Top 10 Ways to Ruin Your Website

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Not everyone asks to be a website manager or custodian. It can be very complicated and there are many pitfalls. If it’s a large active site, it can be like flying an airplane. There are things that can go wrong and if you aren’t keeping a close eye on your analytics, you are flying blind.

It takes a lot of work to get a website popular and ranking high in search engines. You can build up value over years and almost forget how much of your brand, products, and services are expressed through your website. But a bad step can bring that value crashing down. The SEO forums are filled with all kinds of “where did my traffic go” threads.

Don’t let this be you. The following list is what I’ve seen do the most damage to websites over the years and can mostly be avoided, and some suggestions to help avoid these like the plague.

1. Let Your Domain Name Lapse.

Losing your domain name or letting it lapse is the classic way to wreck your website. Your domain name is a pointer on the web that points to the web server where your website lives. If the pointer is unavailable or no longer works, nobody can see your website.

How and why does this happen? Sometimes the credentials to the domain registrar (ie your username and password to Godaddy or Namecheap or wherever) get lost, or stop working, or the 2FA is linked to a lost device, or you never had in the first place because you inherited the website and whoever purchased the domain is no longer around.

Bonus: your domain is registered with privacy features intact so you can’t even see who registered the domain in the first place!

You need access to your registrar in order to renew or update your domain (i.e. annual fees) and/or make adjustments to technical details such as where to run your email and where is the server address for the actual website.

The most common thing that goes wrong is the domain is up for a biannual renewal and the billing credit card on record needs to get updated. Oops, you can’t get in to update it and the domain won’t renew. About a week after the domain expires, visitors no longer see your website. They see a “domain is parked here” page at Godaddy or wherever.

And then, once you get the keys back to the domain, you will soon discover that the registrar has reset the DNS settings so you still see the parking sign until you again point to the server where your website lives. Never mind what happens to your domain-hosted email accounts.

Losing access to your domain is the most efficient way to turn your website into a memory. If you later change your mind and you (presumably a business entity) want your name back, you can go through a legal process with the registrar if you can prove your validity. This might work and it might not – but for certain it takes weeks for your claim to go through.

I saw this happen recently with an 8-year-old site that went offline for 2 weeks. When they came back, they had lost half of their traffic and half of their rankings, and ceded valuable niche dominance. It will take months to get their rankings (and traffic) back.

Solution: Have your SEO consultant set a web reminder 3 months out from expiration.

2. Allow Broken Links and Pages to Run Unchecked.

Web visitors want and mostly expect a good user experience. They want pages to load quickly. They want images displayed in the appropriate size. They want links to work. They don’t want to get “page not found” and have to back out of a rut. This is known as a 404, or “not found” error.

  • Deleted content without a redirect.
  • Broken URLs caused by typos or incorrect URLs.
  • Changed URLs that aren’t properly redirected.
  • Outdated bookmarks.
  • External links to pages that no longer exist or are wrong.
  • Search engines have indexed pages that have been removed or changed without proper redirection.

Since Google and other search engines can easily crawl and index these 404 errors, they will downgrade your visibility because it makes them look bad if they send people to a broken page or a site with many 404’s. They aim to provide a good user experience.

If you want to provide a solid user experience and stay visible in search engines, check your website for 404 errors. There are many services that do this and many are free, so there’s always an easy way to check. This is one of the first things we check for in a website technical audit.

Solution: Have your SEO consultant run monthly audits for broken links.

3. Do Not Make or Keep Adequate Backups

There are endless ways something can go wrong with a website, and sometimes it’s out of your control. If you have a good backup system, you can really minimize downtime and hassle.

What can go wrong? Well there are technically all kinds of ways that your website could get corrupted or hacked or dislocated or just lost! Some company you’ve never heard of could suffer trauma and have an impact on a script that your website relies on.

Some of these disasters can be averted by setting up automated programs to backup your website every day or hour or month or year. Is this adequate? Let’s break it down: your website is a brain and a body. The brain is the database and the body is all of the files (“the fileset.”) The fileset includes all the code that runs the website and the content you have uploaded i.e. images and PDF’s. The database has all the settings and non-media content.

Depending on how long you’ve had this website, this could be a somewhat valuable collection of assets.

Here’s the thing. Most backup plans work very well and even seamlessly if you are set up properly and something goes wrong with the website… because the backups are local, you can revert back to your last saved version. This assumes nothing goes wrong with your web server but only your website.

The above is the minimum level of backup you should have – but every now and then it’s not enough. Why? Because sometimes things go wrong at the local level (web server) and reverting to backup won’t work. It might not even be your fault. You might just be at the mercy of the hosting provider figuring it out. If you have an offsite backup of both the database and the fileset (that were backed up the same day, caches flushed, etc etc) you have a complete fallback plan on a new server (still have control of your domain to re-point DNS?) and all you’ve experienced is a stressful hour or two.

Think of this off-site backup as a HARD COPY that has both the brain and body frozen in time together. Not maintaining backups is like running in Sudden Death Mode.

Solution: Verify with your webmaster that they have a backup plan for both on-server and offline.

4. Rearrange or Remove Pages Without Setting Redirects.

This is a throwback to #2, but since it’s so common I want to surface this special technique of ruining your website one page at a time.

This often happens when redesigning or reorganizing a website.

Let’s say you launch your new website, and it’s much better than the last one. You were so tired of the old site that you didn’t keep any of the web page URL addresses. You now have new pages, which is great. Meanwhile, your old pages are still indexed at Google and also backlinked from other websites all around the internet. Now, people visiting those old link addresses get a broken 404 message!

Again, potential new customers write you off as toast AND the search engines flag you as unreliable and won’t send new traffic your way. This is what downgrades your website’s reputation in the eyes of the algo’s. If you want to avoid this doom loop but still don’t like those old web page URLs, set up “301 redirects” so that anyone trying to get to that old page address gets auto-redirected to your shiny new page.

Solution: Work with your SEO consultant to make sure you set up all 301 redirects correctly, and none are missing.

5. Resist SEO Best Practices

Two thirds of all web traffic originates with organic search. Not everyone wants to be found, but businesses and services usually do.

There are basically 2 steps to SEO: getting qualified and getting optimized.

Getting qualified means that your website renders properly in browsers and both your code and content live up to certain standards - technical standards and content standards. Essentially you need to have tags coded into the pages and infilled with content.

Optimizing this content is the next step. Optimizing content that isn’t coded properly on the page doesn’t help much. Really, they need to work in tandem.

Some platforms have plug-ins available that will guide content producers through populating these extra meta fields per SEO best practices. Or they can be trained with a checklist in hand. If your website does not abide by best practices, it is far more challenging (and often impossible) to rank for keywords that matter to your success. If you are already famous enough, maybe you’ll be okay. But you are leaving a lot of opportunities on the cutting room floor.

Solution: Link up your SEO and website team to help make sure all website coding and rendering are optimized.

6. Don't Do Maintenance

Many website owners forget that websites and web servers upon which they reside occasionally need maintenance. Why? Because the web never sleeps, and software (and hardware) constantly needs to upgrade to stay ahead of security threats and take advantage of new capabilities and features.

Your website probably runs on a CMS such as Wordpress or Drupal. Your server’s OS is likely Linux and it’s likely running Apache as 90% of websites are. Your database is likely mySQL. Some of you are running on Microsoft or whatnot but all of your options have world wide attack surfaces and run on software libraries that need to be constantly updated.

If you don’t keep things incrementally up to date, it gets much harder to fix / export / upgrade / migrate later.

Solution: Reach out to your webmaster to ensure that your website software is up-to-date. They’ll have the latest insights and can make any necessary updates to keep your site secure and running smoothly.

7. Ignore Web Analytics

Imagine having complete visibility and transparency into how people use your website. What your user traffic clicks on, where they came from, what brings them, what they look at, perhaps where and why they leave, etc. etc.

Why would you want to know any of this? Well you don’t if our mission is still wrecking websites. We don’t care about seeing what is sticky and what is a chokepoint. We don’t care about any trends of what people are doing or where they are finding value. We don’t even care if we are getting 10,000 visitors per day or 13!

By disregarding your analytics and perhaps your Search Console data too, you aren’t spotting trends and opportunities or seeing flags that need to be addressed.

Solution: Talk to your SEO consultant about pulling data from different analytics into one report to help keep you organized and keep track of multiple analytics platforms.

8. Lose your website credentials

This is a throwback to #1 but can go beyond domain management. There are many sets of credentials needed to maintain a robust online presence including your social media accounts, the website CMS (content management system) itself, infrastructure tools (web hosting, CDN’s, etc.) and email admins.

Solution: Establish role-based access control (RBAC) and regularly back up encrypted versions of credentials in a secure location.

9. Do Weird Stuff

It’s not uncommon for websites to use a lot of pop-ups, pop-unders, and other attention seeking devices that many users have developed an allergy for. Most people do not enjoy the jolt of a loud auto-playing video. Cursor and scrollbar tweaks can also annoy people.

When somebody makes it to your website, don’t show them contempt. You are likely to get a “bounce” as they leave right away. Your high bounce rate tells Google not to send people your way because these are signals of bad user experience.

Solution: Go to the most annoying websites you can think of and don’t do those things!

10. Never Update Your Content

This might seem obvious but over time, a website is not set-it-and-forget-it. It won’t accrue any value sitting there stagnant. Even if you have a tiny site, there must be something you can change annually or monthly.


There are A LOT of ways you can unintentionally tank your website. Some of them are huge and easy to avoid, like letting your domain lapse. Some are smaller and not as easy to notice, like the occasional accidental 404 redirect or not keeping up with website platform changes. However, all of these are avoidable if you’re keeping a close eye on your website, or working with an SEO consultant to help guide you.

Email me for an initial consultation if you’re experiencing any of these, or want to make sure you don’t hit any of these pitfalls. We can work together to create a plan to make sure your website doesn’t implode!

Jack Boeger

This article is also posted on LinkedIn: Top 10 Ways to Ruin Your Website

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