Blow Up Everything in Three Weeks!

October 3, 2018

I received an email from a former client about a month ago. The gist of it was, "We've not had an order from our website in three weeks. Could you maybe take a look?"

Three years ago I had built an e-commerce website for them. It was their first site upgrade in about 10 years. Their original site wasn't much to look at, but the fellow who built it knew his SEO, and the site's traffic and rankings were very good. So, when I replaced it I followed the existing structure and content patterns carefully, and just made visual and functional changes. The new site was done in 9 weeks, launched without a hitch and worked well: the client saw a 30% yearly increase in traffic to his site and his google rankings went up.

About a year ago, the client hired a new sales manager, who decided he wanted to change everything, including the website. And to save money, they decided to use an overseas developer/designer who charges a lot less than I do. The overseas developer promptly took over the existing site, sent me a stern, misspelled letter about how he was in charge... and then didn't bother to deactivate my account or any of the monitoring plugins I had installed. And for many months I received notifications from my old site that basically nothing was happening. No software updates, no security checks, nothing.

When things got really bad on the site, such as Woo-Commerce being two releases behind, or absolutely nothing being done to make the site compliant with GDPR (40% of their visitors are from EU countries) I would notify my former client, who would respond by asking me to fix it (and paying me). There was no sign of the new developer from overseas. It was odd.

In May, former client fired the new sales manager: the former (new) sales manager hadn't done anything to improve sales. The new website still wasn't finished. Seven months had passed...

In mid-August I stopped getting notifications from the monitoring plugins, popped onto the internet and lo and behold, the new site was finally up and running. And it looks fine... seemed a bit slow, but whatever. Not my problem anymore.

Three weeks after the launch, the former client sent me the email described at the beginning of this post... so I commenced an investigation.

Google Analytics (I still had access to their Analytics account) revealed a 70% drop off on all web traffic. Yikes! Checking their search engine rankings, I found they were drastically down across the board  - literally nothing in the top ten, and most pages ranking in the 50's or simply gone. In three weeks they had lost 13 years of positioning. It was an utter disaster.

To the new developer's credit, he built a nicely coded site, but that's about all I can say to his credit. The list of issues was long, so I'll briefly touch on the big ones.

For starters, the site I built was secure, with an SSL certificate, forcing https, all off-site assets loaded from secure sources, etc. The new site ignored all of this. Not only did a red "Insecure Site" warning come up on browsers (bet that makes visitors want to stop and browse, huh?), links weren't even properly redirected. Https on your site improves its SEO, not having it obviously hinders, but having entries on Google that are linked to an https site that is no longer there and won't resolve to the http version because the redirects don't allow it is really really bad. A mess.

Most developers set up a test site to work out the kinks before the taking a new site live, and the fellow from overseas did this as well. In fact, he had two development sites. Development sites are usually cloaked from search engines... When he launched, he left links to the development sites in the live site code. Imagine three visually identical sites all interlinked to each other, one of which has full functionality, the other two not so much, and depending on what  links you followed, you could wind up on a site that is cloaked from search engines with an entirely different URL, and you wouldn't even know it unless you knew what to look for. And Google can't index 80% of what is there. Think of a hotel with doors that lead to identical hotels in different countries, some of which might be under construction or without roads leading to them. Total mess.

WordPress isn't a particularly fast platform, and Woo Commerce isn't a particularly fast E-commerce solution. However, a site built on the two still shouldn't load in 10 seconds... unless the developer doesn't bother to compress or correctly size images, or uses so many plugins that the site has 14 stylesheets and 24 javascript files to load, none of which are cached. A mess. A total mess.

I fixed the URL and security issues in a few hours. The site speed situation took a lot more time and experimentation, but by combining some code changes and a few server tweaks I got the site to load in 1.5 seconds, which is actually amazing considering the starting point.

The former client is now a current client. The former (new) developer is persona non-grata.

A week after I fixed most of the issues the first web order in a month came in. Traffic rose up 60% - it has a ways to go but that is a pretty good recovery. Rankings are rising as well, albeit VERY slowly and it will be a few months before we get any indication that we might get rankings back to where they were. Fingers crossed!

So, what is the take away here? If your website is to all intents and purposes your only source of new customers then DO NOT CHEAP OUT BY GOING OVERSEAS. Don't cheap out in general, but most definitely don't off-shore your most important marketing and sales asset to some guy who doesn't understand knock-knock jokes.

There's more to a site then how it looks, or even how well it is coded. A good developer takes time to understand how your business operates, and evaluates your existing web assets and builds upon what is working with an aim towards improving things, not replacing things. A good site is planned out from the start to run as fast as possible, to be as search engine friendly as possible - the whole thing should be built with those two factors foremost in mind. A good launch is careful and methodical, with lots of testing, checking and proofing. And good support is within a time zone or two, natively speaks your language, and is pro-active about your website. You should never contact your support and start off with, "We've not seen an order in three weeks. What's up?"

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