Updated: 24th June 2017

SEO Horror Stories to Scare You This Halloween by @ADiSilvestro

With Halloween just a few short days away, it seems that everyone has spooky thoughts on the brain—and that’s ok, just as long as everything scary is in your head, and not on your website. There is plenty of room for surprises and unpredictability when you’re planning for Halloween, but NOT when you’re planning your SEO strategy.

Unfortunately, the scary truth is that SEO can be uncertain, and too many people have fallen prey to SEO bad practices that have ultimately lead to the demise of their rankings. Read below to find out more about some of the worst SEO horror stories, and then learn from the mistakes of others so that you don’t end up with any SEO skeletons in your digital closet.

BMW Used Black Hat Tactics

This story is pretty surprising to me seeing as how BMW is a well-known, established, multi-billion dollar company. It turns out, it doesn’t matter how much credit your name holds. If you mess with the proverbial SEO gods (aka Google and other major search engines), you’re going to have to pay the price. BMW found this out the hard way when they began using doorway pages to unnaturally attract links.

Doorway pages are pages that are created solely to boost your rankings. While this practice has never truly been condoned, it used to be more common when search engines didn’t enforce their guidelines so strictly. This is how BMW got away with doing it long enough for it to be effective; “they [even] held a number of prominent number-one rankings for generic keywords like “used car” for a while.”

Unfortunately for them, Google eventually got wind of the scheme and brought their domain authority down to nothing. Literally, down to zero. In my opinion, it’s not worth the risk to temporarily boost your rankings at the cost of a domain penalty that you might not ever recover from. Because today, in 2016, Google will find out what you’re up to, and you will pay the price for taking a short cut.

A Computer Bug Ruined iFly

While the irony of a small computer bug taking down a business called “iFly” may be amusing to us now, it certainly wasn’t funny to the company owners when their rankings dropped to almost nothing over just a few days. SEO expert and columnist Mark Munroe found himself faced with the task of figuring out what went wrong with his friend’s company.

What he discovered is that someone let a little tiny bug slip through- one single, line of code- on every single page on iFly’s website. This line of code essentially told Google and Bing to ignore the damaged pages, and so none of the pages on their site were being indexed. What’s worse is that although Munroe was able to identify the problem and remove the bug, it wasn’t enough to fix the damage to iFly’s SEO. As we all know, it takes months to build up a site’s SEO, and thus it will take months to repair it as well.

The moral of the story? Be careful, be diligent, and above all be AWARE of your site’s rankings and analytics so that you can catch small mistakes while they’re still that- small-and before they completely ruin all your hard work. This article on Search Engine Journal suggests helpful metrics to include so you’re always on top of your site’s analytics.

The Adverse Effect of Email Marketing Campaigns

Building up a site’s SEO is a long, challenging, and often-tedious process. It’s definitely not something that’s going to happen in a day, which is why many companies choose to hire SEO experts to handle this aspect of their business. Unfortunately, sometimes the term “expert” is thrown around pretty loosely. Make sure you do your homework before hiring a “professional” and trusting them to handle your website’s precious rankings.

Take, for example, this story of a company’s SEO “success” after their in-house person launched an email marketing campaign. Everyone was thrilled because he had worked for months changing metadata and adding content to no avail, and after beginning email marketing there was an almost immediate rank increase of over 500%. The fact that the increase happened so quickly should have been a warning sign. Upon closer examination of the traffic sources, it was determined that the reason for the surge was due to a large number (over 1000) of unsubscribes. When they took that out of the equation, their rankings were down again for the week. Keep this story in mind if you decide to start email marketing, and be wary of any major increases that happen too quickly and too easily.

Always Transfer Old Assets

Toys-R-Us learned this lesson the hard way and it cost them 5.1 million dollars. They spent that huge chunk of change on the domain name Toys.com- without realizing that Google had already de-indexed that specific URL. What’s worse, they then forwarded the domain name instead of transferring it, prompting Google to re-index the URL, and subsequently causing Toys-R-Us to lose out on all the rankings they had earned from searching the keyword “toys”. When they bought the domain they had the potential to completely dominate the SEO market, and they lost out on all that potential with just a small oversight. They could have avoided all these problems by just using “301 redirects for all the old URLs that they had used to build their existing domain authority.” Instead, they made a mistake that cost them a ton of money, de-valued their investment, and set them back years regarding SEO.

To learn more about how to avoid “Night of the Living Dead SEO,” read this article on dirty SEO tactics that you should steer clear of at all costs. To find out about best practices you can employ to keep your website from turning into a zombie, read this article or this one by Search Engine Journal. Happy rankings and happy Halloween!

Feature Image Credit: DepositPhotos

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Author: Amanda DiSilvestro

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