SEO on an Ecommerce site and an Unexpected Twist

 This case has a few twists and turns in it as it incorporates some good SEO work with a little detective work.  The website is an ecommerce site for cooking products.  A couple of years ago, the site was rebuild in a new platform;  It went from an ASP language site to PHP.  The site looked great, but his revamp destroyed all of its previous ranking. This brings us to the first issue.   The site at one time had some search engine prominence and even some linking, but the web development company changed the programming language which essentially changed all the urls from dot asp to dot php.  From a search engine standpoint, all the pages that were changed no longer existed.  So rankings initially dropped through the floor and the site lost a lot of its back links because no redirects were made.

After several months some of the rankings started to recover, but the sites traffic was down significantly from where it had been and his business was suffering.
The client initially only wanted to do SEO for a few months and wanted to know what could be done in four to six months.   I was very adamant with the client that getting results in just a few months can be tricky and that there are no guarantees that what we do will get immediate results. Sometimes it takes several months of link building to even get near the first page on some competitive search terms.   I developed a strategy that I thought would be the best for this situation.  The basic approach was to find search terms that the site was already ranking in at least in the top 30, then try to push them higher.

I felt it would be quicker to find search terms that he ranked on the second page on and try to push them to the first page rather than “start from no ranking”.  Because I had a very limited time, I wanted to make sure that I could find some terms that I could improve the ranking quickly.

 I identified 5 search terms that the site was ranking on the second or top of third page.   I also identified a term  that he was ranked number 5 in and I thought that just pushing that up a couple of notches could dramatically increase his traffic.  With some content rewriting, and some focused link building we were able to push all these terms the first page or top of the second.  In fact the results came very fast.


Search Term Monthly Search Volume  Initial Ranking  Ranking after 8 weeks
Term 1  40000  1
Term 2  6600  45  16
Term 3 2900   22  8
Term 4  1600  12  6
Term 5  880  15  9
Term 6  720  16  7


After a few weeks, we saw some significant improvement in the rankings as well as strong increases in organic traffic.  However we noticed during one of our monthly reviews that the traffic had suddenly decreased.
Sometimes when we first start SEO work, results are erratic for the first few months as the search engines are “digesting” some of the changes that it is seeing.  It is not uncommon for a new site to go from no ranking to first page ranking, back to no ranking then settle on something in between.   I initially was thinking that this might be the case when I first saw the drop; however the “rankings” on the high volume terms did not drop, at least not initially.   In fact the ranking on the highest volume search term stayed number one, even though traffic from this search term dropped by 90%.  This is when we decided that something was wrong with the site.
We investigated several suspected problems and to make a long story short, we found that someone had hacked into the site and put some encrypted redirect code on about 40 of the pages.   The code was pretty clever because it only did the redirect on the first visit and apparently only from a search listing.  On your second visit, you would be directed to the correct page.  This kept the problem from immediate discovery as anyone who routinely visited the site like the webmaster, the search engine optimization specialist, the admin or owner would not see the redirect because it only worked on new visitors.  But for about 6 weeks, a significant volume of organic traffic was being “siphoned”.

Once we removed the encrypted code the traffic levels immediately started to return and within a couple of weeks the traffic appeared back on track. 

Once the traffic started to return, I was still concerned about the rankings, after all if the visitor was being redirected, what was the search engine seeing?  I was able to find the answer by going to the Google webmaster tools and use a beta tool where you could view the source code of what was in Google’s cache.   The answer was painful, what was in the cache was not the website, but another page that was yet different than what visitors were being redirected to.  Obviously this would have to eventually affect the rankings and in fact it did on several terms.

Thankfully, however, once the encrypted code was removed, the rankings quickly returned to previous levels and eventually improved further.



Below is the graphic summary of this project

Lessons learned:  This case study had a lot good learning points for webmasters and SEO specialists.

  1. Pay attention to site security – in this case a previous “disgruntled” webmaster was the villain and the site owner never changed ftp access, but all too often I see site owners with very easy to guess password and logins.  Passwords should be changed frequently.  Limit the access to your site.
  2. Monitor traffic – If you use Google analytics you can actually create “alerts” that auto generate emails when certain conditions occur.  Sudden changes in traffic patterns should be investigated, both from a problem resolution standpoint and an opportunity standpoint.
  3. The most important part of a good SEO effort is a good strategy.  A good strategy takes into account all the conditions, the competition, the company’s business situation, the keyword research data and creates tactics that have the best chance of success.
  4. When upgrading a site, changing the page urls needs to be carefully thought out with appropriate redirects in place, or you can experience a significant drop in organic traffic.
    Did we ever find out who hacked into the site?  We strongly suspected that the previous web developer may have been the culprit.  The site owner and this developer parted ways and the developer was bitter.  The site owner never changed the ftp access information.
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