Free: Assessment Does your website build trust with buyers and bring in revenue?

Score My Website

Free: Assessment

Does your website build trust with buyers and bring in revenue?
Take this free 6 question assessment and learn how your website can start living up to its potential.
Score My Website
Search Engine Optimization

Ignoring SEO basics can kill your website traffic by 94%

Franco Valentino

By Franco Valentino

Oct 22, 2019

Ignoring SEO basics can kill your website traffic by 94%

When a website launch went horribly wrong

Picture it. It's September 2016.

The somber glow of the screen share multiplied the anguish brewing in the pit of our stomachs.  

“This can’t be happening...”

We were staring at a Google Analytics “Audience” report that looked like a cliff to nowhere.

A staggering 94% of the website’s traffic was gone.

Flashback to April 2016

The CEO of this 40-year-old industrial manufacturing company — let’s call him Neil — asked us to prepare a technical SEO audit for a re-branding project that included migrating his domain from WordPress to HubSpotCOS.  

Neil had recently read about content marketing and the successes other manufacturers were enjoying after implementing an inbound program.  

He studied how it could improve his sales and marketing results, and became convinced that it was the right thing to do for the ongoing success of his firm.

Setting off on his quest, Neil hired an agency with good design skills and a decent track record of building websites.

We sent them the technical SEO audit we prepared, and they started building his new website and landing pages.

Six months later, in September, they flipped the DNS switch on the migration.

Within 72 hours of going live, the leads and phone calls stopped.  

It wasn't a holiday weekend or a hacker that deleted the content. The site had solid domain authority, 3,200 keywords attached to it, and a strong backlink profile from relevant industry sites.

So, why did the traffic grind to a halt?

3 SEO basics strikes and you're out

When drastic changes happen to a website’s traffic, most search engine optimizers (SEOs) start with a low-level audit.

You’d be surprised how many of the smartest, most creative, technical minds, overlook the basics of SEO and end up shooting themselves in the foot because of it.

Advanced SEO techniques and the latest news about Google algorithm changes are important, but when you crack open the hood on a website, making sure the 101 level stuff (like “Is the ‘power cord plugged in?” Just kidding.) can be surprisingly effective.  

Thankfully, in Neil's case, we had a roadmap to follow. The comprehensive checklist built into the SEO report we created revealed the answer.  

🔎 Related: How much do technical SEO services cost?

You know the disappointment you feel when your drop your double-scoop waffle cone of rocky road on the floor?  Yeah...that’s exactly how we felt when we cracked open the report.

Item 1 instructed the agency to: Add 301 redirects from the old domain pages to the correct path on the new site.”

Strike #1.

Item 2 in the report said, “Re-submit sitemap.xml via Google Search console after the redirects are in place.”

Strike #2.

Item 3 said, “Force ssl (https) on all site pages for the new domain”  

Strike #3. Game over.

None of the meticulously prepared and super basic steps were implemented. Not one.

Turning the website traffic tide with SEO fixes

When NASA was tasked with landing a man on the moon (while still breathing), the first thing they did was prove they could hit the Moon.  

The fundamental laws of technical SEO follow the same pattern. If we want to prove we can top a Google’s SERP, we need to make sure we can at least get listed.

Question #1 here is  “Are we absolutely sure Google can spider & index my site?”

In Neil’s case, the answer was no.

The very first item in the report, 301 redirects, were never added and ruined Google’s ability to send traffic from search to the new pages.  

Fueling the traffic death spiral was the omitted sitemap.xml file -- or the lack of a newly-created file which would have instructed Google on how to absorb the new website pages.

Ignoring two astonishingly simple SEO tasks, redirects, and sitemap files, nearly caused the collapse of a 40-year-old business. Add in a missing SSL certification and we had a recipe for a complete Google debacle.   

These sparks that killed the traffic could have been avoided with just two days worth of work.

There were other issues contributing to the decline, but within about 45 days, the traffic levels were back to normal thanks to three things.

The 4 most important SEO pillars

The moral of this story is it literally pays to review weaknesses in your technical foundation, and solidify those pillars to deliver a consistent user experience to site visitors.  

🔎 Related: Is SEO dead?

When you look at it through the lens of delivering a great web experience, it makes sense that  Google would reward or punish a site based on the ability to get the user to the answer they’re looking for with the least amount of resistance.

However, the diminishing law of returns applies here.  With hundreds of technical bits and pieces to analyze, overwhelm is a constant battle.  

How then do we laser focus on the things that matter most? What are they?

SEO basics you need to master:

  1. Security (SSL/TLS)
  2. Site Speed
  3. Crawlability
  4. Broken links and 404s


That green lock icon in the browser matters more than ever.  

At the end of 2017, Google started marking sites as non-secure if the information exchanged between the server and the user's browser wasn’t encrypted.

If your site isn’t secure, not only will Google penalize you by lowering your rank, but users may feel unsafe visiting or submitting forms on your website.

Securing your site with an SSL certificate has never been easier or less expensive. Just do it.

🔎 Related: Everything you need to know about SSL certificates for your website

Site speed:

You may have heard this statistic before: For every second of additional load time, a site loses 7% of its conversion.

When people are on Google, they’re expecting quick answers (especially on mobile) and if you can provide them, you’ll be rewarded handsomely.

Recognizing this, in April of 2018, Google rolled out mobile-first indexing for keywords and, in July 2018, they're making mobile site speed a ranking factor.

Don’t neglect it!

🔎 Related: 5 ways to immediately improve your page load time


Google’s spider weaves its way through your website using the links it finds on every page. You can help the spider do its job by giving it a roadmap (aka your sitemap) to follow.

If your site has pages you don’t want Google to list, like login pages or internal documents, you can tell it to avoid those folders or file types as well.

The two files that give you this superpower to control Google are:

  • Sitemap.xml file
  • Robots.txt file

Broken links:

Now, let’s pretend that the spider is happily weaving its way through the sitemap connecting your pages. If it finds a broken link on its journey, it saves that error and marks it as a “404 page not found."

If you have too many 404s, Google can devalue your site, and decrease the amount of traffic it sends your way.  

The fix for 404s is redirecting the links that point to those "page(s) not found" to other live pages on your site.

Google search console provides an error report that lists these pages for you.

Review these three pillars of SEO, and gain confidence that your site is insulated from the traffic gremlins that plague other marketers.

Free: Assessment

Does your website build trust with buyers and bring in revenue?
Take this free 6 question assessment and learn how your website can start living up to its potential.

Related Articles

Content Marketing and AI-Powered Generative Search

September 20, 2023
Vin Gaeta Vin Gaeta

9 SEO Best Practices for Stronger Organic Traffic in 2023

November 18, 2022
Kimberly Marshall Kimberly Marshall

Video SEO: How To Optimize Videos To Drive Traffic to Your Website

May 9, 2022
Kevin Church Kevin Church

37 Eye-opening SEO Statistics To Nail Your 2022 Search Strategy

April 28, 2022
Ramona Sukhraj Ramona Sukhraj

10 Reasons Why Your Website Is Not Ranking In Google

February 10, 2022
Jolie Higazi Jolie Higazi

Google Shares New Tools to Audit Website User Experience

August 12, 2021
Paul D. Grant Paul D. Grant

Google: Website Content Quality More Important Than Quantity

August 10, 2021
Paul D. Grant Paul D. Grant

How Long Tail Keyword Research Can Drive Business

August 9, 2021
Kevin Church Kevin Church

How to Optimize Videos On Your Business Website for Search

July 23, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Google: 'Here's how to prepare for the future private web'

July 16, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Too many internal links in content can confuse Google about site structure

July 9, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Google July 2021 core update rolling out over next 2 weeks

July 2, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Inbound Marketing Help: My Traffic And Leads Are Down. What Can I Do?

June 28, 2021
John Becker John Becker

Finally, Google page experience core update is rolling out

June 18, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

What is a Featured Snippet? [Definition + Examples]

June 10, 2021
Kevin Church Kevin Church

Google June 2021 core update live, July core update coming

June 4, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Google's June page experience core update will be mobile first, then desktop

May 21, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Google confirms demise of Q&A search feature, Question Hub lives on

April 26, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Big Google algorithm update moved to June with new performance report

April 21, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

No, changing page publish dates won't increase Google search rankings

April 10, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Google: 'zero-click search' claims and data 'misleading'

April 5, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

3 quick SEO fixes that will increase your website rankings right away

March 30, 2021
Hannah Woods Hannah Woods

10 Google Analytics metrics you absolutely must track (updated)

March 29, 2021
Magdalena Day Magdalena Day

Meet the new Google My Business review management view

March 20, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Google Ads help: Top 10 reasons your Google Ads campaigns are failing

March 10, 2021
Jason Linde Jason Linde