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House Of Fraser: An Organic Search Disaster

Written by Daniel
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There’s been a lot of talk about House of Fraser this last week. After going into administration, with debts totalling more than £750 million, the company was bought out by Sports Direct for £90 million.

Following a dispute with its warehouse operator there was an outcry on social media, with angry customers complaining about missing orders and the brand’s lack of communication throughout the process.

House of Fraser then made the decision to shut down its website, and today it has been announced that it will be cancelling all online orders and refunding customers that haven’t received their deliveries.

The whole saga has been a mess, to say the least. It’s been a huge failure from a customer service perspective, with people claiming the brand has even failed to reply to their emails and tweets. In such a dramatic situation, this could be disastrous in the long run.

But it’s also been disastrous from an organic search perspective. Here’s why:


At base level, they seem to have got everything right. They’ve implemented 302 (Temporary) Redirects on the whole website, so that all pages resolve to the ’/maintenance’ landing page.

Whilst this is all technically correct, in reality it probably wasn’t the best route to go down. As a website that receives over 3.5 million unique monthly visitors, they’ll be losing a ton of users as a result of this move. And what about anyone that isn’t there with the intention to buy, but actually to discover information about the brand? They’ll be losing customers that are visiting the website to find out opening times or stock availability at their local store.

This is guaranteed to cost the business millions of pounds in revenue whilst the website is down, but also in the long-term. A low time-on-page and large dip in users, all the while losing link juice as a result of their 302 Redirects, is sure to have an impact on the brand’s search rankings across Google and Bing. Depending how significant this impact is, the brand may have a long road ahead in order to regain their dominant position in the SERPs, and resultantly their previous volume of traffic.


What should House of Fraser have done?

A more practical approach would have been leaving the website live but marking everything as ‘Out of Stock’. This would help mitigate the loss of link juice and the dip in users. And whilst time on page could still have the potential to be relatively low with people discovering their favourite products aren’t available, it would be nowhere near as bad as it probably is now.

From here, they could have done a number of things.

Option 1 would be to add a CTA that encourages people to leave their email address and receive a notification when the item they’re after is back in stock. This would help maintain interest in their products, whilst ensuring they have a steady stream of customers waiting when the brand is back in a position to trade again, and building up their mailing list at the same time. Taking this to the next level, they could have introduced an automated follow-up email explaining the situation to the customer, apologising for any delays and maybe even offering a discount code for their next purchase.

Saying that, with all the negative attention the brand has been receiving people may have been fairly reluctant to leave their email address.

Another option could have been to use JavaScript to introduce a takeover message whenever someone clicks into a product, explaining the situation with an option to ‘Find Their Nearest Store’. This would likely reduce the bounce rate and help improve time on page, whilst still providing the customer with a good user experience. Again, they could have offered a discount code for the customer’s next purchase at House of Fraser to help reduce any negative perception for loyal customers.

Either way, an approach that properly considered the impact on organic search and customer opinions would have certainly worked out better.


One thing that could make this situation a whole lot worse is if Google decides to drop the website from their search index completely, which is very possible. I guess we’ll have to see how quickly House of Fraser can resolve the situation before things get a whole lot worse for them…

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