Recent SEO And Site Upgrade Mistakes That Have Hurt Online Store Sales

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When you follow as many blogs about making money online as I do, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype. In fact, I often wonder whether I’m doing something wrong with my online businesses because when I compare myself to some of the other more successful bloggers out there, I can rarely replicate their incredible results.

The key thing to realize is that while starting a successful online business might seem like a smooth and easy process, I can almost guarantee you that every successful entrepreneur has had their share of ups and downs.

In fact, I would be willing to bet that all of the successful entrepreneurs that you’ve read about online likely took years of hard work to get where they are today.

So to keep things in perspective and to share the good along with the bad, today’s post is going to talk about some recent mistakes and hardships with my online store that have cost us sales.

My Recent SEO Debacle

One thing I love about running an online business is that everything is in a constant state of flux. Technology and the way we shop online changes everyday so you have to keep up in order to stay ahead.

I’ve always felt that one of my core strengths is my ability to adapt to new technology so I tend to embrace change. My belief is that if I can act faster and more decisively, then I can have a leg up on the competition. And as a result, I’m always changing around my pages, adding new features, and fiddling around with my shopping cart.

Recently, I decided to add some extra graphics and tables to reinforce my unique value proposition on all of my category landing pages in order to improve the conversion rate of my online store.

My change was actually very trivial and was only meant to enhance the aesthetics of my site. But it ended up indirectly messing things up how my site appeared in search. Below is an example of one of these changes.

Unique Value Proposition

One day as I was randomly checking up on my search rankings, I noticed the following search result for one of my keywords.

bad seo example

Can you spot the error? My title tag was completely screwed up. Instead of reading “Personalized and Monogrammed Handkerchiefs”, the link read “personalized or monogrammed handkerchief!” in all lower case letters with an exclamation point.

Needless to say, the link looked unprofessional which probably had a negative effect on the click through rate. Now what was strange was that the change I made to my content had absolutely nothing to do with the title and meta tags for my site so I could not explain why Google was messing up my search results.

But upon closer examination, I discovered that the culprit had to do with a shortcut I made to my site a long time ago. Back when I first launched my shop in 2007, I wrote some code to auto-populate the meta descriptions of my site with the first 2 lines of content on the page when no meta description was explicitly specified (Note: Certain WordPress plugins do this as well).

So when I started adding graphics and tables to the top of my landing pages, I inadvertently injected HTML code into the first few lines of every page which ended up in the meta tag descriptions.

Obviously, Google didn’t know what to do with these funny meta descriptions so it ended up messing up the title tags for many of my key money pages. It’s hard to quantify the damage that was done as a result of my change but thankfully, I caught the issue before it started affecting my rankings.

My Mobile Site Debacle

Mobile web siteWhen I first developed the mobile version of my online store, I made a very difficult and conscious decision to maintain 2 completely different code bases for the desktop and mobile versions of my site.

Why did I do this? It’s because I wanted an extremely customized and mobile optimized experience for cell phone users that would have been very difficult to achieve by modifying my existing desktop site.

You can read about my entire decision making process behind the development of my mobile site here, but essentially I committed myself to maintaining the 2 sites separately while sharing a common database.

One of our goals this year was to starting shipping internationally, so when I made the appropriate changes to the desktop site to handle this new functionality, I inadvertently forgot to make similar changes to the mobile site.

In reality, that’s not exactly true. I didn’t actually forget. My intention was to first roll out international shipping to desktop users first followed by my mobile customers once all of the kinks were ironed out. But it turned out that modifying my desktop site ended up breaking my mobile site in a way that I had not considered.

It took me 3 days of not receiving any mobile orders at all (since I don’t always pay attention to mobile vs desktop) for me to realize that I had grossly screwed things up!

My Server Upgrade Debacle

server crash
This final mistake that I want to talk about was easily the worst one of them all because it involved crashing my online store website for nearly half a day. What sucks it that the reason for the crash was pure carelessness and laziness on my part.

One very ordinary day, I received an email from my web host recommending me to upgrade my apache web server installation to the latest and greatest. So I thought to myself…sure…I haven’t upgraded in a long time. I should probably do so to get the latest security patches and vulnerability fixes.

Since I practically do this every 3-4 months with my WordPress installation, I said why not and hit the “upgrade” button without even thinking about it. And that’s when all hell broke loose.

One aspect of the upgrade was that my PHP version was updated to version 5.3 from 5.2. Now you wouldn’t think that a mere “.1” would make such a huge difference but it had a tremendous impact on my shopping cart code. Yes, it broke everything.

What was particularly bad about the upgrade was that at a casual glance, everything looked to be working perfectly with my site. But if you actually tried to shop and checkout, you would receive catastrophic error messages.

It took me about 4 hours of no orders to realize that something was grossly wrong, so I immediately reverted the change. Ultimately, it ended up taking me about 3 full weeks to upgrade my shopping cart to support PHP version 5.3 and I ended up losing nearly a half day’s worth of revenue for my carelessness.

Putting Things In Perspective

Running an online business is no trivial task. So whenever you read about someone’s unbelievable success story online, make sure you consider the fact that it took a lot of hard work and pain to get there.

There is no such thing as “smooth sailing” in my book. And none of my business ventures have ever gone exactly according to plan. But to be honest, I tend to have short term memory. And if I didn’t document my screw ups online, I’d probably forget about them at some point:)

In any case, this post is my way of telling you that you shouldn’t compare yourself to what you read about online. Blog posts don’t always tell the entire story and chances are that the entrepreneur you are trying to emulate has gone through significant hardship to get where they are today.

photo credit: music2work2 boxchain

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13 thoughts on “Recent SEO And Site Upgrade Mistakes That Have Hurt Online Store Sales”

  1. Your last paragraph hits it Steve. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent playing with code or trying to figure out what went wrong. Unfortunately running a blog or a site isn’t all about the content, thought that’s important.

    1. Hey Glen,
      You know me. I spend a lot of time on coding myself:) If it was all about the content, things would be a heck of a lot easier.

  2. Wow. Thanks for telling us the good, bad and ugly here. I have had some issues, but nothing like that yet. Thanks again for keeping this blog going. You have been a huge help as I get things going with mine.

  3. This sort of takes the glitz off of running an online business but it’s very true. It’s funny how you start getting nervous when you’re normally getting a lot of orders every day and then that slows to a trickle. I guess I’m not as comfortable with change as you are Steve:)

    Last year about this time we were rolling right along. I think we ranked one or two, maybe three for a ton of keywords and then dropped like a rock. Of course it was google playing around. I hadn’t really done anything wrong, but the category links were just a little too rich in keywords. What worked one day, docked you the next. But we worked it out after a few weeks of research. And the year still ended up with good numbers.

    Such is life online.

    1. Hey Mark,

      I think the recent Google changes have been throwing everyone for a loop. In fact, there was a huge update yesterday as well. I’m going to wait until the dust settles a bit to assess what the next steps are. Fun stuff!

      1. Yes indeedy. We’ve actually been jostling around again on certain keywords for a month or so. Pretty much any sites that got above me are very strong brands or very large retailers in the niche…so they’re certainly tweaking to give the big boys a little more love, at least in our case.

        I can tell you this, after last year my traffic is quite a bit more diverse. Google organic is still pretty big but not bigger than all the other channels combined. That does allow me to sleep at night.

  4. It really would be so helpful to us newbies if more successful entrepreneurs were more upfront about the challenging side of running a biz. It’s discouraging when everyone seems to do everything perfectly. Thanks for sharing Steve.

    1. Thanks Mariana,

      How is preKShop doing these days? Do you need me to take a look at anything?

      1. Oops just saw this :). I’m working on an SEO game plan because I was too scared to do any link-building and was on the verge of quitting (silly really). Your last video on SEO really helped; hopefully I can get my rankings up before the high season is over. I keep telling myself it’s a marathon and it is going to take slow consistent effort!

  5. Some of the disappointing things in web is when you have to spend the 3 weeks of changing code because of php, or wordpress, or mysql, or css, or IE changes that no one pays you for and it doesn’t make their site any better but it has to be done.

    Other clients think that they should have 2000 orders 7 days after having the site up.

    1. Totally agree. I actually put off the php 5.3 upgrade after the crash because it involved quite a bit of changes and deprecated functions. Making these fixes offered no visible improvements to sales or the site itself. It’s just the cost of keeping up with tech.

  6. Good to hear about both the ups and the downs. It’s amazing how the little things can affect an ecommerce site.

    Playing with some color changes myself. Kinda’ scary.

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