Spooky SEO Stories That Will Horrify You

Today is Day of the Dead, one of the most popular festivities and with millions of monthly searches. Obviously, this means that the Day of the Dead must be celebrated by the marketing community in Mexico.

So, we decided to make this post as scary as possible.

After much questioning and research with SEO professionals, I will share the most terrifying stories, the most horrifying situations they have faced during their career.

This post is not just for entertainment, it is also to remind everyone how a small mistake can destroy all the SEO performance of a site.

Jason Barnard, Founder of Kalicube

In 2013 I had a penalty. I spent a whole year deactivating thousands of spam links and I also took the opportunity to clean the site. Deleting door pages, changing to SSL and HHTP2, reorganizing the categories, optimizing images, adding some other tricks.

After 3 months, they lifted the penalty and 6 months after that, we were seeing a 10% increase in monthly traffic.

One day, I noticed that the Google +1 account had skyrocketed from 20 to 1,020. It turns out that the boss had been frustrated by the “slow” growth and bought them in an online service that he thought had a “good” reputation.

A few days later, another penalty.

Back to step one.

Jan-Willem Bobbink, Founder of notprovided.eu

A customer decided to open a sales system with its existing e-commerce platform. All sellers had a profile and a URL for their products.

After that, the e-commerce platform added new features for each vendor individually. They proudly launched their platform with 120 vendors.

All those new features and vendor pages added more than 1 billion new URLs for a domain that had 120,000 index-able URLs.

Nobody involved in the project understood the implications of the new configuration for SEO, and it took more than 6 months to clean it up again.

Clark Boyd, founder of Candid Digital

I worked in an agency whose “USP” was that they used freelancers to do the usual SEO tasks. My first project was to coordinate 382 landing pages, and all of them had to be launched on the same day for a big event.

The agency sold these projects taking into account that the network of freelancers could deliver their tasks. The freelancers gave me their work on time, but the client was very unimpressed with the quality.

No, that was very diplomatic. The client hated it.

With just two days before the big launch, we were 382 pages away from our goal.

In the end, a colleague and I work against the clock to write titles, descriptions and many, many more paragraphs.

I’m not sure it was very good, but at least it was a little better than what was originally delivered to us…

Adam Connell, founder of Blogging Wizard

When I was doing agency work some years ago, my team and I spent more than 3 years working with a client to develop content, links and increase traffic and positioning.

One day the traffic and the positions collapsed. I opened the site to review why it had happened. The problem was obvious, the blog no longer existed.

It turns out that your host’s customer service representative “accidentally” deleted the entire blog, along with all its backups.

The impact was very significant: more than 400 blog post and content removed in an instant. Everything had to be resurrected from erasers in emails and old word documents.

The lesson: even if a client only hires you to work on SEO or content, or even if they have an agency managing your website, make sure they have many backups of everything. Really of EVERYTHING.

Rachel Costello, SEO Technical Executive at DeepCrawl

It seemed an ordinary day in the office, how could I imagine that a client would come to tell me something that would give me chills?

One morning I was reviewing the tracking error report in Google Search Console, for a new e-commerce client. They had a huge peak in tracking errors, from less than 100 to thousands.

I started to check from the site, category by category and several, if not all, had only one or two products when in the last revision were full. So I checked the backend in the CMS and saw, to my horror, that more than two thirds of all the products had been deactivated even though there were still parts available, this meant that all those product pages that we had worked hard to improve were sending 404s.

I called the customer as soon as we found out what had happened. The client told me “The SEO consultant that we were working with previously told us that it was fine if we deactivated products whenever we wanted. So we deactivate all seasonal products at the end of this and if necessary, we can launch them again with a new URL to display them on the site. It’s okay if we do it like that, right?”

Needless to say, we immediately programmed a training for stock management. Still, the thought of all those wasted links haunts me to this day.

Blake Denman, Founder of RicketyRoo

When I started with my agency, I was rebuilding a website for a small business in WordPress. We built in the redesign and we would migrate the site later during the night.

While migrating the new site, there was a critical error, and the site showed a 500 error. I tried again and the same result. It was around 12:30 am and I froze, I did not know what to do.

From 12:30 a.m., I restored the entire site live and finished everything at 5:30 a.m.

Later I found out what my critical error was. Even though I reviewed the information in the database two, three and even four times, I made very small mistakes in the password.

Nick Eubanks, founder of From the Future

This is very simple, but it was costing our client a lot of money (millions of dollars a month) and everything was causing a badly placed canonical link…

The client had an internal page, right in the root directory that was made to attack an exact match keyword with a monthly search volume of 130,000, but there was a canonical link to the home page of the site.

After doing a crawl on the site once this is identified, we simply remove the tag and the page jumped to position 5 (and now literally generates millions of dollars in online revenue each month).

Milosz Krasinski, Founder, Chilli Fruit Web Consulting

My client turned out to be a multinational scam agency. As I was managing your web hosting too, I was somewhat involved.

Fortunately everything was fixed.

Ron Lieback, Founder and CEO of Content Mender

In 2008, during the first year of Ultimate Motorcycling, we hired an agency to migrate our Drupal site to WordPress. At that time, we had around one million visits per month and the content was stronger than ever.

After the migration, our visits fell to less than half and the SEO Company “lost” approximately 15,000 URLs and 30,000 images.

Yes, they lost them. This was scary because I thought the whole business would collapse, the advertisers paid based on exposure and we could not afford to fall.

That was the last time I trusted an agency, but it forced me to learn SEO by myself, which led me to where I am now.

As for visits, it took us almost two years to recover it, but patience and persistence paid off and a little more.

Karen Neicy, Director of Experience Strategy at OGK Creative

I had a client whose website was hacked for using some plugins without updating.

It turns out that the links implanted on the site, ended up positioning them in all kinds of adult content keywords, so the client was getting traffic from very unpleasant sites.

It was a big brand, and we were having requests for press conferences about why they appeared in those nasty search terms. We were in charge, but why were you looking for that to begin with?

It took weeks to fix it, but we installed malware protection, removed the links (most were in the form of comments on the blog), changed the plugins without updating and changed to a more secure HTTPS certificate.

Bill Sebald Founder of Greenlane

In an old agency, we work with a well-known e-commerce brand.

They were immovable in their #1 position for many, many years. (I’d love to tell you who it was, but I cannot, yet, everything is terribly true!)

They decided to buy their competitor #2 in a very expensive transaction (which was also unmovable in their respective classifications). It was a great story that month in the exchanges.

This competitor had an exact match keyword as his domain. (The EMD update had not yet occurred). The keyword had more than one million searches per month. It was a phenomenal opportunity.

They asked for our opinion on an SEO approach.

We said: “They are powerful, and you are powerful. We recommend that you maintain the site and continue as close as possible to its current status, even if you switch to your own infrastructure. After all, you will own your #1 and #2 place, that’s a big advantage against Amazon.”

They did not take the advice.

Instead, the site was bought and dismantled quickly until Google finally found very little importance in the domain. He fell right from the first place he had enjoyed for more than 10 years.

When the buyers came back and asked them how they could correct their error, we told them that the best they could do was to recover the original status. But now that was impossible. The whole process had been twisted.

As of today, that domain is sitting without an attached site. It is simply in the portfolio of a very large company. It’s a domain that has a lot of power, and it’s just being wasted. And that’s the really scary thing.

Deepak Shukla, Founder of Pearl Lemon

I remember starting with a business that I would call Kukumber (an agency) and made some great videos that I posted on my site.

My intern Catherine told me she wanted to “post the videos on other sites”. A great idea, I thought.

What I did not know is that she found a multiplatform video loader and did not create original descriptions or even used article spinner.

And I did not ask him about his process or consider that he might not know the difference between duplicate content and content re-submission; in addition to the massive load of the same content.

In a week, my videos and my website were slapped with a manual penalty and we could not “Google” Kukumber, neither for love nor for money.

And that’s how the story of Pearl Lemon began.

Sal Surra, SEO Specialist, Angie’s List

I accidentally put a non-index tag on a template for a company’s site that generates millions of dollars per impressions and organic search results.

As we used Google Analytics, it took us a couple of days to find out what had happened and fix it. A problem of a couple of days resulted in multi-million dollar losses.

It was really a very bad day, but luckily I was able to keep the job.

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One Comment

  1. Nice and informative post shared by the author. Thanks !

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