Saturday, August 29, 2009

The New Republic's destructive redesign

After a false start (see the end of this post), the much-needed redesign of The New Republic's website now appears to be in place.

On the whole, it's an enormous improvement. The site finally has the kind of look and interface you expect in the year 2009.

But there's a big problem. They've reformatted all their URLs to look more elegant, which is fine. But the site no longer recognizes the old format. In other words, any TNR URL that worked before the redesign was launched yesterday no longer works. All the blog posts out there that were posted before yesterday and linked to TNR pieces now have broken links.

For instance, the whole point of this post was to draw attention to this link, which now goes to a webpage that says only:

The page you are looking for may have moved

Please use the site-wide search to locate the desired content, or go back to the previous page.
Same thing happens if you try Googling for the piece. The only way I can see to find the right links is to use the site-specific search on tnr.com. Of course, that assumes you (1) are patient and proactive enough to keep clicking around to find the piece, (2) know what terms to search for, and (3) will recognize the piece in the search results. That's too many hoops to make readers jump through.

Many posts on this blog link to TNR; I'll go back and fix the links, but surely most bloggers who have linked to TNR won't go to this trouble or even realize there's a problem. The net result is that fewer people are going to read the pieces.

There's no way this was worth doing just to have snazzier new URLs.

TNR's post explaining the redesign admits that there might be some glitches early on: "we're ... sure that you'll find bugs." I'd like to think the fact that they've ruined all their old URLs is just a bug that they're going to fix. I doubt it, but we'll see.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's incredibly easy to set up redirects on the server so all those old URLs would be redirected to the new ones. So, they could have had their cake and eaten it, too. But they are evidently not that bright.

Jason (the commenter) said...

I'd like to think the fact that they've ruined all their old URLs is just a bug that they're going to fix. I doubt it, but we'll see.

From the sound of it, we'll have to wait for someone to write them a letter.

Anonymous said...

"incredibly easy"

?!

This is an entire subfield in SEO. It sometimes can be easy, but it's usually a nightmare from mod_rewrite hell.

The conventional wisdom today is that if your site is otherwise well-indexed by Google, *and* most of your traffic is organic search engine traffic, you can get away with dumping the 301 redirects. Google figures out the change pretty quickly.

And the incoming dead links still seem to count for PageRank.

If the New Republic got most of its traffic from inbound links to deep pages, then perhaps they should have put the effort into preserving some of them.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Anonymous: According to Alexa, only 25% of TNR's traffic comes from either Google or Yahoo. (Other search engines send very little traffic.) HuffingtonPost alone sends 7% of TNR's traffic, and of course there are many other sites linking to TNR. So I'd imagine that TNR's traffic comes mostly from "inbound links to deep pages" rather than searches or visits to the homepage.