Some Big Websites Suck at Non-WWW to WWW Redirects

Alright, folks. Today we’re going to talk about PageRank. Oh, I know. It’s dying and/or dead. Ok. Awesome. But it’s still a metric that we can use… at least a little. Like in this post, which happens to be about people not correctly redirecting their homepage URL from the non-www to www version.

Alright, folks. Today we’re going to talk about PageRank. Oh, I know. It’s dying and/or dead. Ok. Awesome. But it’s still a metric that we can use… at least a little. Like in this post, which happens to be about people not correctly redirecting their homepage URL from the non-www to www version.

I’m going to assume you know the advantages of redirecting the non-www version of your site to the www version of the site. Across all pages. Or maybe you prefer to go the other way – swim up stream like I do with this site’s URLs – and redirect the www version to the non-www version. It’s all about eliminating duplicate content and making sure every link is most effectively attributed to the ‘official’ URL for your product pages, category pages, etc… Blah blah blah.

Here are some sites that do this very efficiently and effectively (and their respective PageRank values):

So fresh and so clean clean: Awesome examples of non-www to www via 301 redirects
So fresh and so clean clean: Awesome examples of non-www to www via 301 redirects

It’s so nice to see this being done correctly. And these are some bigtime brands. Well done, big brand sites. Well, done.

In March 2010, Matt Cutts dropped some knowledge on us:

Note: in a follow on email, Matt confirmed that this is in fact the case. There is some loss of PR through a 301.

So really, we shouldn’t think of this non-www to www redirect method as something that is going to pass all of our linkjuice and PageRank through to the final URL. It simply doesn’t work that way. However, it still passes some PageRank AND it helps reduce duplicate content. And that’s good enough for me.

So…the awesome examples were just the beginning of this post. Now we’re going to see some websites that are losing a lot of link juice from doing it all wrong.

First, let’s take a look at sites that do not use any type of non-www to www redirect. And again, these are some big brand names right here:

These sites need to join the party: Go ahead and 301 those non-www's already!
These sites need to join the party: Go ahead and 301 those non-www's already!

Wow! Sprint has the PR8. That’s impressive. But what would it be if you 301’d the 4,280 links that are currently pointing to the non-www homepage URL? If you wanted to go buy 4,280 links, that would be pretty expensive. You could pass all that linkjuice to the www version of your site – FOR FREE! How about that? That’s 4% of your total links to the non-www version of your site! And you could at least get some of that linkjuice. [BTW I got the external link numbers from SEOmoz’s Open Site Explorer tool.] The point is: Returning a 200OK for your non-www and www homepage URL isn’t terrible, but it’s not up-to-date with fundamental SEO principles.

Now here are some sites that are doing the non-www to www redirect, but these sites all share the honor of having used the dreaded 302 temporary redirect. In general, the 302 redirect is the ‘Voldemort’ of SEO. You really don’t want to be caught mentioning it – ever. The 302 has its place, but it certainly is not needed in this conversation. Mainly, we don’t want to use a 302 for this because it does not pass any linkjuice. So here are some big sites that are using a 302 redirect from the non-www to the www version of their sites:

I won't tell anyone. Just please change that to a 301 redirect. Already even!
I won't tell anyone. Just please change that to a 301 redirect. Already even!

Really, Apple? Really, Costo? Really, Walgreens? I’m just going to assume that you all have awesome SEOs who know what they are doing. Obviously there is a perfectly good reason for your sites to be using the 302 redirect for non-www to www. It’s probably classified. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt. Regardless, I still recommend that you update that redirect to a 301. It would make me happy. Because I’m an SEO nerd, and even more specifically – I want to see Apple at a PR10. I mean, maybe the linkjuice from another 114,524 links would help to get to PR10. I dunno. But it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Let’s dive into some other sites that are really screwing the pooch. As you will see in the following screenshot, some websites prefer to use *double* redirects and, yes, even *triple* redirects to get from the non-www to the www version of the homepage URL:

Chain chain chain: Redirect chain of fools.
Chain chain chain: Redirect chain of fools.

To me, the double redirects and triple redirects look like a chain. Just imagine all the PageRank that is lost, siphoned off with each redirect. It’s terrible. Simply terrible. Verizon, I am a customer of yours. In general, I think you service is great. But it pains me to see a double 302 redirect on your homepage. Please fix that. Please. For the love… This is just depressing.

Finally, I found a website that is guilty of something that I can barely bring myself to discuss. From a usability standpoint, it makes my blood boil with the rage of 1,000 SuperBowl-week ice storms. This site does not load when you visit their non-www homepage URL:

The unforgivable sin of usability: homepage URL unreachable
The unforgivable sin of usability: homepage URL unreachable

Okay. Hahaha. Get your mind out of the gutter. BJ’s is a Fortune 500 company and a wholesale club. Now, redirecting the non-www to www is one thing. But in this case, basic web design and usability principles override SEO practices. It’s imperative that they at least get the non-www version of their homepage to return the actual homepage of their site, even if it is a 200OK. Even that would be better than the current scenario. I urge everyone to make sure this is not happening with your site. Please go check. You’ll feel better if you do. I promise.

Well, that’s pretty much it. In conclusion:

  • 301’s are good, and 302’s are generally bad
  • non-www to www redirects can help increase your homepage URL’s PageRank
  • double redirects and triple redirects are not good
  • bjs.com is a respectable Fortune 500 wholesale company

Now get out there and take a look at your .htaccess file(s)!

Cheers!

Toys “R” Us Redirects Toys.com to Toysrus.com

Toys "R" Us Store Front (circa 1970)
Toys "R" Us Store Front (circa 1970)

The other day I saw a DomainNameWire post about Toys “R” Us redirecting its newly acquired domain, toys.com, and that toys.com had been “de-indexed” by Google. For those of you who have not heard the story, Toys “R” Us bought the Parent Company (eToys.com, BabyUniverse.com, ePregnancy.com) for ~$2 million. Then a couple of weeks later, Toys “R” Us paid $5.1 million for the toys.com domain, and now they are redirecting the entire toys.com domain and all of its URLs to the toysrus.com homepage. That’s right. Every toys.com URL is now pointing to the toysrus.com homepage. Was this a good move? Why did Toys “R” Us take this path with the toys.com domain? What are the SEO impacts of redirecting an entire site? Depending on your perspective, the answers to those questions can vary significantly. Let’s investigate some of the possible reasons behind this move (and maybe even some of the opportunities they missed by taking that route).

Obviously, the main goal was brand association.
Toys “R” Us wants to be the brand most associated with toys. For many of us, they have always been the top dog in the toys industry. Toys “R” Us has always been the first company I think of when I think of toys. FAO Schwarz is also up there, but let’s be honest: they are no Toys “R” Us. I mean, Toys “R” Us has like 600 stores in the US and 97,000 employees (thanks Wikipedia). Also making my unofficial best toy stores list is KB Toys. Oops. I have to remove them from the list because they got bought and liquidated in December 2008. With the demise of KB Toys, a giant void opened up in the brick-and-mortar store vertical. In terms of massive stores that have nothing but toys, Toys “R” Us and FAO Schwarz are the only big toy retailers left (well at least on my toy store list). In the end, Toys “R” Us rules the brick-and-mortar toy store roost. [Note: My apologies if I’m leaving out any other toy stores.]

Another goal of the domain acquisition: “free” direct navigation traffic.
Now that brick-and-mortar toy stores are going the way of the buffalo (not the dodo), toy companies must focus a lot of attention to the interwebs and intranets advertising. I imagine that the Toys “R” Us execs were drooling at the possibility of getting the highly-coveted, 4-letter domain toys.com. This would enable them to capitalize on all the direct traffic navigation to toys.com. I don’t know how many people are directly navigating to toys.com every day, but obviously Toys “R” Us wanted to route that traffic to toysrus.com. For those of you who may not know, the direct navigation industry is nothing to sneeze at. I applaud Toys “R” Us for outbidding everyone else for the toys.com domain. It’s a very aggressive move from an industry leader. Toys “R” Us is the  most identifiable toy store brand and they own the generic keyword domain that is most associated with their brand. There are tons of companies who wish they could say the same. Now, what should they do with the toys.com domain? [Note: I’m still waiting to see who buys toy.com. It’s just being parked right now. What a shame.]

Toys “R” Us is obviously not a newcomer to the e-commerce game. The toysrus.com domain was registered in 1995, and they have had an online store since at least 1998. Furthermore, they have been running successful search marketing campaigns for years. As with any other company that’s been around for more than 50 years, Toys “R” Us has found out that the online world is full of aggressive, online-only e-commerce stores that know everything about utilizing all available channels and surviving online. Toys “R” Us is one of the few industry leaders that started early in the race to e-commerce websites, and they are a company that has succeeded in maintaining an online reputation that equals their top reputation in the brick-and-mortar world.

Awesome. But what about the redirects?
For the search term toys, Toys “R” Us is battling several well-knows toy brands and sites for the top spots in the organic rankings. Here are some of the other top 10 toy brands in the Google SERPs:

  • toysrus.com
  • etoys.com (owned by Toys “R” Us)
  • toys.com (owned by Toys “R” Us, no longer ranking)
  • lego.com
  • walmart.com
  • fisher-price.com
  • amazon.com
  • hasbro.com

There are certain times when the acquisition of a highly-coveted domain names like toys.com could really come in handy from the standpoint of expanding your exposure in the Google SERPs. Before the sale of toys.com to Toys “R” Us, toys.com was ranking #3 for the term toys in Google. Apparently, Toys “R” Us was not really concerned with (or maybe aware of) toys.com’s natural search rankings. After the purchase of eToys.com and Toys.com, Toys “R” Us owned 3 of the top 5 sites in the Google SERPs for the search term toys. For a generic search term like toys, having 3 of the top 5 sites is miraculous. But this scenario would not last long. At some point Toys “R” Us decided that it only needed to have 2 of the top 5 results.

Why did they redirect toys.com to toysrus.com?
Obviously I wasn’t in the room when Toys “R” Us decided to redirect the toys.com site to toysrus.com, but I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in that boardroom. I’m sure that a major point in the discussion was the increase in traffic and revenue to toysrus.com. If you redirect and entire site to toysrus.com, traffic and revenue will increase, and that will make everyone happy in the short run. The investment in a $5.1 million domain will have immediate returns. No questions about it. It’s a move that quickly impacts the bottom line. In today’s economy, who would argue against quick returns on a major investment?

On the other hand, I sincerely hope that someone brought up the nature of redirects to the upper management. I hope an SEO told them that Google, Yahoo, MSN and the other major search engines would follow the redirects, and then toys.com would no longer rank in the SERPs. Major search engines would begin to drop the pages that have been redirected via a 310 permanent redirect. The toys.com URLs would not be de-listed/de-indexed because of some sort of unethical SEO practices. Rather, the URLs would be dropped because of the standard definition of a 301 permanent redirect: 301 redirects tell the search engines that the page no longer exists and has been moved. Knowing that the URL has permanently moved to another active URL, the search engines will only keep the destination URL in their respective indices. The search engines are just following the directions that the webmaster set up with the 301 redirects. I hope someone told them all of that because it seems important to know that the 301 redirect solution would cause your brand to lose an awesome piece of real estate in the Google SERPs. That is a lot of free traffic to turn down.

Maybe one of the most influential arguments for redirecting the toys.com domain centered around the increase in domain authority that comes from redirecting one domain to another with the use of 301 redirects. We all know that link juice is the most important factor for today’s search engine algorithms. Imagine if we could take a domain like toys.com and redirect all of its URLs (and all of their inbound links) to toysrus.com. That would definitely have a major impact on the link authority of toysrus.com. That would be awesome. It would be a great move that would reinforce and solidify the toysrus.com domain to insure top rankings in the future. In a world where links are only getting more expensive, another major benefit of buying a domain is that you can capitalize on its link juice.

A linkdomain: check on Yahoo reveals that the toys.com domain only has 713 inbound links. Uh oh. That’s not very many links. Consider that toysrus.com has 357,260 inbound links. Yeah. The link juice from toys.com is measured in drops rather than in gallons. Anyways, given the nature of this new information, I’m not necessarily on board with the decision to redirect toys.com to toysrus.com.

Did they have to choose that option?
I am not completely disagreeing with the decision because I do know that there are other factors involved. Because the toys.com/etoys.com acquisition was very public knowledge, Google knows that Toys “R” Us owns all three websites. How likely is it that Google would list 3 sites from the same company in the top 5 results for a highly competitive search term? It’s not very likely at all. Well, unless you have a badass SEO. And unless the 3 sites are unique and have relatively-unique content. Toysrus.com and eToys.com have managed to maintain a unique focus. How could they then build out toys.com to be another toy-based site that can distinguish itself from the other 2 sites? Sounds impossible. Not really.

Maybe money became an issue. It’s a rough economy. Site development, marketing, advertising, hiring people, building a new site, asking for bailout money – all of these things cost money. With so much focus on the bottom line and with so many companies cutting budgets in 2009, perhaps this entire decision came down to money. At least I hope that’s what happened because I know of several SEOs that could have come up with a solid idea that could turn toys.com a site that drives a ton of traffic and money while offering a unique focus and maintaining a top 5 result in the Google SERPs. I mean, seriously. A shopping engine. A blog. A review site. Something. Anything is better than redirecting an entire site to one URL! I’m glad they mainly used 301 redirects (I have seen a lot of pages with 302 redirects still in Google’s index), but at least they could have matched up related product and category URLs from toys.com to toysrus.com. There are likely several achievable business models for the toys.com domain that could provide more visibility and profit for Toys “R” Us, but it’s obviously not in the cards right now.

What Now?
In the end, Toys “R” Us made an aggressive move that will drive brand recognition and brand association. They made a move that will deliver a lot of direct navigation traffic. They made a decision that will result in some link juice and link authority being transferred to toysrus.com. There’s probably some other stuff that they’ll get out of it, but this blog post is already too long. I don’t think it was a terrible decision. It’s not going to bankrupt the company. However, there are some huge opportunity costs. A top organic ranking is one. Organic search traffic is another. Revenue is another. Oh well. Good luck, Toys “R” Us. I wish you the best in 2009.