Ten years ago I had an epic SEO fail. I’m not referring to a little mistake that I was embarrassed to discuss. I mean a full on epic failure that should have cost me my job and reputation.
Today I was reminded of this colossal mistake while I was sitting in church. Pastor Chris’s sermon was on managing failure. He began his message by discussing his epic failure and in turn he asked the congregation how many of us remember our epic failure.
My mind immediately went back ten years to the day I made the biggest business mistake of my life. It was a day I won’t forget. I’d like to, but I won’t because it gave me a valuable SEO lesson I’ve carried forward with me.
In the early 2000s I was teaching myself SEO. I was head of marketing for a enterprise software company and our company desperately needed to improve our search engine ranking. We couldn’t afford pay per click advertising nor could we allocate money towards an outside SEO consultant.
I knew SEO was of value and I could see it was the future of internet marketing, so I made a plan to teach myself SEO.
There were not a lot of places to learn SEO back then. I don’t recall any books, onsite classes, remote learning courses, or even tutorials. I remember finding some good blogs and forums where I could learn the basics, so this is what I used.
I spent many days and nights crafting my skill by applying what I had learned about SEO to our website. I’d try something, make note of my actions, and then measure the results. I’d learn something new, then apply it to my existing arsenal of SEO tactics. This went on for months and months. And I was making progress.
I learned a lot back then. So much so, that I was starting to outrank my larger competitors. I was thrilled that I was finally seeing results for my 60 hour work weeks.
And then I got cocky and that is when everything around me feel apart.
I started doing things that I read would improve ranking quicker, drive more traffic, and outsmart the competition. I tried them. Not a lot, but some. It didn’t take much to see the errors in my ways.
The result was disaster. I was removed from Google. Well not me, but my company website. The entire thing.
Back then there were not manual penalties and warning notice like there are today. If Google caught you cheating the system they simply removed you. Entirely. The home page, every interior page, and anything else on your domain.
I went from being the queen of SEO to almost getting fired.
I am surprised I was not fired. After all, I had just derailed our internet marketing efforts and I killed our primary lead source. I tanked our sales and man did I feel horrible.
Thankfully my boss had compassion for me and my family. He knew I made a mistake. Granted it was an epic SEO failure, but this came in an effort to do good for the business. I had no formal training and for all respects I was winging it.
In all honesty, I could not even pinpoint what I had done that forced the removal by Google. I knew there were a few things I had tried, but I wasn’t sure which one got me busted.
I went through the formal process of contacting Google and I explained the situation. I simply said I was a marketer who was trying to learn SEO and I had clearly made some mistakes. I said wasn’t exactly sure what was the issue, but I explained that I had removed anything I thought might be an issue and I pledge to do better moving forward. I explained my intentions were good, but I had clearly been led astray by a blog post or forum comment that was less than trustworthy.
Google removed my penalty and put my URL back into the index. But this took time and honestly it was a lot more time then the company could afford.
While we waited for my pleading with Google to work, we created a new URL and I began building up that website with organic SEO. Page by page and one keyword at a time. It was painful and a lot of work. But eventually we rebounded to page one and I once again was the queen of SEO.
This time around the queen was not so cocky. I played by the rules and I’ve tried to do so every day since.
I follow SEO best practices and I never ever even consider anything blank hat.
Since my SEO fiasco a decade ago I’ve made sure I did the right thing and not the easy thing. And guess what? My SEO is better for it and so are my clients.
As I sat in church today I remembered the feeling I had the day Google removed us from the index. I remembered the remorse I had for trying things that were grey hat practices. And I was thankful for this experience because it taught me the value of best practices.
SEO is a different world today. Today’s marketer has it a lot better off then I did, because there is a lot of quality education available.
Say what you want about Google and Bing, but they do try and help you do the right thing. They publish SEO best practices and they try and educate webmasters so they don’t have the same SEO failures that I stumbled into a decade ago.
You might be asking yourself how you can avoid the epic failure I encountered. I can give you one simple way that I’ve used for over a decade.
To protect yourself from stumbling into your own epic SEO fail, simply ask yourself one question:
Does “it” provide a positive experience for the website visitor from the time they search for a keyword through the time they visit your website and read or watch your content?
I don’t care what “it” is. It can be virtually anything you do online. The question and answer still apply.
If you can honestly say your actions will improve the user experience, then you’re most likely doing the right thing.
If you say no or even take a second of hesitation to think, you’re doing the wrong thing and you’re headed down the path of SEO failure.
If your SEO practice at all degrades the user experience, then you should not do it. Period.
And honestly, it is as simple as that.
Google and Bing want their searchers to be happy. Happiness comes by providing solid search results that match their search terms and that link to high quality content that is both current and relevant.
Deliver a positive user experience and you will be far better off than those who go after short-term boosts to traffic.
Just say no to the promise of high traffic for little effort. SEO doesn’t work like that so it won’t produce anything that is sustainable.
And remember, SEO is a journey and not a race.
It’s a long-term investment that pays huge dividends when done properly, but it doesn’t come overnight and without some sweat equity.
The next time you read a blog post or see an ad promising you overnight success for little money and effort, remember me and my epic SEO fail. And know you’ll be headed down that same path if you decide to take the route of easy SEO.
Google offers education and transparency, but it has little tolerance for cheaters, con artists, and black hat SEO tactics.
Quick and easy traffic boosts will only work for a very short time. And after that you’ll be left with an epic SEO fail that could haunt you a decade later.