It’s not often we get to watch an extremely popular site commit SEO suicide but that’s exactly what’s going on over at Consumerist.
On September 20th the site was apparently hacked and began redirecting users off to other spam sites. As is often the case, the site was compromised via “systems maintained by our former hosting provider.”
Upon discovering the hack, the website was taken down, and remained down for nearly a week. While site downtime isn’t great for a site in terms of SEO, it doesn’t have to be a full fledged disaster. In fact, the 503 HTTP result code (Service Unavailable) is made precisely for this kind of issue and is Google’s recommendation in a situation like this (hat tip to John Andrews for teaching me the value of a 503 years ago).
Unfortunately, it appears the Consumerist folks either don’t have an SEO on staff, or don’t have a competent one. Instead of serving up a 503 code while they investigated the hack, each and every single URL on Consumerist.com served up a 200 status code and displayed the same message alerting their readers to what was going on.
As even the greenest SEO can tell you, serving up the exact same content on hundreds of thousands of pages isn’t going to do wonders for your SEO. In fairly short order Google deindexed the entire site except for the home page. The site which only a week prior had ranked for thousands of popular consumer related terms virtually disappeared from Google’s rankings.
But wait, there’s more!
The next step in Consumerist’s SEO harakiri was relaunching the site on WordPress VIP. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with WordPress VIP from an SEO perspective, Consumerist’s setup is a tragedy of SEO errors that could have easily been averted.
- The previous URL structure was not maintained and none of the old content appears to have been restored. That means:
- All links on the web to a page other than the home page, now trigger a 404 error.
- Google, for their part, seems to have let many of the old URLs back into their index (a site: command search returns over 300,000 results) but again, every URL other than the home page generates a 404 error.
- All the images on the site are now hosted on http://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com instead of Consumerist.com (where by the way their thousands of old images in Google’s index are also serving up 404 errors).
- The home page uses AJAX to load more posts instead of an actual link which Google would be able to spider.
- The current site has VERY limited navigation to allow Google to find the new content the site is generating. Consumerist posts dozens of stories on any given day and thanks to the lack of almost any navigation, Google has an extremely short window of time in which to find and index the content before it’s pushed off the front page and beyond Google’s reach.
- There are author based archives which thankfully use actual links and pagination instead of AJAX load more buttons and COULD provide Google access to the new content being created. Unfortunately, these pages have the noindex, nofollow meta tag applied.
Having your site hacked is an incredibly frustrating and time consuming event. Unfortunately, Consumerist appears to be unaware of the impact the hack had on their SEO, and as a result, will be dealing with the repercussions of it for a lot longer than necessary. In the mean time, they’re providing the rest of us an unfortunate case study of SEO suicide in action.
P.S. I’ve reached out to Consumerist to offer pro-bono consulting but I suspect the investigation into the hacking is their top priority at the moment. If anyone has a contact over there please feel free to pass my offer along.