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How bad SEO companies can ruin your rankings [case study]

aero pets pet transport overseas

Aero Pets new website after our redesign

Monique Johnston from Aero Pets Pet Transport called us with real concerns about her website. Her pet transport business was in trouble. She had used two different SEO companies in the UK and had run into problems with both of them. Business had declined so much that she was not sure if she could continue to operate.

A year prior to being contacted by the offshore SEO companies, business was great at Aero Pets and Monique loved her work. The  original website (that had been built by her Uncle) was functioning well, and although it was basic and the technology was out-dated, it’s Google rank was still quite good and it generated several new customer enquiries a day. When Monique called us, she was getting one a day if she was lucky and her website rankings were in the toilet!  You can read a testimonial from Monique at the end of this article.
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A tale of two SEO companies

The first SEO company that Monique used had cold-called her from the UK. We don’t hear about this as much now as we did a couple of years ago, but for a while in 2012-2013, SEO companies were heavily into telemarketing New Zealand businesses and putting on the pressure to sign SEO contracts to improve their website rankings.

After a few months, results didn’t seem to be that great, so Monique moved the SEO work to another UK company who had been calling her.

The second company suggested that she should rebuilt her old website. In itself, this was good advice as the old website needed to be redesigned to be mobile-friendly. However, they did such a poor job of redesigning the website her Uncle designed that her rankings began to drop. They had paid no attention at all to all the things that made her “home-made” old website rank well. It was as if they knew nothing about SEO at all!

Another thing the second SEO company did was recommend using Google AdWords to improve Monique’s number of enquiries. Again, a good suggestion! However, like the website redesign, it was so badly set up that Monique was paying for clicks on her adverts that were completely useless. They had included thousands of keywords that were not relevant and even some that were the opposite of what Aero Pets actually do. FYI – Aero Pets export pets from NZ to other countries. Some of the adverts they set up were advertising her services to import pets to NZ from overseas!

All in all, Monique’s Aero Pets website redesign, SEO and online marketing were a spectacular mess.

What we did next…

When we came to try and discover what the two SEO companies had done so wrong to cause her ranks to drop, we had some real problems getting some information to work with. Normally, we have access to the hosting server’s stats, Google Analytics or Google Webmaster Tools but this time, we had none of those. The first SEO company had been sending Aero Pets a monthly Google Analytics report on her website visits when they were doing work for them, so we knew that there was an account set up. It was also still installed in the website the second SEO company built. However, despite repeated requests to them, we never got any access to the account or even a reply from either company. By this point, the second SEO company’s website was even offline! Things were not looking good.

Because business had virtually dried up for Monique and we had little information to go on, we decided to do what I can only call an emergency intervention. We had no access to anything, including her website files, so we redirected her domain name to our server and reloaded her old website while we built her a new one. You might think that putting her Uncle’s old design back online would help in a recovery but it didn’t. The other work the UK SEO company did was so destructive that changing the website alone would not be enough.

Preparing an SEO Audit for Aero Pets

We immediately installed Google Analytics and set up Google Webmaster Tools so that we could start collecting some information about Monique’s website. It normally takes a couple of days for Google to provide much detail in WMT so while we were waiting, we audited both the old and the more recent website to see what problems there were. We also ran link audits on the website to try and find out what the previous SEO companies had done. It was pretty horrendous.  There were thousands of backlinks using identical keywords from duplicated directories and article farms that were all hosted by the previous SEO on re-registered, expired domains. If that didn’t mean anything to you, I’m saying that they cheated so badly, it was only a matter of time before Google found out and slammed the Aero Pets website.

Google Penguin Algorithm 3.0

The Penguins… they laugh!

In the worst kind of bad timing, we were just getting the Aero Pets audit together when Google Penguin 2.1 hit in early October 2013. “Penguin” is a Google algorithm that penalises websites who have violated Google’s webmaster guidelines by artificially building links to increase website rank. The multiple duplicated directories the previous SEO company had built were exactly the kind of dodgy link-building that Penguin was designed to penalise and so Aero Pets was now thoroughly discredited and ranked for nothing more than their own company name. From what we discovered through our SEO auditing, Aero Pets had been hit badly by a number of different algorithms, including Penguin 2.0 in May 2013. Just about everything that could be done wrong had been done wrong! The link profile alone was so bad that they were lucky to stay on Google at all.

How did we fix the SEO companies work?

In the process of redesigning the site, we restructured the content and improved the copywriting on the pages as well. Much of what was on there was either difficult to understand or irrelevant and badly targeted. Within a couple of weeks, we had the core of a redesigned website online. This was an emergency after all! We had fixed all of the poor on-site SEO work and improved the layout and usability of the website overall. We also set to work preparing to add new content over the next 6 months. We needed to try and prove to Google that the new website was worth ranking higher.

The worst thing the previous UK SEO company had done was the way they built links back to the Aero Pets website. Unfortunately, the way the Penguin algorithm works means that the penalty would only be reviewed when Penguin is next updated. Based on previous Penguin updates since it was originally unleashed in 2012, this meant that we had 4-6 months to clean things up before Penguin was updated again. Little did we know that it would be over a year before Penguin 3.0 came out! If we had known this, we would have redesigned the website on a new domain name and started from scratch. Hindsight is 20/20!

Once we had found as many of the bad links as possible, we compiled a list of domains that we needed to remove. Google offers a tool to “disavow” links you don’t want to be counted toward your website rank but prefer the webmaster to request the links be removed first. We did try to request removal of the bad links from the duplicated directories the UK SEO company created, but like the requests for access to the website, the requests were ignored. There were also many links from article farms and despite emailing a few times, there was no response from them either. We decided to disavow the entire domains rather than the individual URLs as there were just too many variations of them on any one domain and the whole website on most domains was rubbish anyway.

When SEO goes bad, Google AdWords saves the day!

When we started to work with Aero Pets, nothing we could do to fix the SEO problems was going to help Monique get more enquiries and keep her business afloat in the short term. The penalty from Penguin was going to hold her rankings down for at least the next few months. If your website rankings have dropped, there may not be any quick fixes, so find someone to help with your ranking problems who will look at how to help with lack of customers as well as the Google issues. Otherwise, you could go broke before your ranks recover.

The only way that we could help Monique immediately was to create a new Google AdWords campaign that worked. Now that Aero Pets had a decent website, we created multiple campaigns to target the various aspects of her business to try and get the phone ringing. It certainly helped, because after we launched the ads, Monique called us the next day to say that she had picked up two new customers already! For the next year, Google AdWords was how we kept Aero Pets viable as a business. Gradually improving our campaigns, we got Aero Pets ads ranking highly and returned the level of daily customer enquiries back to where they were before the SEO companies messed everything up.

What happened in the end?

Because of the Google Penguin penalty, Aero Pets were not ranking above page 9 for any of the keywords that they were targeting and most of them were not ranking at all. We did create some more genuine links to assist Aero Pets to improve their rankings but the Penguin penalty was a strong one and it was just a waiting game. After six months went by, we started to wonder when Penguin would be refreshed. It had never taken longer than that before, so we were hopeful of an update soon. As time went by, the SEO forums were full of complaints about how long the Penguin update was taking and articles were being written speculating when the next update was coming. Frustratingly, other new Google algorithms started appearing and existing algorithms like Panda were updated but there was no sign of a Penguin refresh. Finally, at the time of writing, Penguin 3.0 was released and ranks for target keywords have shot up. It’s not really the end yet,  as ranks are still settling down but at the time of writing Aero Pets now have several target keywords that have climbed over 80 places on Google in the last couple of days.

Should you be wary of using foreign SEO companies?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that all overseas SEO companies are dodgy. Far from it! There are some excellent companies out there that do some amazing work. However, they’re probably not the ones who are telemarketing half way around the world for new business! Having said that, one of the advantages of working with an SEO company in your own town or even your own country is that they are bound by the same laws you are. If something goes wrong, you can walk into their office or even take them to court if necessary.

 

Monique from Aero Pets Pet Transport

Monique from Aero Pets

Energise Web Saved My Business

I cannot thank Dave from Energise enough. He not only stopped Aero Pets from going under but has helped it grow bigger than ever before.

I used to handle my own advertising and my business ticked along quite nicely, I was contacted by a company from the UK who said they would do a bit of SEO work driving a lot more traffic to my site. I thought it couldn’t hurt to try but how wrong I was! They made a real mess of my site and got massive penalties imposed by Google.

When I called Dave I was virtually in tears, but he quickly assured me there were some very basic strategies that we could start with so that I would see some immediate improvement and over time it has just continued to grow.

His prices are extremely reasonable, he is always available to answer questions and he has been professional, friendly and a real life saver. I will continue to work with Energise permanently.

HIGHLY recommended, and thank you Dave so much!

Monique Johnstone (Director)
Aero Pets NZ Ltd

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