How not to change your URLs: A look into the 9 mistakes made with their recent URL change

My wife and I have been searching for the perfect type of hardwood flooring since April and have been exclusively using

We’ve been sending emails back and forth that go something like this:

“Check this one out:

Just a URL, no associated product name.

The problem is that Kentwood changed their URL scheme and didn’t provide any means of getting from the old URL to the new URL.

I really like their new URL scheme…instead of product code or db key they are using the product name instead. It’s clean, RESTful and memorable, but the way they handled the change was deplorable.

My goal was to find the new URLs for the hardwood floors I liked, but uncovered some very painful mistakes they made when they changed their URLs.

Please read, comment, but don’t repeat these mistakes

UPDATE: 8/4/2012

I emailed right after I wrote this post and it looks like they are fixing a bunch of these issues! See my “UPDATE” text inline to see what has been fixed.

Mistake #1: No automatic URL redirection

I opened up the email thread I was having with my wife again this morning, clicked on the link and got a “page not found” error. Most users at this point are dead in the water. Their first thought would probably be that the hardwood isn’t available anymore or they would call Kentwood to ask about it.

Problem: You change your product URLs and show generic error messages that leave users at a dead end.

Solution: Always provide automatic URL redirection from old to new when changing URL schemes. Research 301 redirects and do it.

UPDATE: 8/4/2012 – They redirect to the homepage now instead of returning a 404. Not any better IMO. They really need to redirect to the new product URL

Mistake #2: Product codes not indexed

I grabbed what I thought was the product code from the URL, 30302 and entered that into the search box. No results.

Problem: Technical users will visually parse your URL to find some resemblance of a code or product name and site your site using what they find. Your site search returns no results.

Solution: Always index your product codes (or db keys) so users can find the products by that key through site search

Mistake #3: Search Engine Index Not Updated

At this point there is nothing more that can offer me. I can’t find the product and there’s no way to do so, without the hardwood name. So I have to resort to other sites.

I’m not sure how many users know this, but search engines allow you to scope your search to specific websites. If you specific the keyword “site” in your search, the search engine will only search that site. For example, to search for “TFS” on my blog you would enter “ tfs”

This is my next option in search of the hardwood floor name. So I went to Bing and searched for the product code 30302 and used and the site scope.

Very cool! It returned a result and the title of the first search result contained the name of the hardwood!

At least I now know the name of the hardwood, but the URL that is returned by Bing is still the old one that results in a 404. Bing’s “cached page” feature can help sometimes. It brings up the page as it was the last time indexed it, but as you can see below it’s not much help in this case.

Problem: The site changed its product urls, but didn’t tell search engines to reindex the site.

Solution: Use the Bing Webmaster Tools and Google Webmaster Tools to have your site reindexed by them. Also be sure to provide 301 redirects from the old to new URLs.

Mistake #4: Product names not indexed

I want to find the new URL, so I go back to and search for Maple Tillamook, but still get no results.

Solution: Obvious. Index your own product names

UPDATE: 8/4/2012 – They fixed this issue. A search for ‘maple tillamook’ now returns the product:

Mistake #5: Advanced Search feature was hard to find

From #4 above you can see that I’m at a dead end. It turns out there is an advanced search, but it buried in a different page.

I click on “All products” in the left hand nav and just happened to notice “ADVANCED PRODUCT SEARCH” under the hero graphic. See if you can find it. There’s no indication that this is a form or a button, it just looks like a header.

Solution: Make your advanced search easy to find and link to it from your normal search results page

Mistake #6: Products not index by your own filter categories

I hover over it to find that it does pop up an advanced search dialog. Sweet! I can filter by hardwood species and I’m sure to find my Maple Tillamook.

I filter by Maple:

And Maple results are now shown, but….


Solution: Make sure you attribute your products so they appear based on your own advanced search filters.

UPDATE: 8/4/2012 – They fixed this issue. Maple Tillamook is now returned when you filter by Maple.

Mistake #7: Provide an “ALL PRODUCTS” category that doesn’t contain all your products

I’m at a loss at this point, so I go back to “ALL PRODUCTS” thinking it must be returned in that list. Yeah, I have to go through pages and pages of results, but I MUST FIND THIS HARDWOOD!, so I do it. I go through all 8 pages only to find Maple Tillamook NOT LISTED!

Solution: If you have an ALL PRODUCTS category, make sure it really includes all your products

UPDATE: 8/4/2012 – They fixed this issue. Maple Tillamook is now listed in the all products page.

Mistake #8: Make your users search a PDF catalog

At this point I’ve exhausted all my resources and ideas, so I poke around the site a little more and find a link to their PDF catalog right under the left hand nav.

So I crack that open, do a search for Tillamook and BAM! there it is.

Problem: Users have search PDF files to find products.

Solution: See all the solutions above

Mistake #9: Make users resort to hacking your URL to find the new product URL

Okay, so I found the product in the PDF, but that doesn’t help me send a new URL to my wife and I don’t want to search the PDF every time or rely on a screenshot of the wood to compare it will others. I remembered, from my earlier poking around the site, that the new URL schema contains the product name like this:

I replaced oak-honey with maple-tillamook request the page and wow, I found the new URL!

It only took me a few minutes to find the new URL, but the normal user searching for hardwood flooring isn’t going to be as technical and therefore likely give up a lot sooner. I would immediately fix this if I owned

My takeaways: Don’t expect URLs to be permanent. Send product names or screenshots when sending URLs that don’t contain anything in them that describes the product.