It is never easy for a company owner, especially when they have 50+ employees, to hear they need to delete their site and start over. But that is what this company faced, and here are the results (so far).
Note: The website featured below is in the Your Money Your Life and Medic algorithms, so it’s a double whammy.
Note: Updated with a new screen shot on 6/21/2022
If you want to skip the background and screen shots, click here to drop to the steps we took to get search engines to show us again.
The client and I used to work together but had to part ways literally overnight, but on good terms. When I left their traffic was fairly massive for their industry and growing quickly as we had everyone working as a team. And because we had the site growing, the client did not want to stop the momentum so they hired a different SEO agency when I left.
The new SEO agency added content, built landing pages and backlinks; but none of them would be considered “quality” when you’re facing both YMYL and Medic.
The agency then deployed a popular SEO plugin and did not install it correctly. They also did not bring over (or even check that) the titles, descriptions, schema, etc… made sense or carried through.
The previous SEO agency then proceeded to change URL structures without setting redirects, which in turn caused multiple pages to compete directly with each other, and they did not delete or 410 the old content. The list goes on and on.
The previous SEO agency made things bad, and then doubled down to make them worse.
Just over two years ago the client saw lots of drops in traffic, then about two years ago said enough is enough. They contacted me but I didn’t have bandwidth, but they reached out again in July 2021 and we happened to have an opening right as they emailed.
Unfortunately in week 1 while we started evaluating the site, they had been fully removed from Google without any manual actions or notes inside Search Console. This includes not showing up for their own brand. You can see this in Image 1.
In Image 2 you’ll see what the recovery process looks like right now and learn how we are rebuilding their SEO step by step.
I’ve added Image 3 on 6/21/2022 so you can see we’re now climbing back to pre-removal levels.
Note: I removed the clicks line to keep who they are anonymous as their competitors would definitely know if they see this post.
Image 4 – the final update
The company has hired a different agency for paid media and in Q4 2022 made some changes that were out of our control. This included adding new pages, landing pages, etc… These took a temporary toll on the site and progress, but we all resynced and we’re able to get back to a growth mode. With that said, we have parted ways so this will be the last update on the recovery project. I’ve worked with them multiple times over the years….so who knows, maybe I’ll be back again and updating in another couple. They’re great people and still good friends.
We’re parting ways on the project in a secure and stable place where the client no longer has to worry about updates, and that is something I’m very proud of. As long as they stay the course and follow the instructions I sent, they’re going to continue to grow and succeed.
After assessing the situation we had to first figure out why they were removed from Google, and there was no real reason.
- Meta robots were in order
- Zero render blocking resources
- No warnings in search console
- Robots.txt was correct
The two main culprits we assumed were the SEO plugins being installed incorrectly (and it turned out to be true), and the on-site factors. We tackled this in a six step process which is still ongoing.
Here’s how we’re getting search engines to index and show our website again:
- Build a new template and frame.
- Delete every page of copy on the main site.
- Redo all URLs on the main site (and did not set redirects).
- Write new copy for all main site and landing pages.
- Deploy schema page by page.
- Craft a content strategy for the blog.
Build an Entirely New Template and Frame
There was no way to work with the current website template. Plugins were competing with each other and breaking website functionality. Google also had trouble displaying have of the pages in their cache correctly. The good news is they have a dev who was hired the same week as we were rehired, and this person turned out to be amazing.
We took the design and overall feel of the old site and built a new matching template. This time without any excess code and in a matter of 24 hours.
Over the next two weeks we began deleting all unused plugins and replacing these plugins with ones we knew will be compatible for caching the site, compressing images, deploying schema, etc…
Delete All Main Site Pages
When I clicked through page by page, the only copy that changed, for the most part, were H tags and dynamic inserts. This is sometimes ok when canonical links are set up properly (and they were here), but a full removal from Google with no warnings made this a top priority for me to test.
I also noticed at a certain point there was a large drop in the click through rate (you can see round three of click through drops in the first screen shot) and before this time frame it was worse. The culprit here was the URL migration and new SEO plugin using dynamic titles instead of handwritten and consumer friendly ones.
But before I started writing titles and on-page copy, I jumped into analytics and talked to the business development team to find out what types of customers are most valuable to the company, and which services keep the company afloat financially.
From there my team and I wrote the copy for the homepage starting with the most important service pages for revenue. We did not write copy for or focus on pages based on search volumes. We needed money coming back in, we did not need traffic that is low value revenue wise or just an increase in visitors.
From there my team and I wrote the copy for the homepage starting with the most important service pages for revenue. We did not write copy for or focus on pages based on search volume.
Once we had the first 10 pages done we cached the site and had Google crawl by requesting a review in search console. Within a few days the branded searches started to come back and we started to see some generic phrases popping back up too. This was a very good sign!
Next we went and began building out the rest of the main site pages and incorporated the keywords that their leads use when searching. We also talked to customer support and used the questions customers ask in the title tags and meta descriptions.
This began bringing the click rates back up because our content is now relevant to the potential lead. It is the same thing I do with content on ecommerce sites where we place copy above the product grid.
Bonus tip: Set different titles and descriptions for Google, Facebook and Twitter. Each one has different character counts, and more important, different user intent when finding your company. Speak to the needs of the person by platform.
Redo All Main Site URLs
I’m still shocked I made this recommendation, but we decided to redo all URLs, and for the most part we did not set 301 redirects.
The site had been so poorly managed that it didn’t make sense to keep anything. It also meant losing backlinks from major media outlets, associations, .gov websites and industry journals. It was a hard thing to do, but it was needed.
We came up with three core URL structures that makes sense to a consumer on the website. This includes the wording being used in the folders and the length of the URLs so they didn’t end up crazy long and with random words and letters. We also decided that we would not use a trailing slash because I’m old-skool and still think that a “/” at the end means that the URL is incomplete to a search engine spider, and I don’t want that spider to think there is something that should appear after the trailing slash.
We also decided not to set redirects from the old URLs to the new URLs because of the bad links the previous SEO agency built, and because of the quality of the previous pages. The old agency butchered what was good content at one point, and we did not want to pass the history of the pages that got removed from Google to the new ones where we are now providing a good user experience.
This is the first time in the 20+/- years I’ve been doing this I did not do redirects. I’m still in shock, but something told me it is the right thing to do for this specific situation, and it was/is.
Write New Copy for All Pages
Now that we have the URL structure and plan in place, we have to fill the pages with good copy.
This is still in progress, but each time the new copy gets indexed, Google and other search engine traffic climbs.
Copy for a services company includes:
- Title tags
- Meta descriptions (because searchers will see this)
- Body copy
- H1, H2, and H3 tags
- Form fields having titles, etc…
- Images having alt and title tags as well as descriptions
Now that we have copy, we need to help Google understand the new pages and relearn what the company does.
Because we do not recommend deploying schema until the copy is live, we are doing this in batches of 10 pages. Other firms will say start deploying and then fill in the blanks, which is fine for them, but that is them and this is the way we do it. It doesn’t mean we’re right or they’re wrong.
Create a Content Strategy
With a B2B or SaaS service company, there is only so much you can justify with modifiers and variants for new service pages. So instead of building pages for each variation of the company’s services, we created a content strategy that answers consumer questions as the customers begin their shopping process.
This includes copy to build trust and brand recognition as the potential lead begins:
- To research keywords and questions about the products, tools and services.
- Looking up how to tell if a company is legit or a scam.
- Learning about negatives, positives, and horror stories to build the client as a trusted resource and subject matter expert.
- Feeling burn out so we supply them with fun quizzes and infographics that are relevant to the customer at this stage or cycle in their life and keep the upbeat.
- The added bonus here is that we’re in front of the leads and keeping them happy/entertained while educating them. It further builds trust and confidence.
- Needing informative guides to help the consumer make a decision whether or not they should use the client.
This is ongoing and because there are limits on how much quality content we can create and publish at once. Scaling content is not always smart, especially if there is only so much you can say about a topic. More content does not mean more traffic and more customers.
The client is once again showing up for branded search and getting leads from non-branded search. We can also share these terms with the PPC and media team to help them expand their keyword lists and targets. Both of these teams also now have new landing pages that are more relevant to send their traffic to as an added win. The team is once again working together and the client is growing.
Choosing the wrong SEO agency can cost you everything. The good news is that finding the right one can help you recover, as long as you trust your consultant or employee. I had already had a relationship with the company above, so when I said “I’m deleting your site” they took a deep breath and told me they trusted me and to use my best judgement.
2 thoughts on “Deleting a Site And Starting Over | YMYL | SEO Case Study”
Sounds like a HUGE job! They were lucky to get you back for sure. I see this all the time with past clients. Maybe it wasn’t a case of “budget” that had you originally part ways, but that’s what I see a lot. Clients wanting to take over things or hire for less then their traffic, and subsequently sales dip and they need to start over. I’d love to see a piece on “What’s Your Traffic Worth?” I think it would be very enlightening to businesses trying to understand why SEO is so important.
Great read. Thanks for continuing to share great insights and case studies.
Thanks Kimberly! Nope, not a budget problem. A partnership where I would have been competing against a different client they were also friends with. I just had to make a difficult decision to let one go. That’s why we all stayed friends. Now that I haven’t worked with the other company for a long time, and the partnership is over, it’s fair game and I’m back.