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When SEO Goes Bad

May 7th, 2007 · 4 Comments

Remember that client I mentioned the other day who put me on to Wordtracker? Well they called me up last week and they’re looking to redevelop their site.

Now without wishing to blow my own trumpet (I tried it once and strained my back), the SEO work I did for them was very successful. So much so that over 90% of their business now comes from their website (it was less than 30% before I tweaked their site).

The problem is that they actually want me to reverse engineer the site because they can’t cope with the demand generated from the website.

How do you build a website so that it ranks badly on the search engines?

Now I’ve never proclaimed to be an SEO expert and I told them that before I took the project on. Sure, I understand the mechanics of search engine optimization but I wouldn’t refer to myself as an SEO. Prior to my meeting with the client I spent a couple of hours on the train reading print outs from Search Engine Watch (when it was good – i.e. when Danny Sullivan was still there) to get to grips with things, pick up on buzzwords and suchlike and I must have given a good enough presentation to get the contract. Either that or I was cheap.

Anyway, the point I wanted to make was that I was shocked when I revisited the site and saw how I’d achieved such good SERPS for them for so many of their keyphrases.

Keyword stuffing, generic meta descriptions, poorly formatted pages, non unique title tags, next to no work on backlinks. Need I go on?

I remember reading an article on SEOmoz. I can’t remember who it was by. It was probably Rand Fishkin. The genius and logic of the article can only have been written by someone with a beard. Anyway, the article referred to how to tell the difference between an SEO expert and a novice and one of the things he mentioned was that SEO novices tend to dilute the value of their work by trying to promote the same keywords/phrases on every single page of a site rather than focusing page by page. Sure enough, this was exactly what I’d done – the same meta information across the whole site.

The work I did for this client has got them to #1 in Google for pretty much all of the keyphrases they were targeting. This is despite the fact that I’ve broken pretty much every rule that I’ve subsequently learnt in terms of SEO (i.e. no keyword stuffing, getting quality backlinks is essential, you must have unique title and description tags, no duplicate content, utilise analytics). As far as I can see, they should be wallowing in the supplemental index for most of the pages and should not be getting the traffic they are.

So here’s the question:

If crappy, old style SEO tactics have got a company to #1 in Google for their chosen keywords/phrases, how should I change things?

As far as I can see, what I did 2 years ago shouldn’t be working but it is. How can I reverse engineer the site so it doesn’t perform as well?

Tags: Search Marketing

4 responses so far ↓

  • Peter // May 17, 2007 at 6:23 pm

    That’s an interesting proposal, but it doesn’t make much sense to me. First, it sounds like due to the techniques you used, they shouldn’t be too long for their top spots (although, as you noted, they really shouldn’t be in the top spots at all if “modern SEO wisdom” is correct), so maybe it won’t be a problem.

    What really strikes me is the idea that a company is interested in getting LESS business, rather than reorganizing themselves to handle increased volume. No business owner I know would ever admit to that.

    As for actually complying with their request, are they interested in just SOME traffic, or none at all from search engines? It seems to me that excluding the entire site with a robots.txt should (in theory) remove the site from search engines. Also, changing the structure of the site around could give the pages a fresh start with the search engines, and, because of the admittedly dated SEO techniques, might never again rank as well as they do now.

  • Mike // May 17, 2007 at 11:43 pm

    As you say, it may well be that they’ll naturally drop from the SERPs because of the old style SEO work I did anyway. Perhaps I should charge them $10k and tell them that this was thanks to work I’ve done for them 😉

    I think what they’re really after is a streamlining of the results they get. They were very broad with their initial requirements so, as a result, I attacked the site from a lot of angles. Now they want to be more specific with their website enquiries.

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment :)

  • Peter // May 18, 2007 at 12:42 am

    I see – so they’re interested in getting more targeted traffic rather than what they’re getting now. That, I can definitely understand.

    It’s quite an interesting dilemma – I’d love to hear what you come up with as a resolution.

  • Mike // May 18, 2007 at 11:35 am

    Yeah it’s more targeted traffic that they’re really after but they did say that they couldn’t cope with the volume of business and asked if there was a way I could reduce the number of enquiries they received!

    Will update this post once we’ve finalised what they really want…