EPIC SEO Fail by readingfestival.com

Posted on by in Organic SEO

Today is a big day in the UK ticketing space.  Its the day that Reading and Leeds festival’s go on sale.

This normally prompts a huge storm of competitive PPC, Social and SEO optimization by all the big ticketing sites, as there are literally hundreds of thousands of searches for the term “reading festival” and traditionally the website that takes the lions share is (quite naturally) the official site: readingfestival.com

The demand is off the scale, with impressions on adwords being in the hundreds of thousands – this google insights graph gives a good idea of the spike this week every year:

Reading Festival Ticket Demand

The graph below shows site visits as tracked by Alexa.com – the massive spike at the start is last year’s onsale, and the subsequent spike is the week of the festival itself:

ReadingFestival.com Traffic

Most of this traffic every year is fueled by google organic, pure SEO traffic – as they don’t have much margin they don’t by paid search ads, nor do they need to.. They OWN the brand.

This year however is a different story.  If you take a look at the SERPs in the UK right now, their site is nowhere to be seen on google.co.uk:

Reading Festival SERPs

How could they have made such a monumental cockup to be de-indexed on the biggest day of the year for them?

Simple: massive internal duplicate content creation.

Typically their site goes down during the onsale and they replace it with a holding “coming soon” type page, detailing that they are experiencing huge demand.  Last year this page was put in place during the actual spike, and they 301′d the rest of their site back to this page.

This year, some enterprising sole at their web company has simply rendered EVERY page of their site as the (identical) holding page.  Not great for duplicate content methinks.

Furthermore, they put the holding page up in lieu of the entire site about 12-18 hours ago.

Google has been spidering all of the pages in its index over the course of the day, in a much accelerated fashion thanks to the huge spike in volume, and gets the same page returned for every URL.

example 1: the Homepage…

reading festival homepage

example 2: any other URL under readingfestival.com = an http 200 page with identical content.
reading festival duplicate content

Its things like this that scare me as an SEO.  Presumably a company like festival republic have an agency, or perhaps an in house SEO.  The fact of the matter is that whoever handles this either did not check how this was going to work, or did not understand what serving a whole site of dupe content can do to your rankings.

I guess the moral of the story is: whenever dev get involved, make sure you know whats happening. Then THINK about it.