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A tale of neglected web properties: tanking SEO, messy code, emergency after emergency

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A client with several web properties making hundreds of thousands yearly in ad revenue came to us with a stressed-out CEO and a marketing team that was taking the heat. 

We immediately saw that one of the websites was taking several seconds to even render on the page, due to technical cruft. We saw issues with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) that Google had detected, and deployed our 24x7 global team of developers to get the issue resolved within 24 hours. 

During our initial analysis, we found technical SEO issues that have likely been costing this company many thousands of dollars per year, several of which could be quite easily fixed. The website database was causing the slow render speeds, so one of our architects recommended and implemented a fix.

We also found that several of the properties were way behind on security updates, one of the properties had no recent backups and was sitting on a platform (AWS) where hardware and the entire web server can easily fail if redundant setups are not in place, as was the case here. One large web property and a crucial section of their business was in danger of being wiped out with no way to go back.

None of this would have happened if we took a "command and control" approach, and simply took orders and provided traditional "support" -- instead, we were proactive, identified and fixed important issues, and things got quickly better for everyone involved, including crucial things that are often overlooked like security and disaster recovery. 

This company has a great content team, smart digital marketers implementing smart strategies, but lacking oversight from a technical and analytical standpoint had been costing this company a serious amount of traffic and revenue over the last several years, unbeknownst to said stressed-out CEO.

Before being fired from the company, the previous marketer in charge of the web properties was always on edge, always overwhelmed, and was needlessly trying to handle a mountain of data and workload that required more technical acumen and capacity than he had.

We never end up replacing marketers -- they always play important roles at the company. Rather, we allow marketers to focus on their strengths, which in turn multiplies business results

We are now a proactive, ongoing partner with this company, so that everyone can have a less-stressful life and more rewarding jobs, resting assured that we have their backs. SEO, site performance, and traffic are on the upswing, security is in check, and once everything is healthy again, we will get to the fun stuff – optimizing conversions to bring in more revenue.

 

A hacking attempt averted: "It couldn't happen to *us*!"

One of our software architects detected a hacking attempt on our client's large, global, multi-lingual Drupal website. Our first clue was New Relic performance data that showed slowed site performance. He inspected the website logs and found several hacking attempts

screenshot of hack attempt

Hackers were, among other things, trying to inject code to break or gain access to the website, sending requests like this to the website:

www.website.com?UNION%20SELECT%20CHAR(45,120,49,45,81,45)

We identified the IPs and countries of origin, and put in place an automatic IP banning mechanism shortly after:

screenshot of IPs and countries of origin

We handled all this without disturbing the marketing team, except for quickly briefing them of what we found and asking for some internal IP addresses to exclude from our IP banning mechanisms.

As our client grows and becomes increasingly risk averse, we are implementing a Web Application Firewall with CloudFlare on top of their hosting architecture at Pantheon to help prevent future malicious traffic and attacks, as well as Argo to greatly increase website speeds for their international customer base. 

 

Staffing continuity and risk management: Where are the keys to the server?

We're your technical business continuity, reputable stewards of your technology, data, passwords, keys, and hosting platforms. We stick around. Here are a few related short stories: 

After a staffing change, a client was left without keys to their AWS hosting account. We also found that backups weren't running on that account. A major chunk of their business was sitting out in the wild west of Internet land, with no one having control of the reigns. Not to mention that the hosting platform on AWS was way too expensive. So, we migrated to a reputable and trusted hosting company, regaining proper control and reducing their hosting costs. You should never have "a guy" in charge of your hosting these days. That is incredibly risky and bad for business continuity. 

So many clients have come to us with their websites hosted on-site or at an outdated IT provider instead of on secure, redundant cloud servers. Their long-standing yet antiquated hosting or IT company doesn't provide the "DevOps" or proper "dev -> staging -> production" release workflow, so errors are constantly happening, and there are risks for data corruption or the entire site going down.

The risks are often plentiful, real, and severe, yet many remain unaware of the potential disasters at hand. 

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About Seth Viebrock

In no particular order, Seth has built websites for famous artists like Justin Bieber and Mariah Carey, led a team as CTO at a social network startup company, co-presented at Stanford and the International Society for Neuronal Regulation Conference on an EEG study in consciousness, traveled to Tokyo for data center network security assessments, worked on world-class e-commerce software as a software engineer, and provided Drupal expertise for Estee Lauder and their many international brands. Seth grew up with the web, starting his first web design company at the age of 16, and this company in...
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