpage doesn’t work and stop linking to you. That’s bad news.
If you put a permanent redirect in place then:
- You will give Google more reason to give a boost to your product page.
- The linking website will continue to link to you.
How To Resolve Links That Go To Error Pages
Let’s keep it simple.
Put a permanent redirect in place for any broken link or deleted/moved page and Google is likely to fully credit links to your website.
If your website has been around for a while, then you’ve probably gone through a couple of new websites with new URLs. Think about all those external links that if followed could just result in an error.
If the original page/s on your site no longer exists, make sure every single link to your website now points to the most relevant page on your site.
Please Your Customers
If you put correct redirects in place when you delete or move your pages, then you’re going to give your website users a more positive experience. That can only be a good thing.
How Do I Create A Permanent Redirect
A permanent redirect can be created using many different techniques.
Let’s focus on the easy ways.
1. The automatic permanent redirect
The perfect way to fix the redirect problem is for a permanent redirect to happen automatically without you having to do anything. Thankfully automatic redirects are becoming the case on more and more eCommerce stores.
But you should still have a seperate redirect manager in place to make sure everything’s working. What’s a redirect manager? It’s an easy-to-use part of your website where you can redirect users from an old page link/URL to a new location.
Let’s look at WooCommerce on WordPress, one of the world’s most popular eCommerce platforms.
- If you update the URL of the Woocommerce/Wordpress product page: then WordPress will automatically put a permanent redirect in place. Problem solved. You don’t have to do anything. That’s the same for WordPress pages and posts too. Magic. But all websites are different. Make sure you check that this is the way your website works.
- If you move a child WordPress page to different parent page: Wordpress will automatically update the URL and put a permanent redirect in place. Problem solved.
- If you want to delete a page then you should redirect traffic to a different page. At the time of writing this is a manual process in WordPress. (see below). But there are WordPress plugins that will prompt you to do the redirect when you move a page to the trash can.
DON’T ASSUME AUTOMATIC REDIRECTS ARE WORKING: It’s nice to think you can sit back and relax while these automated systems take care of redirects for you. But their accuracy is not guaranteed.
I’ve relied on WordPress’s ability to automatically redirect, only to find old urls still going to 404 pages. Make sure you have someone at your company to regularly check/audit your redirects regularly – it’s an important job for your website. At ProfitReach this is something I offer clients with my monthly web care plans. Send me an email if you need help with your redirects and managing your website each month. To do this yourself I’d suggest putting in place suggestions in points 2 & 3 below.
2. The Semi-automatic Permanent Redirect
Sometimes a semi-automatic permanent or manual redirect is a better option.
Semi automatic is when you have a plugin or add-on on your website that prompts you to put a redirect in place. This is one of my favoured approaches.
- If you delete a product then you will be prompted to select an alternative page by the plugin. It’s essential you redirect users to the page that’s most related to what they’re looking for.
- Checking your 404 errors – if you have a WordPress website and install a free redirect manager like the Redirection Plugin it will give you a list of all visits to your website that resulted in a 404 error. That mainly means a journey for a person or a search engine robot that ended in an error page rather than the page they were looking for. You can then tell the website using the plugin to redirect anyone looking for the page to the correct page.
- If you have AMP pages (Accelerated Mobile Pages project): (this point is a bit techie) redirect manager plugins like the one mentioned above could be priceless when you have AMP web pages. Your redirect manager should also take care of AMP URLs for AMP mobile friendly pages. These are alternative versions of your main page that have become popular in recent years to speed up the user experience for mobile users. You can check if you have a valid AMP page using Google’s AMP checker. The URLs often have /amp added to the end but the page is only seen when you’re on mobile. If those AMP URLs aren’t redirected when you changes URLs then things can get messy. This is one to get your inhouse web expert, or web agency to check.
3. The Manual Permanent Redirect
- If you delete a product then you will may need to do a 301 permanent redirect manually. It’s essential you redirect users to the page that’s most related to what they’re looking for.
- If you’ve just redesigned the website: and your product pages have new URLs then you must manually create redirects. This is the time when a lot of redirect mistakes can occur, so make sure you do the migration well.
How Do I Prepare For A Manual Redirect?
It’s essential that you find the most relevant pages on your website to redirect to. A common mistake is to redirect to the homepage.
That’s just not helpful to your user. Don’t create more work for them. Make their life easier and you will sell more.
Have a good think about what the most similar page to the old page is on your website.
I sell flowers on my website. I delete a specific bunch of flowers because I no longer sell them. I decide that the best page to send people and Google to is the main Spring Bloom category page that contains all the other spring blooms that we sell. When someone clicks through from Google they won’t find the bunch of flowers that they’re looking for. But at least they will find other spring blooms that we sell on our online florist shop.
Manual Options for 301 Permanent Redirects
As a small business owner, there are some straightforward ways to redirect, and some harder ways. The hard ways may be better if done by your web agency or website manager.
The easier ways.
If you’re lucky then when you change the URL of a page your website might automatically take care of it for you. We’ve covered that above. But often you need the manual touch.
If you add a plugin or app to your website than it makes it easier for you to manage redirects on an ongoing basis. There are paid and free plugins and apps. You really should have such a solution in place on your website.
- If you use Woocommerce/Wordpress, then there are a lot of plugins that will help you with redirects. Some may not work with Woocommerce products so bear that in mind.
- If you have a Shopify store then they also have redirect solutions and instructions here, as well as Shopify apps to help.
The harder ways.
The simplest way for web professionals to create 301 permanent redirects manually is to add the redirects to a .htaccess file on your server. But leave this one to the professionals.
That’s the common way to redirect if you’ve just had a new website. Your web agency will redirect all your old pages to your new pages in bulk.
If you’re serious about making money online then you must take redirects and existing external links seriously. There are some good tools out there to help analyse external links. Get in touch and I’ll be happy to point you to the best one for your situation.
As the business owner you need to understand how your website works. You need to make sure that your web agency or inhouse website manager has a close eye on your webpages. When your pages move or get deleted, make sure someone is on the case with permanent redirects.
Make sure your eCommerce store has one of the solutions above so you can manage your redirects continually.
‘Permanent redirects’ is one of those serious issues that can fester beneath the surface and be ignored by many small business owners. It’s easy to forget about, because it’s easy to miss all these problems on your site.
Don’t sweep it under the carpet.
Your customers deserve an excellent user experience and you deserve higher rankings in Google.
It’s time to take action.