When Good Website Rankings Go Bad

Search engine optimization (SEO) is more art than science I think. I started learning about it before I even built my first website – because I knew the primary goal of the site was to get found. Only then could the primary goal of the business – to sell things – be accomplished.

For ten years that site ranked in the top 5 for at least 20 terms that we considered important. The site went through numerous design changes, but we always stayed true to what search engines supposedly consider important, i.e. text links, good meta titles, and descriptive content about the products on each page.

This spring we learned that doing the right thing doesn’t mean diddly squat if it doesn’t work. For no reason that we can determine, Google suddenly started picking up the website’s alias instead of its primary domain name.

Now, mind you, there was no duplicate site. In 2002, a magazine featuring one of the products gave the wrong URL, so we quickly bought that URL (very similar to the correct URL) and pointed it to our website.

Why, in March, Google started indexing the aliased site we don’t know. But it seems that they dumped the “real” domain name from their database and started using the aliased one. And since almost no other websites link to the aliased domain, it doesn’t have a good Popularity Ranking and, thus, those pages don’t rank well.

Visitors from Google dropped half in March as compared to the previous 3 months. They dropped almost half again in April and have stayed at 25% of what’s normal. Since the site sells high-end products, it takes a lot of visitors to generate sales.

We’ve done everything recommended by various experts to try to rectify the situation, but the end result is that Google has all the power and we have to wait until their bots crawl every page (which they’re slowly doing, finally) and our site should return to where it was in the next month or three.

The moral of the story is not that you shouldn’t have aliases for your domain. Sometimes, as in our case, there is a valid reason for a website having multiple names.

The moral is that no matter how hard you work at something, you can’t always control the outcome. And businesses should be prepared for what, in this case, turned out to be a real “business interruption.” Unfortunately, even if the company had business interruption insurance, I doubt there’s a policy that would have covered this situation. Imagine trying to prove to an insurance company that the webmaster didn’t do something to the site – however inadvertently – that caused the drop in ranking or exclusion from the database.

So, save your money for the hard times.