My Client Committed SEO Suicide, And I Let Them

No, they didn’t purchase thousands of poor quality backlinks. Even worse — they abandoned a perfectly optimized website for Hibu.

In The Beginning

My friend is very close with this client. He built their original website from scratch (ludicrous!). Not to belittle his efforts but he’s a web application developer, not a designer, and the site looked like it was built by an engineer.

I had built a few WordPress websites and was getting better so I offered to build them a new website.

I did a lot of research and purchased a WordPress theme from one of my favorite theme designers at the time, Shortly after purchasing the theme it was deprecated and I was left out in the cold to deal with any bugs and issues that came up.

That mistake would ultimately lead to serious trouble down the road.

Monthly Maintenance

Each month they would have a newsletter with their events and store specials. I would crop and resize their images and post the events to their blog. Then I would link to them from their email newsletter.

As part of the agreement I also handled their pricing changes on each of their 50+ product pages, performed routine WordPress maintenance, fixed bugs, posted to Facebook and Twitter, and much more. It was a fair amount of work but I was new and they were my biggest client.

Can We Add An Online Store?

After a year or so their business started to grow and they added a new store.

Shortly after they wanted to add an ecommerce store to their website. WooCommerce was becoming popular so that seemed like a logical choice. But this theme wasn’t really built for an e-commerce site.

It took a while but I eventually shoehorned WooCommerce into their site. It was really awkward but at least people could buy their products online if they couldn’t visit a brick and mortar store.

Can We Add A Blog?

It’s WordPress, so yeah, of course.

I was already taking their events from their monthly newsletter and creating them as blog posts on the site to improve their SEO. But now they wanted a “real” blog with full articles that they would write.

No problem, that’s actually a good thing because my “event” blog posts were very short and their longer articles would be much better for sharing.

Can We Add An Online Calendar?

Their customers weren’t reading the “event” blog posts and just wanted a calendar of events.

No problem, I’ll find a calendar plugin that can take your “event” blog posts and show them on a calendar.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find anything that I liked or that worked with their aging site so I essentially copied and pasted their event details to the calendar which took even more of my time.

Yes, I made sure there wasn’t duplicate content in Google.

They Added Another Store…And Another

Each additional store added more events and more tasks to my schedule.

At a very high level, every event would require me to:

  1. Crop and resize their images
  2. Create a blog post and schedule it for the future
  3. Add the event to their calendar with links to the blog post
  4. After published, share the event on Facebook and Twitter multiple times
  5. Add the event and image to their newsletter and reminder newsletters
  6. Add any article blog posts to the site, Facebook, Twitter, and the newsletter

If they had 6–10 events per month that meant 36 to 60 tasks!

Keep in mind that the site was getting old and difficult to manage plus some of the tools that are available today like didn’t exist. I had to manually schedule everything.

Somewhere in there I re-negotiated my price but I was way off and still ended up doing a lot of work for no profit.

Since I under-bid I couldn’t easily outsource either. I hired a couple people but with the amount of monitoring and hand-holding it just wasn’t worth it. I tried documenting everything to help them but it was easier, faster, and cheaper to do it myself.

By now I had several other clients that needed my attention and I was getting overwhelmed.

Where It All Went South

The client built a very large, expensive building with a banquet hall and other features. This was their new, primary location and they needed to advertise their events quickly and frequently.

With six stores in full swing and everything else I was doing I was starting to fall behind. They were actually helping me with the site to try to keep up.

So it was a relief to finally hear:

We think it’s time for a new website. Something simpler and easier to maintain.

“Yes!”, I exclaimed. “I’ll get you a quote right away.”

By now their site was pretty big. It was amazing to look back at all of the work I put into it and how far they had come.

They had roughly 20 static pages, a few hundred blog posts, a calendar with a couple hundred event entries, an ecommerce store with 60+ products not including size variations.

They were at the top of the search engine results for several keywords related to their business. They even beat out a government website dedicated to their primary keywords. All without any off-site SEO.

I knew it would be a challenge to ensure that they didn’t lose their SEO rankings while still simplifying their website.

But that’s when I heard that they were going with a super-cheap, terrible-looking, Hibu website.

It’s All Gone

All of it. The event posts, the blog posts, the products and images. It’s all gone.

Their search engine ranking tanked almost immediately. It’s like their website disappeared from the Internet.

You can’t find them online any more unless you know their name.

But they didn’t care. They never cared. Because that wasn’t what helped them grow. That’s when I realized I had to let them move on.

Their business didn’t rely on Internet traffic and leads from their website. It relied on their numerous events, word of mouth, and traditional advertising. And that’s what I did wrong. I didn’t know their business even though I felt I had helped them grow over the past several years.

They had six stores, a healthy Facebook following, over 6000 newsletter subscribers, and they frequently advertised in papers and at local events.

I was spending so much time, money, and energy helping them create this amazing online presence that I neglected to ask if they really needed it.

They didn’t.

Did the website help them grow their Facebook followers and newsletter subscribers? Maybe. I should have kept better track of their metrics and shown that their website was a source of revenue for their business.

But I overextended myself and didn’t have enough time for reporting or proving that I was worth what they were spending.

Today they have a truly terrible-looking website and they are still doing well.

And with the stress of that project finally lifted I was able to focus and grow my own business.

The moral? Stop before things get out of hand. Don’t overextend and work harder to keep up; refactor and simplify. And realize that sometimes it’s better to let them go.

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