Technical SEO

13 Ways to Kill Organic Search Traffic

Skill and effort influence organic search success. But any number of actions can harm search engine optimization efforts. In this post, I’ll describe 13 SEO blunders that I’ve seen over the years. Avoid these to ensure steady improvements in organic search traffic.

How to Kill Organic Search Traffic

Delaying a redesign to peak season. Delays are common in site migrations and redesigns. Management puts enormous pressure on teams to release the new sites as soon as possible, typically in advance of a major event or selling season. When launch dates encroach on peak selling seasons, however, the result is invariably a decrease in organic search performance precisely when you’re relying on it most.

Avoid these to ensure steady improvements in organic search traffic.

Launching a release without removing the robots.txt disallow. Commonly used to ensure that staging and development sites don’t get indexed, robots.txt disallows occasionally go live accidentally with a new site launch. The result is a complete removal of all pages from Google’s index and the elimination of all organic search traffic.

Waiting for mobile-first indexing to update your site. Dedicated mobile sites are trickier to optimize than responsive ones. But with Google’s mobile-first index update implementing now around the globe, a mobile web presence is more important than ever. Pay special attention to sites (for example,, and mobile experiences that host only a portion of the desktop experience.

Killing valuable SEO content for immediate sales. SEO drives top-of-the-funnel traffic, which typically converts at a lower rate than transactional traffic. However, judging content purely on its ability to generate immediate sales is a mistake. In a multi-attribution model, you’d be able to see that that organic-search visits to informational content on your site eventually contributes to closing more sales or collecting more leads.

Launching new URLs without 301 redirects. Everything search engines know about your content is tied to the individual URLs. Link authority, relevance, trust, history — it’s all tied to an individual URL for each page of content. Changing that URL removes search engines’ ability to associate those performance-determining attributes, unless you implement 301 redirects to tie the old URL to the new one. And an added benefit is the redirects will also ensure that your visitors can find the content they seek.

Switching to HTTPS without verifying on Google Search Console. Every domain, subdomain and protocol must to be registered separately on Google Search Console to track performance data you can’t get in any other tool. Migration to the HTTPS protocol should be tracked closely in Search Console, where you’ll also receive any messages from Google regarding its ability to crawl and index your site.

Turning off the auto-tagging setting in Google AdWords. Primarily a paid search concern, auto-tagging in AdWords is also critical to SEO. If this simple feature is disabled, all traffic from AdWords shows up as organic in web analytics, rendering performance tracking for each impossible. The data from the affected period can never be recovered.

Finding that a product recall is dominating branded search results. Somewhere down the line, a bad business decision caused this issue, and now personnel from SEO, social media, and public relations have to clean it up. To displace the negative results, publish fresh, branded content that provides a more balanced view of the issue and what your business is doing to help.

Using A/B testing as a substitute for optimizing your home page. Testing platforms offer alternate content on a URL to a subset of users. When these tools are used to deliver an alternate experience to 100 percent of your customers 100 percent of the time, it meets Google’s definition of cloaking, which violates webmaster guidelines and is subject to penalties.

Assuming that organic search performance is free. SEO is far from free. The costs, however, are sometimes hidden. SEO takes effort and expertise from internal staff or outside agencies. Implementing SEO recommendations typically requires assistance from personnel in web development, graphic design, creative, user interface, strategy, and more.

Buying a burned domain. There is no “reset” button for a domain, according to Google. When you’re buying a domain for your site, pay close attention to the domain’s history to determine whether it has published spammy content. Unscrupulous people will spam, burn, and sell domains cyclically as part of an ultra-aggressive SEO strategy. Over time, with great content and fresh, clean backlinks coming in, a domain can recover. But do you really want your business to be the one to nurse that domain back to SEO health?

Tying an advertising campaign to a microsite. They’re (potentially) fun and memorable, but microsites are costly to organic search. Any new site or domain that competes with the primary domain on which your company bases its livelihood is cannibalizing the resources, link authority, and mentions that could be attributed to boosting your primary site’s performance.

Forgetting that user experience affects SEO. Google promotes the importance of customer experience. That can prompt SEOs to forget that UX does more than produce happy customers. It also impacts SEO efforts. SEO-friendly architecture — optimized taxonomy, navigation, templates — improves contextual relevance and the flow of link authority throughout the site. These two aspects are the foundations of every major search engine algorithm. Happy shoppers may buy more when they’re on the site, but to get them to the site in the first place you need relevance and authority. Thus focusing on user experience alone doesn’t cut it. There has to be a marriage of UX and foundational SEO to drive revenue.

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
Bio   •   RSS Feed