The last 6 months have been an eventful period for our Shopify app Redirectify. It all started with Google’s Search Console update, resulting in many challenges for us, but ultimately resulting in a better app.
Redirectify is one of Lucid’s Shopify apps currently listed on the Shopify app store. We created the app following frustrations with the limited redirect abilities native to Shopify. We felt that most of the existing redirect apps largely missed the point; to create relevant redirects which actually help visitors find what they’re looking for. Existing apps seemed to be based around the false premise that 404 errors in and of themselves adversely affect your website’s SEO (which is not the case).
The original version of Redirectify used Google Search Console to source a list of crawl errors to fix. From there, users would fix each crawl error one by one, while the app offered up helpful suggestions of similar, live path on the store.
In April 2019, as part of their major update to Search Console, Google disabled the crawl error API without a replacement (the latest in a long line of services abandoned by the company), leaving Redirectify without its primary integration, and with no way to source crawl errors.
Though we had some advance warning of this (more through luck than any kind of communication from Google), we were left in a difficult position with precious little time to come up with a solution. Luckily, we had been working on a redesign of Redirectify ourselves, with less emphasis on Google Search Console, and more emphasis on alternate sources of errors. Development of this new version was still in an early stage, and many of our planned features were still to come, but our hand was forced and we had to release the new version early in a more limited state, as the current version was now essentially a paperweight.
Initially, as replacement for the Search Console integration, we offered CSV uploads (including the ability to manually upload Search Console exports), and one week later (due to a few technical issues) live 404 tracking. While we still had much to do to realise our original vision, we felt that at this point, the app was back in a pretty good shape. Unfortunately, we had underestimated the value our users saw in the Search Console integration, and our install numbers continued to fall. All we could hope for was that this trend would turn around as we gradually introduced the features we had originally planned to be part of our update.
According to our own documentation, not all 404 pages are worth fixing. Sometimes, it makes more sense to leave the 404 page in place than to create a confusing redirect to an irrelevant location such as your homepage. Yet, we offered no way to remove such pages from the app without fixing each and every one. In order to walk the talk, we added filters, which allow users to prevent paths matching certain patterns from showing up in the list (users may also now delete paths already in the list).
A feature we had long planned, and a compliment to live 404 tracking. With proactive 404 tracking, Redirectify automatically adds paths to its list of errors on certain events that normally would result in a 404 page being left behind. This could include when a product is deleted, or blog post is deleted, amongst other such events. With this feature, users could immediately fix their errors within Redirectify without waiting for a 404 to be encountered by live tracking.
A frequent request was to offer a method for more quickly creating redirects in bulk. We wanted to be careful about this, as the entire idea behind the app was to create relevant redirects, and bulk actions tended to encourage more of a catch-all approach. We wanted to avoid this, and our solution is to offer rules for automatic creation of redirects.
With rules, like filters, users choose a pattern to match incoming paths. Each matching pattern is given a target to redirect to, which can include parts of the original path.
Rules work especially well in combination with live and proactive 404 tracking. With a good set of rules, you will rarely need to open the app to fix errors manually, as they will be fixed in real time as visitors encounter 404s, products are deleted, and so on. Rules even apply in real time so that even the first visitor to a 404 page will be redirected if there is a matching rule in place. Rules, in comparison to more traditional methods for bulk redirects, offer a more targeted, automated, and proactive approach to dealing with errors.
Finally, our last major issue was with the list itself. Some users could quickly build up a list of thousands of errors, however there was little indication of which errors were more pressing than others, as errors were only sorted by their ‘last seen’ date.
To remedy this, we’ve introduced more detailed information to the errors list, such as a count of visits, and the source of the error (tracking or manual upload), and various sorting options, including the ability to sort by ‘importance’.
Finally, after months of effort which all started with an unpleasant surprise completely outside of our control, we are feeling very happy with where the app is at right now. It appears our users are too, as after months of steady decline, this month our install base started growing again. We firmly believe that the current incarnation of Redirectify is vastly superior to the original, and perhaps we just needed that little shock to get here! Redirectify has always felt like an app with a lot of potential, and with these new features, we’ve gone a long way towards realising that.
It doesn’t stop here. We are always interested in finding new ways to improve our apps, and welcome any feedback or ideas for the future!