Podcast | SEO Horror Stories

30 Oct 2019

In our last episode this year, Elevate Search celebrates Halloween by bringing your SEO Horror stories to life! All stories have been anonymised and we've given them a halloween makeover for your listening pleasure…..

We explore:

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AI Transcription

This podcast has been transcribed using an AI transcriber. There may be some errors and this is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

SEO Horror Stories

From site migration disasters, to site-wide algorithm penalties, you could say that every day is a horror story in SEO. And that’s because companies still underestimate the value of search. While some retrospectively “SEO” their site, others treat it as an “IT issue”. So it’s little wonder that the stories you’re about to hear weren’t hard to come by!

Chilling site migrations

Okay, so diving straight in this story came from an anonymous source. Long ago, in a darker time, when SEO was but a myth to many, a big name travel company struggled to maintain its ranking.

Every 6 months they’d drop off the face of Google, and torture their agency with their complete lack of SEO knowledge.

As it turns out, their deep dark secret was every time they had a new travel brochure they spawned a whole new website, essentially doing a site migration but with no SEO input! And if thats not scary enough, they also made 2 versions of these new sites - one of which was a PDF!

Flo Rida fairytale

This SEO horror story came in from an anonymous source… It begins:

“Years ago I was sitting in a quarterly review with a senior team from a very well known search engine - ahem - who were presenting their latest search trend data to a client in the travel sector. The senior team presented a huge spike in search interest for the term ‘Florida’, which the client immediately began questioning, as they weren't aware of this peak and it didn't align with anything they were seeing. The search engine reps couldn't answer the questions they were getting, so eventually left the room to call their team and have them look into it straight away. After a few minutes they sheepishly sloped back into the room and admitted that it wasn't anything to do with travel to ‘Florida’ - it was because the rapper Flo Rida had just launched his new album. The travel client was not impressed and I should think that was a pretty scary moment in that rep's career!” but with that one, you know, it depends on how you’re looking at it. I’m sure for Flo Rida, it wasn’t so much a horror story, as a fairytale.

The gruesome consequences of misunderstood SEO

Now a story so scary it’d chill the the core update of any SEO…

Our tale begins with a junior account manager, tasked with the challenge of explaining what SEO is to a manager at a glamorous hotel. Try as she might, she was unable to communicate the importance of SEO, and found herself trapped in an interrogation about why the hotels nemesis opposite them was appearing above them in Google despite them only having half the number of rooms!

The hotel couldn’t grasp the fact that Google’s algorithm didn’t factor in number of hotel rooms, and demanded the agency work harder on pain of death! Nahhhh, they just threatened to pull their business from the poor junior account manager.

Which must have been awful. Who knew there wasn't a relationship between hotel suite and Google’s algorithm?


The next story is every agencies nightmare, and comes in from another anonymous source.

“We recently visited an event where we encountered one of the world’s biggest consultancies, who had just been charged with building a team of digital excellence, and had an eye-watering budget to boot. Needless to say, we were very excited by the prospect of their business, and were meeting them for a one-to-one. As we talked, it became very clear very quickly that they were uninterested. Ten minutes in - after explaining our organic search support - they held their hand up and said “I’m going to stop you there. We only deal with something called natural search, and I don’t know what you’re talking about.” We were shocked, not just because of their attitude, but because the person we were talking to was the Head of Digital Excellence.”

Dreaded subdomain conflict

Now over to the IT industry, where a well-known company has created a monster with their subdomain strategy! This company spawned a grand total of 48 subdomains *scream* If you’re an SEO, you will know that this can present the horrifying issue of subdomain SEO cannibalisation. When you create similarly themed content across subdomains, your site can begin to eat itself, causing you to go ghost in the SERPs - and now that we’ve exhausted every questionable subdomain themed pun, let’s move on to our final spine-tingler - and this one really is chilling...

True SEO horror

This next story is a true horror. As in, this really happened. And as much as we don’t condone the previous stories heard on this episode - we REALLY don’t condone this one.

Whilst reviewing a clients performance, a consultant spotted a huge spike in rankings - bringing the customers site up from oblivion to page 1. How did they do this? Some sort of black magic?

The consultant quizzed the marketing team, encouraging them ‘whatever it was we must do it again!’

After some confusion on the customer’s side, they suddenly realised the dark truth...the date which they rose so far in rankings was the same date a senior staff member committed a murder….

News stories and publicity had given them so many backlinks that they topped the SERPs.

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