explain seo debt

What is SEO Debt and How You Can Overcome It?

When we started our operations 10 years back, the queries we usually used to get were around setting up websites, doing their technical and/or on-page SEO, and moving towards off-page SEO.

This is the phase where many businesses were investing in going digital and creating a strong web presence. Some of them got it right the first time, but most of them, unfortunately, did not. The reasons for it could be many and one such reason is SEO debt

Understanding and overcoming SEO debt can help your SEO campaigns perform better, and ultimately drive rankings, relevant traffic, and revenues higher – in certain cases in a shorter space of time.


What is SEO Debt?

The idea of SEO debt is inspired by ‘Technical debt’ – a term that has been around and in use for a long time now, in Software Development. 

Here’s what technical debt means.

According to Stephan Watts and Joe HertvikTechnical debt is the coding you must do tomorrow because you took a shortcut in order to deliver the software today.

According to OutsystemsTechnical debt is the measure of the cost of reworking a solution caused by choosing an easy yet limited solution.

In a nutshell, you wanted to move fast, you ignored the best practices and moved ahead without realizing that it might end up costing you more in the long run. 

This situation actually arises a lot more in life than we estimate and the same when applied to your SEO strategy where you fall for this quick victory trap and end up harming yourself in the long term is defined as SEO Debt.


Why does SEO debt happen?


1. Poor SEO practices

This is a can of worms, there are multiple ways you can get your SEO very wrong. You should read about black hat techniques which in order to get you to the top end up breaking the policies of the search engines. You might think you are winning in the short team, but in the long term, it will be a loss that could be tough to recover from.

Highly recommend that you understand the difference between ethical and unethical SEO.


2. Not a well-thought-through strategy

We have seen some prospects really happy and proud about ranking on certain keywords but post some basic due diligence we found that the volume of searches for such keywords was abysmally low. Therefore, before jumping onto SEO and going crazy about your keywords, you need to find out if people are actually searching for the same.

There are tools provided by Google to help you with your research. Having said that, there are a few exceptions to this. For instance, if you are a B2B business in a niche where demand for your services is low, in that case, the best keyword opportunities you might find may have low monthly searches and that makes sense.

But as a general rule of thumb, the terms you decide to focus on should have the potential to drive decent traffic if you were to dominate the Google top.


3. Technology team and SEO team working in silos, i.e., poor communication

Though there is a difference between On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO, we think of on-page SEO as the base of your project. Unless you get your On-Page SEO in order, the efforts on your overall SEO will not bear much fruit. There are various reasons for this, both teams are separate and not willing to work much with each other (this can get very tricky as both teams will try to make the other look bad).

We have personally gone through such challenges and have set up in-house units of excellence for the same. If that still does not work for you, ensure that you have a very clear communication channel like Slack between the parties (and they are actually talking to each other).


4. Expecting quick results, forcing your team to take shortcuts (black hat techniques)

“I want to see my website for these keywords on the first page of Google in 1 month” – Such unrealistic expectations will be (not) fulfilled by incompetent agencies/individuals who will go ahead and try to ensure that you stay on the same incorrect path.

The answer is probably No (in the majority of cases, exceptions being that you suddenly slipped from the 1st page to the seconds and so on, but if that is the case you would know what to do).

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5. Inconsistent efforts

A lot of times we compare SEO with losing weight. Let me try to explain. Losing weight is a combination of multiple things – eating right, exercising, sleeping on time, taking less stress, and so on. This needs to be done every day for you to get in shape and maintain that shape.

The same is true for SEO, especially in the evolving online world we live in. Your SEO needs to be consistent, yet flexible enough to evolve with the times.


6. Changing your SEO team frequently

We have come across clients who have changed their SEO team 4 times in 1 year. Now that is a lot of crappy old work that we have to discard (or in some cases “seek and destroy”) to bring the brand to a level where we can actually work on it. Choose your team wisely based on your long-term goals.


7. Not knowing what you are doing

Just because you read or heard that SEO is required from a blog or some vlogger, you also need to do it. No vision, no roadmap, no goals but FOMO (fear of missing out!) forcing you to take such a step. This comes a lot from first-time overenthusiastic entrepreneurs. Taking a step back and slowing down is what we recommend to these first-timers.


8. Not having skin in the game/frequent leadership change

Owners hiring digital marketing managers to handle external SEO teams. This is very common and mostly works when the Digital Marketing manager is working for a good company and sticks long enough.

The problem happens when these Digital Marketing managers are given complete responsibility by their bosses (who many times do not even know what is going on), and these managers leave and another one joins with a new strategy to follow altogether.


9. Incorrect KPIs

I want 10 keywords to rank and all of them to be on the first page of Google. Pricing is to be done with respect to keywords. Unfortunately, and sadly this has become the norm in some markets. Pricing per keyword. The ultimate aim should be quality lead generation and your important SEO KPIs need to be focused on that, not vanity metrics.


10. Non-holistic approach

For this point again we would like to use our weight loss example, where you need to be consistent, work across multiple things together, measure effectiveness, have a realistic goal, and have a good competent team to assist you with the same.

One important aspect here is this: we have seen clients failing at SEO because of their campaigns being too narrow.

Days of working on an SEO campaign that focuses only on on-page keyword optimization and link building are long gone. That might have worked five, maybe ten years back but not anymore.

Links and keyword optimization are still an important part of any successful campaign, however, these two alone are not enough to get SEO success with today’s algorithms. In some rare cases, it might still be possible but with how Google has been rolling out several updates every year for the past couple of years now, the likelihood of success is low.

This is why it’s imperative to switch to a more holistic approach.

Website architecture, usability & experience, content strategy, and social engagement play a very significant role, and you should be investing in those areas too.

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How do we calculate this?



Search engines like Google assign a “quality score” to websites which plays a massive role in the rankings. Having a “low” quality score will result in Google losing trust in your website. And ultimately, leading to poor organic performance. Once we assess the quality of your website and get a fair idea, we determine what SEO actions are needed to take to improve it.

A complete SEO audit gives us detailed insights into what can be improved on a prospect’s or a client’s website. We check for different on-page and off-page factors to understand where your website currently stands from an SEO standpoint. Additionally, we do a SERP analysis and evaluate the web presence of your business.

Doing a quality website audit helps ensure whether your website is prepared for the utmost SEO and conversion results. This typically involves:

1. Reviewing key on-page elements for optimization, for your focus keywords – meta info, header tags, page copy, etc.

2. Analyzing UI/UX issues and site architecture – this includes checking for mobile-friendliness, layout issues, URL structures, navigation issues, sitemap issues, etc.

3. Site Speed Analysis – we try to identify technical issues with the website loading times. This is the most overlooked area and something that in the majority of cases gets left out during the website development phase – you might be using unoptimized website code, uncompressed and un-minified JS and CSS files, and media with large file sizes, etc. 

4. Identifying thin and broken pages – these negatively impact user engagement rates which translates to lower organic performance and is something that affects how search engines reward your website.

5. Checking for crawlability and indexability issues. We also analyze the SERPs for your website to identify issues with the pages that are indexed.

6. Performing Backlink Hygiene checks – we audit your backlink profile to understand the type of links you have built /earned for your website.

Essentially, we are trying to:

  • assess the quality of your backlinks – having spammy websites pointing to your site can negatively impact your SEO performance and therefore should be disavowed. This involves checking for relevancy as well. Attracting links from non-relevant websites won’t help your rankings much and your link-building strategy should be updated accordingly.
  • identify links you have lost or might continue to lose – you may lose backlinks if your site has broken pages with incoming links, issues at the referral domain, etc. These are links that should be prioritized for recovery
  • understand the breakup of your follow vs no-follow links – it’s important you have a decent mix of these link attributes to ensure your website is building a decent number of authoritative links that are imperative to move the SEO needle
  • assess the anchor mix – to check if you have a diverse enough anchor profile that positively helps your rankings or are you over-optimizing the anchors



Here we try to ask important questions to get a holistic picture and to understand why you are unable to drive the desired SEO success for your business.

  • Analyzing the current set of keywords to see if the site is optimized for the right set of keywords and if the website content is optimized to justify them.

Here we try to understand if the keywords you were focusing on were not the best opportunities for your business objectives or if the content gaps associated with justifying them were not addressed.

  • Is the SEO strategy tailored to your business objectives? For instance, 
    • if you are a business that only targets an audience in a specific area then is your strategy focused on local SEO
    • if you are in a competitive niche but are expecting results sooner, are you investing enough effort in attracting the right links and the right content at the right frequency & intensity?
  • SEO campaigns need time to breathe and gain momentum, did you give success a chance?
  • Were you expecting realistic results for your budgets?
  • Were the SEO recommendations made by your SEO team executed? If you are paying a marketer to help you grow your business, and they tell you that you need to do X, Y, and Z… you should be doing X, Y, and Z.
  • Periodical site clean-ups are crucial to maintaining website coherence, relevance, and usability. Was this being done?
  • Just as important as SEO implementation is continuous evaluation – something that’s critical to ensure success with your SEO efforts.  



Though SEO debt is a challenge, it’s an opportunity too, as it gives you ways to improve by bringing your campaigns and efforts up to date and in sync with the best practices. And this can get your SEO campaigns to deliver even more ROI.

Stay aware of your SEO debt over time and take action on the elements that hold you back the most and might be handicapping your SEO. You don’t necessarily have to fix it all at once but start with the priorities and you might see quick results. Once the results start kicking in, you can move to the lower-priority issues for a profoundly optimized website and SEO campaign.

Understanding the principles behind SEO debt so you can re-evaluate your SEO strategy is key. Not only does the organic performance get improved, but also allows getting a good grasp on further scaling up the campaign.

If you want Dignitas Digital to help you with SEO clean-up for your site to uncover issues holding your SEO campaign back, ensure it aligns with your business goals, keeps you in Google’s good books, and yields an excellent user experience, get in touch with us here.

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Related: Is SEO Overhyped? Top 10 Things You Need to Know

Marketing Team