How Not to Redesign Your Website (A Marketing Lesson From NYTimes.com)

    by Rick Burnes

    Date

    May 11, 2009 at 8:10 AM

    iht landing page Imagine this: Your business has two successful sites with lots of inbound links from quality sites. Both are content-rich, with long-tail search traffic and Google juice.

    One day you realize that for business reasons, you can no longer maintain two separate sites. They have to be combined.

    So what do you do?

    Shutdown the smaller site, and send all the traffic to a single generic landing page on the new site?

    That's exactly what NYTimes.com did recently when it closed IHT.com and replaced it with a global edition of NYTimes.com . If you go to an old article on IHT.com ( http://www.iht.com/articles/2002/05/07/t1_24.php ), you'll end up on a landing page like the one on the right.

    Trouble is, that's exactly the wrong thing to do.

    From a user's perspective it's a terrible experience. Today, if you click on an old IHT link from a blog post or Wikipedia page, you won't end up on the page you're looking for, you'll end up on the generic landing page. That's a waste of time.

    From a business perspective, the NYT is throwing away money -- at least $100,000 every month the links are broken. According to Compete.com, IHT.com was getting over 1.5 million visitors/month before it shut down. If a third of those visitors were from search and direct old links, 500,000 visitors a month are hitting the dead end in the image above, instead of the page they were looking for. To buy that traffic from Google at $.20/click, you'd have to pay $100,000 a month. Add that $100,000 to the value of the SEO authority IHT.com accrues from its 3.9 million inbound links , and you have a sense of the money The Times is leaving on the table.

    So what's the right way to shut down a site you own?

    Create 301 redirects. If you're moving or shutting down existing pages, make sure you create redirects from your old pages to your new pages. A redirect is a simple rule that forwards all visitors to an old URL (including search engines) to its replacement. The result is that the SEO authority of the old url is transferred to the new url.

    301 redirects would have saved The Times the money it's currently loosing with its dead-end landing pages.

    The New York Times has a top-notch web team, and this example is probably some sort of management snafu . The landing pages explain that The Times is "in the process of moving IHT articles dating back to 1991 over to NYTimes.com." Hopefully that means the old links will be fixed in the future.

    Still, it's an expensive mistake that would have been easy to avoid, and one you probably can't afford to make if you're a smaller business.


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