Two customers using SpringTrax recently redesigned their website. In both cases, the redesign caused a sudden increase in how many visitors reached a 404 error.
The customers found out about that increase in visits to 404 errors because they were using SpringTrax. As both customers said, they wouldn't have known that the redesign caused 404's if they hadn't been using our tool. So, luckily, they had SpringTrax installed and monitoring their website to help them catch this issue.
Ultimately, the big problem SpringTrax caught though wasn't an increase in the 404 errors. The real was that the 404 errors caused by redesign ended up costing these companies a sizeable amount of business.
In both cases, the companies invested heavily in advertising to promote the new design. That meant, they were paying to get people to visit 404 errors. So, they not only lost a customer but they also paid to get the potential customer they lost to the site in the first place. Ouch.
What went wrong? Why did the 404's increase as a result of the redesign? More importantly, how can you prevent a redesign from hurting your business?
In the case of the first company, they moved their old site into a new content management system as part of the redesign. This process moved all of the pages on their website to a new URL. For example, to reach their about page, the URL changed from somesite.com/about-us.html to somesite.com/about-us/.
Once the new website was up, this company deleted all of the old files on the server. Before you jump to conclusions, this wasn't a dumb move on their part. The developers intentionally removed the pages from the site because they assumed that people would find the new version of the page without any trouble.
The problem was that people weren't finding the new version of the pages. People had bookmarks referencing the old URLs. Google was still showing the old URLs in search results. The company's email newsletter still contained links to the old URLs.
All of those sources were driving people to old URLs. But, since those old URLs had been deleted, hundreds and hundreds of visitors were reaching an error page.
You can guess what happened once people reached the error. About 9 out of every 10 left the site. That is a huge loss of traffic.
The company was able to stop this loss once they found out about the problem. They fixed the problem by telling the server to redirect those old URLs to the new location. That way, if somebody clicked on old bookmark or if somebody clicked on a Google search result, the person was taken to the corresponding page on the company's newly redesigned website.
In the case of the second company, they created the same problem, but in a slightly different way. Their old website included a series of redirect commands that told the server to redirect certain URLs to some other location. The file that controlled the redirects was rather old, and the developers assumed that they could safely remove it as part of revamping their website.
Unfortunately, by removing the file containing the old redirect commands, the company caused lots of visitors to reach a 404 error. Why? Well, people were still looking for a URL contained on that redirect file. For instance, one URL on that redirect command file was site.com/chip. The redirect command file told the server that if a visitor came to the website looking for site.com/chip, the server was to redirect that visitor to site.com/microchip/.
Once the file was deleted, people were coming to the site using URLs like site.com/chip that were contained on that redirect file. The problem was without the redirect command file, the server didn't know what to do. So, when people came to the server looking for site.com/chip, the server couldn't find what the visitor was looking for and delivered a 404 error.
As a result, this company lost thousands of visitors in the matter of a few days. They were able to restore that old redirect file to keep people from reaching 404 errors.
To prevent this happening when you redesign your website, make sure that you redirect all the old URLs over to the new location. Better still, try not to change URLs as part of a redesign (this is not always technically possible). Also, make sure you never delete redirect commands from your website.