Failing Successfully: SEO failure stories to learn from

Written by
Anastasia Osypenko
Nov 27, 2020
7 min read

We at SE Ranking are sure that success comes through trial and error. This month, we asked you to share some memorable stories of your SEO and digital marketing failures. And you did! To let everyone learn from your experience, we’ve compiled several stories into this post.

Hidden hazards of a new CMS

Our first story is about a painful process that is moving a website to a new CMS. Any change to a website can impact search engine rankings but with a new CMS, there are a lot of things to consider. 

This story goes back to 2013, when I created my first website. I chose a niche just off the top of my head and it totally paid off. The niche was growing, as well as the site’s earnings. I spent around 40% of the income on links, which guaranteed a stable traffic growth. 

I was living off this resource for around 5 years but its CMS was getting outdated. I made a new design, meta tags, clean URLs, and so on but that wasn’t enough. So, I created a new site’s version based on WordPress. It looked great. I set the 301 redirects and started waiting for the search engine’s verdict… It has been almost 2 years now and none of the measures have worked to bring the website back to high rankings.

Lesson to learn 1: To move a website to a new CMS without losing in traffic, you have to do more than setting up redirects.

There are a lot of factors to consider. After managing redirects, you need to fix internal linking including links from images, videos, scripts, etc. Upload an updated sitemap to the webmasters’ consoles for search engines to learn about your site’s structural changes. If the site gets re-indexed slowly, there are ways to fasten the process. Also, consider replacing all external links leading to an old domain so that link juice is distributed across the pages directly.

To learn more about changing the site’s structure without losing SEO results, read our article on website redesign. And don’t forget to regularly audit your website: SE Ranking allows you to set an automated check and receive audit reports each week or month. The Website Audit tool identifies all issues from minor warnings to crucial errors and provides you with recommendations on how to fix them.

Keeping your robots.txt under control

It always pays to recheck if a website is open for indexation

Creating a correct robots.txt file is a part of SEO basics and if something goes wrong there, you won’t get the desired rankings. This story is another reminder to always check robots.txt and keep it clean.

Back at that time, I was only beginning my path in SEO. We worked on a patched-up catering website that had an array of strong competitors. What we had as an SEO objective was to hit at least the top-20 but what we had in reality was pretty much nothing. After three months or so, I reviewed the project with a fresh eye and discovered that the site was closed for indexation in robots.txt! We fixed the robots.txt file and as a result, the website finally entered the top-20. The lesson is clear: prioritize the basics!

Search bots are picky about their names

Any technicality, however insignificant it seems, may corrupt your project. The next story tells about the importance of checking if everything is typed correctly in the robots.txt file.

It was a long time ago when I was only starting working in SEO. I was hired by an agency right before the holiday season and was left in charge when the whole department left for vacation. During that alone time, I had to do a dozen audits for client websites…

After a while, we started receiving many similar client complaints about their websites being blocked in robots.txt. When our team lead reviewed the files, he found nothing suspicious, sites weren’t closed for indexation, there were proper directives for closing unnecessary pages. We put the blame on some kind of Google bug but nothing was changing over time.

When we dove deeper, we discovered that there was a mistake in the instructions for Googlebot-Image concerning the very name of the bot. Interestingly enough, there was a separate instruction for the main Google bot but the search engine took the inaccurate one as the main one. And that’s why websites were not indexable. Since I used one robots.txt template for all client sites, each had the same mistake.

Lesson to learn 2: always recheck your robots.txt file.

Check robots.txt and what pages are blocked in it with the help of SE Ranking’s Website Audit and learn more about setting up a proper robots.txt file from our blog.

The undeniable importance of unique content

Sometimes, it’s hard to juggle between different SEO and marketing tasks so you make a decision to compromise on something or let it wait for better times. But if you don’t want to get penalties instead of a ranking success, consider balancing the tasks, especially when it comes to external SEO and content creation.

I got a task from a lawyer to promote his website. He had just one landing page and I quickly expanded it, making multiple pages. Then, I copied some texts from the web so that pages wouldn’t look empty and concentrated on link building and other external SEO tricks. In a month, I received emails from Google about a manual penalty! Someone submitted a copyright complaint, and that was enough for pessimization. At that time, we still didn’t have original content to substitute the copied one.

When I replaced everything with unique texts and sent the information to Google, it didn’t work out. I did solve this problem eventually but it’s a whole other story.

Lesson to learn 3: Unique, high-quality content is your absolute must for successful SEO. Don’t underestimate it and prioritize your tasks accordingly.

If you’ve experienced the opposite and other sources copied from your website, learn how to protect your unique content and prevent theft.

Being attentive is everything

Attentiveness and management skills are important in any industry and any type of work. The last couple of stories we have for you tell about how a lack of attention or time management can damage your SEO efforts.

I was doing website analysis and wanted to come across as a super-creative specialist with extraordinary analytical skills. I composed an extensive spreadsheet and was proud of myself. I stayed up all night thinking about what else to add for a greater impression and ended up oversleeping the deadline. As simply as that I lost a potential client.

Some time ago, I was working as a junior SEO specialist, learning new tools and services, and so on. One day, my boss asked me to review the contextual ads, while I didn’t know the first word about paid advertising. The boss ensured me there was nothing tricky and complicated so I started working on it.

At first glance, I really didn’t see anything complicated. I started making corrections to the ad texts and somehow deleted all current campaigns by mistaking them for separate ads. There were around 10 ad campaigns and 100 ad groups. Surely, I was devastated by the mistake, and however many efforts I put to reach someone, I didn’t manage to restore the campaigns. 

We hope you found something of value in these stories. You don’t get to have shiny SEO results without making some mistakes and taking courage to deal with and learn from them. And when it comes to typical website errors, SE Ranking’s Website Audit has you covered! 

If you’ve missed our challenge but still want to share your story, welcome to the comments section!

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