Online Marketing Tales From the Crypt: SEO Horror Stories

By DOM Team| 9 Min Read | October 29, 2015
SEO Horror Stories

SEO Horror Stories

The scary truth is that when done badly, most digital marketing strategies can only wreak havoc and (gasp!) waste precious marketing budgets.

In part one of this series, you might have learned that running PPC campaigns can certainly reveal its own set of nightmares. And believe it or not, the world of SEO is not immune either.

Survivor’s Guilt


Photo Credit: flickr

One of our favorite things is participating in various Twitter chats to share tips and insights with other experts in our industry. In particular, we regularly join in on the weekly #SEOchat.

If we’ve learned anything from AMC’s The Walking Dead, it’s that Rick and his crew have, for the most part, stuck it out through thick and thin. Not to mention Rick Grimes is the perfect subject for “Walking Dad Jokes.”


And after the proverbial zombie hoard has cleared and we’ve made our way to safety, there are a couple folks from #SEOchat we’d want in our crew. Calling on some of our favorite participants, we asked them to overcome the trauma of digging up the past to regale us with their SEO tales of horror.

Attack of the Clones


Chris Berkley

Account Manager at Seer Interactive


SEO professionals will often times coordinate their efforts with PR folks. Along with other SEO pros, Chris Berkley has learned that as the digital landscape becomes more complex, PR and SEO are increasingly more related to one another.

And it’s true that there are some amazing PR professionals with an incredible knowledge of search engine optimization. Unfortunately, there are still many who either have no knowledge or are relying on information that may have been true in the early 2000’s.

Some PR tactics have proven that their ability to score high-quality media placements can give links from high authority websites and drive highly qualified referral traffic. More often than not, PR folks will rely on pushing their press releases through the black abyss: the newswire.

Berkley recalled his nightmare situation when a client’s PR freelancer crafted a press release simply by copying verbatim one of the client’s blog posts and then sent out to dozens of low-quality websites. So clearly this was a widespread duplicate content issue.

Is this where the nightmare ended?

No. It was only just beginning.

Berkley would spend countless hours to disavow a ton of bad links all while desperately hoping that Google had recognized the canonical tag early enough.

“Just like how there are the two camps of whitehat and blackhat SEOs, the same is true for PR people,” says Berkley. “On multiple occasions I’ve dealt with PR people who tried to build links by distributing press releases to aggregate news sites by the hundreds.”

This isn’t to say that these tactics don’t work at some level. Time has shown that favoring links from high quality and relevant sites is the just the way to go. So despite the work of evil, mad scientist PR people, don’t be discouraged from embracing a developed PR strategy.

The Poison Apple




Sam Binks

Online Marketing & PR Consultant at Miles Technologies

Connect with Sam on LinkedIn


Assuming we’re all familiar with Disney’s animated feature-length version of Snow White, we know that a major turning point in the story comes when the evil queen takes on the form of an old woman. With the dwarves off working in the mines, the Queen comes upon the cottage and eagerly attempts to get Snow White to take a bite of an apple.

First off, let’s applaud the woodland creatures for at least trying to warn Snow White. Had Snow White learned about the dangers of accepting gifts from strangers, this whole conflict could have been avoided.

But this story is a perfect analogy for what many businesses at any size go through when they’ve been swindled by a so-called “SEO expert.”

Here he comes, using every ounce of charm and emotionally driven talking points to tell you that SEO is your knight in shining armor. Speaking with such authority, his promises of what he can deliver is more tempting than an old lady offering you an apple.

As Sam Binks kept finding out, businesses fall for these snake oil salesmen all the time.

In this tale of woe he remembers when a client had an “expert” hook them up with a new website but not much else. Terrible site structure, duplicate URLs, page after page of thin content, meta titles and descriptions well beyond the recommended lengths . . . the list went on.

“You have to do the basics right to set a good foundation,” says Binks. “If you don’t, it’ll all come tumbling down later on.”

When you do come across folks who have been burned before by these “experts,” Binks warns us that gaining their trust all lies in managing expectations and measuring your efforts with all the relevant data you can muster.

Night of the Living Dead (Domain)




Andrew James

Online Marketing Consultant


Forward drive and persistence truly go a long way in both business and our personal lives. It’s equally as important to have a sense of when it’s time to call it quits.

The longer a domain is in existence, its backlink profile will continue to grow by natural or unnatural efforts. The question is whether that growth represents the forces of good or evil. And while most sites can recover through various tactics to remove or disavow a large portion of spammy backlinks, there is a “nuclear” option.

Although he shudders when he thinks about it, Andrew James recalls the time when there was no other option.

“As an online marketing consultant, often I’m building off the work that has been done by previous agencies,” says James. “Sometimes, that’s not a good position to be in.”

Just like with our last story about the damage “experts” can cause, this also applies to SEO professionals who still rely on blackhat link building strategies where a large number of links are acquired through unnatural means.


In reviewing a potential client’s link profile, he made the suggestion to start over with a new domain. This can be a difficult question to consider since a lot of time, effort, and hard dollars will essentially go down the drain by starting over.

Even making such a suggestion is not something that should be taken lightly. After weighing all feasible options, James said to himself, “Yes. It’s that bad.”

Despite this particular client declining to implement James’ suggestion, there is a valuable lesson to be learned here. Gone are the days where link building is a scalable endeavor and can be accomplished with minimal effort. Instead, focus your link building on sourcing links of high quality and relevance to save your domain from becoming DOA.

How Google Telepathically Ruined My Honeymoon




Jacques Bouchard

Digital Marketing/SEO Account Manager at DragonSearch


For this last SEO horror story, we turn to another of our #SEOchat brethren. Only what happened to him will be sure to make you tremble in fear by the end of this tale direct from Jacques Bouchard:

“Earlier in my career, there was this one month where I got married, bought a house, moved into it, repaired my roof, and had nine houseguests at once stay with me in a house with half a kitchen — one of whom traveled all the way from Australia. (Stove, no sink. Fridge, no counter. Good times!) On top of that, I’d started a challenging new SEO job the previous month, and between the work and stress, I was literally falling asleep while driving to work. So you bet when our honeymoon came around that I was ready to disconnect, relax, and enjoy my new married life.

“Know that feeling you get sometimes? There I was, on a canoe ride with the love of my life on some gorgeous, secluded river, and a sudden chill ran down my spine. Jessi, seeing my face, was very concerned. “Do you think someone was hurt or killed? Maybe the house burned down? Perhaps Timmy fell in the well?” she asked. “No,” I said, “It’s the website!” She was not amused.

“At about that exact moment, the core website of the company I’d worked for had just gotten a notice for a manual linkspam penalty. Lovely.

“Needless to say, I came back in on Monday to a group of stern-faced managers. They didn’t know much about SEO, but they did know that 100% of their manual linkspam penalties happened under my watch. This was the early days of link penalties and disavow files, and horror stories abounded. Google was as a giant among men, crushing businesses and families with every step. (2015 has seen a kinder, gentler Google—the days of the overnight 50% traffic penalty are mostly gone.)

“Fortunately, I was able to convince them to go with the disavow, which they’d worried it was an admission of guilt. After two and a half awful weeks of late nights, red eyes, cold dinners, bouncing e-mails and voicemails begging for link removal (manual removal was considered best practice back then), hideously designed websites, manual removal submissions, and careful debate over every link we removed, we had a list of several thousand links that were there before I started—and about three I’d built. Two weeks later, and Google approved our request, and the manual penalty was gone. Hooray for getting it through so fast and clearing my name, but what a way to start a marriage!”


So we’ve made it; we survived another night of SEO horrors.

I doubt you’ll ever be the same after hearing these nightmarish tales.


Best practices are always emerging or being improved upon by SEO professionals who want to get the job done right.

As your favorite team of SEO experts, we all wish you a safe and happy Halloween!


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