How Wiggle F****d up their SEO
As an SEO, I love migrations. The risks are high and the work is extremely hard, but for some reason I find it really interesting. Especially ecommerce migrations, one thing I’ve learned is that there are NO shortcuts. And if it goes right the rush is wild. However, it doesn’t always go right, as is shown in this 2023 losers report from Sistrix.The main loser in this report was popular outdoor sports retailer, Wiggle. These guys are big, an dominated search results for cycling equipment and running clothes. Yet, the below visibility graph shows that they may no longer be flying high.
When I saw this graph, my only thought was “oof!” So when I saw how badly things went for them I thought its worth doing some digging as to why.
Where did it all go wrong?
Wiggle are a popular retailer of outdoor sports goods, from cycling to running. In April 2023, they decided to consolidate all of their international sites onto a single domain to focus solely on the UK market. This also meant migrating www.wiggle.co.uk to www.wiggle.com (you can have that backlink, it looks like you need it).
They also removed domains for 11 other countries, including France, Spain, Australia and Japan. Theoretically, consolidating all of these domains and their backlinks into one should give the remaining site a boost, right? Well, its proven to not be that simple.
What I’ve seen on many occasions is that the location of your backlinks matter. I once had a UK ecommerce site asking me why they’re suddenly getting traffic from the USA, to which I pointed out that they recently had a bunch of new US links appear to their site. Cases like this are common, as backlinks are one way to help Google understand which country it should be targeting.
Until last year, www.wiggle.com was an American website. The backlinks were American, the hreflang was American and the visitors were american. As far as Google is concerned, this website is not relevant for the UK audience. To suddenly change the geo-targeting, you should take this into account. Whilst the currency, language and hreflang have been updated to show the site to be UK-based, the backlink profile is saying something different.
Of course, if the redirect strategy is done properly then this shouldn’t be a problem as the UK links will then outnumber the US ones. Well, the key phrase here is “if done properly”. Let’s look into that next.
When migrating a website, especially when moving to a new domain, EVERY page needs to be redirected to a relevant URL. Even those you don’t think are important should be redirected to ensure a successful migration. I’ve seen many examples where lazy SEOs try to get away with only redirecting a sample of pages, these almost always go wrong. One other thing (and please print this out and stick it on your wall), DON’T JUST REDIRECT EVERYTHING TO THE HOMEPAGE!!!
Unfortunately, these guys didn’t get the memo.
I used Wayback Machine to look at the Men’s Running Shoes category, 14 out of the top 15 products redirected to the homepage. Oh dear. This is something I’ve seen right across the website. I once reviewed a site which redirected 1000s of pages to the homepage and when I ran them through the Inspect URL tool they came back as “URL is unknown to Google”. Whilst this is not conclusive proof of anything, it does suggest that Google would rather forget the pages exist than consolidate their page rank. Which is bad.
As long as the SKUs remain unchanged, redirect mapping for live products is surprisingly easy. Just get a list of SKUs for the old site and the new site, then perform a vlookup. You can do this using Screaming Frog using this guide on Xpath for custom extractions. So there isn’t really an excuse to get it this so wrong.
It doesn’t just stop at their products, some of their category-level redirects went badly wrong too. For example, you would expect https://www.wiggle.co.uk/run to redirect to https://www.wiggle.com/c/run. It doesn’t. It redirects to the homepage.
I also used Wayback Machine to look at the category architecture of the website. Ideally, hierarchy changes should be kept to a minimum except when it comes to low value or duplicate pages. However, this isn’t what happened here.
First of all, they removed all of their gender-specific pages. Now this could be a brand decision to be more inclusive or it could just be an oversight, I don’t know. What I do know is that the search volumes for men’s and women’s sports clothing is huge and they no longer have landing pages to target them.
They’ve also removed popular categories for bikes, including Adventure Bikes and Time Trial Bikes. Again, this may have been a business decision due to the available stock, I don’t know. I just know that they no longer have landing pages targeting these products with high prices.
I haven’t had time to fully review the architecture (I’d usually charge for that 😂), but I would not be surprised to see more issues as I dig deeper.
Can they recover?
The honest answer is; I don’t know. The geotargeting issue I mentioned is only minor in comparison to the others so that will rectify itself in time. They could also review the site’s architecture and get a proper taxonomy to target keywords much more effectively. It’s a bit of work, but it's doable.
The redirects are a problem though. At the time of writing, these have been in place for 9 months. This means that it will be extremely difficult to undo the damage done by them.
I wish Wiggle all the best of luck, I’m just glad I’m not the one responsible to get them back to where they were.