Insights

4th January 2018

The Biggest Technical SEO Fail of 2017

Biggest Technical SEO Fail of 2017

What Happened?

At the beginning of April 2017, the House of Fraser website was moved from HTTP to HTTPS – something that many of us have implemented over the past year and which has a number of associated benefits. If carried out properly, upgrading to HTTPS shouldn’t have a negative impact on your SEO; However, House of Fraser reportedly lost 50% of their UK organic visibility across a two-week period following the move.

So, What Went Wrong?

During the move to HTTPS, House of Fraser decided to update their URL structure. Whilst they redirected the main domain to the HTTPS version, they failed to set up correct redirects forwarding the new subpage URLs to their relevant counterpart within the updated site. Whilst redirects were implemented within a large percentage of the new pages, they were done in such a way that caused almost every URL to be redirected several times before ending up on their final destination page.

In an ideal scenario, redirects would follow this pattern:
URL A > 301 redirect > URL B

A normal 301 Redirect

What House of Fraser did:
URL A > 307 redirect > URL A.1 > 301 redirect > URL A.2 > 301 redirect > URL B

House of Fraser’s 301 Redirect

The first redirect forced visits to the HTTPS version of the original page. The second redirect forced the same HTTPS URL into lower case and was immediately followed by a third redirect, which then resolved to the destination URL.

On top of that, many of their redirects actually ended up with a destination of the home page. So, people who were trying to access a specific product or page ended up back on the main home page rather than one relevant to their original enquiry.

And the Result?

As a result of this mistake and around 75% of URLs being forced through redirect chains, external links to the House of Fraser website began to register as being redirected rather than being direct links (or even being redirected in one single step). This caused rankings to drop throughout organic search – all the while, Google is unable to rank the new URLs in place of those that were dropping, as they had to crawl through thousands of redirect chains before being able to uncover any of the new pages on HTTPS.

So How Could This Have Been Avoided?

By simply retaining the same URL structure during a move from HTTP to HTTPS, they could have potentially avoided a 50% loss in organic search visibility. If the URL structure update was imperative, then correctly adding in single-step redirects would have still prevented the issues they faced back in April (and have no likely continued to experience the effects of since).

Companies like House of Fraser spend a lot of time focusing on Content SEO, which is arguably much more fashionable and exciting than technical SEO. However, as they and many others have learned over recent years, technical SEO is as important as any other area of Search Engine Optimisation. Done correctly, it can even help reduce the amount of content marketing required. If you fail to implement technical SEO correctly or try and rush it (or even believe that it’s as simple as adding an H1 and some meta data to a page) then you could be left with an absolute nightmare on your hands.

Don’t find out the hard way like House of Fraser, get in touch with Varn today for professional advice on updating from HTTP to HTTPS and much more.