The Biggest SEO Mistake I Ever Made running a web hosting business

Running a web hosting business can be really tough. Apart from the technical and customer service challenges there are also very big marketing challenges.

Hosting is an old business – my brother Storm and I started our first website and server hosting business in 1998. As of 2022 the market is fairly saturated with players – and basically commoditized. There are also some huge international hosts with deep pockets so you’re competing across the board. In essence you are up against some very clever business people and computer nerds when it comes to the SEO front.

With SEO one has to retain focus. When Storm and I started Vander Host in 2018 I thought it a good idea to create a powerful knowledgebase. The idea would be to leverage my strong technical side and document problem solving. I got into the habit of creating small snippets of problem definitions and solutions. I would start off by creating these on a notepad, quickly add a title describing the problem, and then do the research. Once I had enough information and a solution, and time permitting, I refined these into actual Knowledgebase articles.

The idea behind writing these technical articles, covering topics from server management, Linux administration, VPS and WordPress hosting, control panel issues, etc. was in summary:

  • Make my life easier. I prefer a quick Google search as opposed to looking in some private intranet or wiki.
  • DRY for server admins. Don’t Research the Same Problem twice.
  • Build a library to help with SEO
  • Share information. I love what I do and sharing information makes me happy.

With time this has grown to over 500 articles! I felt (feel?) proud.

The mistake I made was to combine these articles with our main marketing website. In fact, we went as far as showing off the latest ones, thinking it’s going to help our SEO.

Instead of helping our SEO these knowledgebase articles had the complete opposite effect. Whereas before we would rank really high for some of our key services such as Linux and WordPress hosting and domain registration, we gradually lost all our key service positions. First out of the top ten, eventually out of the top 100.

In case you don’t know, in Google’s world if you’re not in the top 10 organically you might as well be nowhere. With time it dawned on me what happened. Whereas before our website was considered a focussed business selling certain types of services, Google started equating us to a business that shares information on web hosting and server administration topics. It didn’t recognize our key services as the most important, but rather the sum of the parts which didn’t evaluate to any specific service!

Fortunately with the help of my team we were able to resurrect the situation. We moved our knowledgebase articles to its own subdomain, and went about refocusing on the key marketing pages for the business. We took actual issues directly relating to the business and added them to our Help Centre.

In spite of all the courses and research I did about SEO, there is no mentor that could tell me this. It was just a long school of hard knocks.


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Eugene van der Merwe

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