Please share case studies of how you inherited a dumpster fire of a website and made it work

Forum White Hat SEO Please share case studies of how you inherited a dumpster fire of a website and made it work

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    This is just the norm it seems in every customer facing industry. Might as well get acquainted with it.

    Most of us know how to start from scratch via SEO checklists and best practices but what about optimizing a wreck?

    Please share your personal experiences of making do with what you got despite constraints and other difficulties


    What if stupid, younger me also created the dumpster fire?


    Getting a dumpster fire is the best. Basically anything you do is a win.

    It’s crazy how many client sites don’t do the small things; like have a site map, page titles and meta descriptions, etc. Or have extreme performance issues because of huge images, junk plugins, and loading multiple fonts.


    I’m on the process of doing the same. The website doesn’t have the class to which it lays its claims. Need to see how this pans out.


    This is from 10 years ago, but I hope it still counts.

    Got an interview for Head of Digital Marketing position for a medium-sized multinational based in a European country. Was asked to present an audit of the website in my interview. I was being interviewed by head of IT and head of Marketing.

    It was without a doubt the worst coporate site I’d ever seen – no real content, just “Welcome to our site” on the front page, black pages, slow JS-driven animation, endless navigation holes, no visual brand cohesion, no keywords, no meta info, nothing – so I tore it apart. I showed them how low they ranked for terms that they were the exclusive European distributor for, and revealed competitors in the online world they didn’t know they had, showed them how unintuitive the eCommerce part was, how many hoops the users had to jump through even to spend one red cent, etc.

    At the end of my presentation, there was silence, then the head of IT said “I designed that site”, to which I replied, “I can fix it for you”.

    I got the job.

    I started from zero on a staging server, and built a brand-new site with a lot of light and original imagery (got a pro photographer to photograph staff members interacting, on a white background), I was forced to use SharePoint so was a little limited in what I could do but I created a new template to reflect an upgraded brand and replaced the navigation schema completely. Added pretty URLs, meta tags, featured images. And a multilingual menu too.

    Researched competitors, researched keywords, personally rewrote all the content, created XML sitemaps, started GSC account. 301 mapped the old URLs (which were query based: ?pageid=1234) to the new pretty ones. Also started a blog and requested one article by a board member per week (6 board members meant they only had to produce 1,000 words every 6 weeks).

    I set out a model for the UI of the eCommerce part (which was built on custom platform at a subdomain), wireframed everything, created visual templates based on the new brand, and though I improved matters a bit I was never able to persuade them to revise the underlying workflow, so I instead had lots of tooltips to inform customers WTF was going on there.

    I also got the content translated into 5 other languages with 1:1 page switching. I then purchased companyname.xx in other countries where we operated, and plotted the URLs to the language versions.

    There was a PPC campaign that was spending 80% of its budget on one keyphrase that had a 100% bounce rate because it had another common meaning, so I revised the entire account, and did qualitative research to learn what people searched for when they were looking for something like our product. I also used this to direct the topics in our blog.

    The brand and domain had two interesting “features”:

    1. First, the company name was the same name as a hit track by an American rock group. In the SERPs, the brand name was way down page 2, buried behind the official website of the band, the Wikipedia article about the track, fan sites, and a Canadian government department with the same name.

    2. Second, years before the CEO had bought a domain name from “”. He thought that this meant “we are a European company”, but in fact it was just a subdomain on a .com address being resold by the owner of (eeeeeasy money if you can get it!). This was confusing for customer. “” did not really mean anything to them and it hurt us a bit in the SERPs. But it was incredibly frustrating for the customer service people who could be heard all day saying “no it’s info at companyname-dot-eu-dot-com. You need the EU bit in there. You have to type it otherwise we won’t get the email.” We lost a lot of inbound email that way.

    The actual domain, was owned by a seed merchant in Alabama.

    So I started an internal campaign with the CEO to emphasize the importance of getting off someone else’s subdomain and onto our own domain.

    This campaign was given a catalyst after a few months when *another* customer on a different subdomain did something naughty, and the entire server got blacklisted – so *all* of our email got spamboxed for a couple of days, costing tens of thousands in lost business.

    The seed merchant was extremely suspicious – with good reason – so we got a respectable lawyer to contact his lawyer, drew up a watertight contract, offered a seven-figure price he was happy to sell for, got the funds into escrow, and finally after about 6 months of negotiation got hold of the main domain. I transitioned this over, worked with the head of IT to get the emails to alias, etc.

    #End result:

    * For brand name search in all territories we operated in we got to Google #1, beating out both the rock band and Wikipedia.
    * For product name search on the 16 products the company sold, we got a solid 15/16 Google 1-spots (the US-based brand owner beat us on the flagship product because it’s very well known, but we achieved the #2 spot globally).
    * Increased unique users by 5,000% in the first year post-launch entirely via on-site stuff.
    * Decreased bounce rate from 97% to 45%.
    * Increased average page views from ~1 to ~3.8.
    * Quadrupled efficiency of PPC budget.
    * Increased eCommerce revenue by 10,000% in the year after redesign.
    * For related keywords the blog started getting traction all over.

    Then they fired me.


    You can’t leave us hanging like that


    Set up a SEMrush premium account, screenshot the dashboard on day one and made a note of domain authority (I know but its easier to explain). Delisted a load of dodgy domains, cleaned up the content on the blog (hundreds of pages of thin content, rewrote 50 articles that targeted key terms or ranked well but were out of date. Sorted out 404s. Cleaned the site map.

    Within one month we saw traffic improvements, SEMrush went from 40% to 50% and the domain authority jumped by 10.


    I don’t have any.

    I kept the domain and build a new website which now has 15% CTR : )


    Point being that sometimes you need to start from scratch


    Thanks everyone


    IMO those are the best ones. Easy improvement and big gains are possible which makes me look great.

    I haven’t came into dumpster fire situations, but came into some that were done in a very basic way. Simple written content and a focus on proper keywording changed the site very quickly.

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