19 SEO Horror Stories That Will Scare the Hell Out of You

Hello SERP sorcerers, tech SEO specialists, and link building extraordinaires!

It’s almost Halloween, and we didn’t want it to pass by without sharing some spooky stories. But not just any scary stories.

Ghostly appearances in the SERPs, website necromancy, mysterious strategies… These tales are terrifying enough to make the blood of even the most veteran SEO run cold.

Brace yourself.

Dear SEO, I Can’t Hear You

In horror movies, there’s always that one wise person warning everyone that a house is haunted. Everyone seems to ignore this person only to die one by one. SEO is sometimes a lot like that.

Tess Voecks, Director of Product Management of Local SEO Guide, said, “I was the SEO team lead for a power tool retailer. I told them (as nicely as possible) what an awful idea it would be to skip testing. I also explained what the ramifications of having no internal links would be.

“They told me to stay in my lane and just send along my recs because I’m ‘just an SEO.’ (I was, like helllloooo!) I was told to leave the heavy lifting and product knowledge up to the boys.

“I was so freaking mad. I took the whole next week off work to watch it tank from home and not have to deal with it. I saw a tweet about the job opening for a product manager at Local SEO Guide the next week, and the rest is history.”

Andrew Shotland, CEO at Local SEO Guide, shared a similar tale. “We got brought in late to a $10M+ redesign of a large retailer site. When we looked everything over, we noticed there was no plan to redirect millions of old URLs,” he said.

“We strongly recommended redirects, but the big IT consultants said it was “too complicated and out of scope.” They lost ~$5M in the first month.”

Low-Quality Content Haunting You?

Sometimes you know what needs to be done, but there’s nothing you can do to stop it. We’ll let SEOGreetings tell you this tragic tale:

“When I was relatively junior, I wanted to build out location pages for my biggest client. Unfortunately, my bosses and higher-paid colleagues ignored my content brief, and we created several landing pages for each location.

Each landing page contained a 400-word block of irrelevant text with no call to action or information about the actual company. All links to accreditation sites were stripped out to avoid “leaking link juice.”

After an initial traffic boost, they got absolutely smashed. The website disappeared shortly after they canceled.

Basically, we filled the site with 100s of absolute garbage landing pages and destroyed the client’s visibility.”

Jeff Ferguson, Partner at Amplitude Digital, had a similar experience. He shared, “Years ago, a one-time employer and eventual client of mine, in an attempt to make their site more ‘mobile-friendly,’ basically created thousands and thousands of doorway pages. Luckily, I caught it before Google did, or it would have been a living nightmare for this big travel brand.”

Yikes! Could you imagine having to clean that all up and fix all that after? Sure glad it wasn’t me!

NoIndex Was Just The Beginning

Dixon Jones, CEO of Inlinks.net, knows what happens when you forget little details in the robots.txt.

“Around 2001, Boo.com was the jewel of the dot-com bubble,” he said. “When the crash came, Boo.com went down in flames making national headlines. Their robots.txt file had never let search engines in. I know, because I checked it at the time.”

For Jesse McDonald, Global SEO Strategist for IBM, however, forgetting a noindex tag was only the start of the nightmare.

“The horror story that has been the standout for my career was the time I accidentally set an entire site for a San Antonio lawyer to noindex, which tanked the rankings.

This was bad enough. But while troubleshooting, I somehow deleted the entire homepage in the WordPress site with no backup.

Luckily, I could rebuild it quickly and get the site crawled in a couple of days. The rankings recovered almost instantly.

I remember looking at my boss and saying, ‘I figured it out, and I am totally expecting you to fire me, but please at least let me fix it before you do.’

In my eight years in this industry, I’ve luckily only made that mistake once.”

WordPress Plugin Goes Rogue

If you’ve ever had a WordPress plugin misbehave, you know the kind of havoc it can cause. Bryan Ng had that experience.

“I had a site ranking at the top of page one until it wasn’t. One of the settings in my SEO WordPress plugin ‘malfunctioned,’” Ng explained.

“I didn’t know until I checked the rankings a few days later and saw that my website was gone. I soon discovered that the product page got marked as no-index due to an error in the plugin. Luckily, I solved it, and the site returned to its former glory one day later.”

If SEO Were Like Dating…

Ever been on a date with someone you want to impress, so you pull out all the stops and prepare for all the proven moves? And it goes horribly wrong?

Andrew Shotland has been there in the SEO world. “In my early days of consulting, I discovered a newspaper client had their entire website from 1996 indexed on a subdomain.

I thought they should redirect it, which they did. I then realized all of their images were hosted on this subdomain. It wasn’t pretty. Thank goodness for roll-backs.”

But it isn’t always your fault. Sometimes, it’s the blind date from hell, as a member of the Local SEO Guide outreach team explained.

“Found a good site for link building. Everything looked great until I looked at the content submission rules: ‘If women are mentioned they must be in traditional household roles.’ I noped out”

Well, everyone, we hope you won’t encounter anything as scary as these professionals did. And if you do, let us know about it for next year?

Featured image: Shutterstock/Romolo Tavani