SEO Confessions: The Mistakes We’d Rather Forget

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by Tess Voecks

In the ever-evolving world of SEO, triumphs and tragedies often walk hand in hand. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just starting out, there’s no shortage of stories that can make you cringe, laugh, and ultimately learn.

SEO Nightmares Are Like Elbows…

Earlier this month, we had a lively Slack thread here at LSG SEO about our most embarrassing SEO stories and nightmares. We mostly recalled screw ups from past jobs (naturally), but we’d be lying if we said some of these tales didn’t happen under LSG SEO’s watch. Let they who are without SEO fails cast the first stone.

So. Go ahead, search “SEO nightmares.” The intent of Page 1 is to warn you about the horrible things that could happen. For the 20-some years that our profession has existed, enough of you have graciously written cautionary tales to prevent other SEOs from big screwups.

And maybe that’s what you’ll get out of this post (great!). But this isn’t a map of the land mines, nor a driver’s ed deck on what not to do. This is schadenfreude first, admonition second.

Come, gather round the campfire and revel in our war stories of screwups and SEO projects gone wrong.

(Company names anonymized. Tales edited for clarity.)

Our SEO Nightmares

1. Noindexing a duplicate website on a subdomain:
“One of my early consulting clients was [News Site]. I noticed they had a complete duplicate of their website on a subdomain indexed in Google, so I recommended they noindex the subdomain, then block it.

I didn’t realize all of their images were hosted on the subdomain. Images on news sites get a lot of traffic and a lot of links. The minute they killed it, they lost about 4 or 5 million monthly visits. The GM called me up and said in his very posh British accent, “Andrew, I know it’s ‘no pain no gain’, but is it really supposed to work like this?”

Thankfully, I was able to get them to quickly roll back the changes and the traffic bounced back, but that week was a very long week. As they say, a good doctor probably has killed a few patients along the way.”

2. Canonicals gone wild
“I had an ecommerce client with 100s of millions of pages.

First mistake: They changed their SKU URLs for no good reason.

Second mistake: They insisted on relying on canonicals and refused to 301 redirect the old URLs to the new ones.

They essentially duped all of their SKU URLs because of course, Google didn’t honor the canonical. Took months to clean up.”

3. Nightmare before Christmas
“A client changed their domain and entire CMS without telling us (during Christmas) and didn’t redirect anything properly. Obviously, traffic tanked.”

4. Call it a manual action
“I was working for a company where the owner fancied himself an SEO guru.

One day I was sent a document with—I kid you not—thousands of URLs and their internal links on the pages. Not 5 minutes after receiving that doc, the owner called me screaming because all of these URLs on the site are 404ing and how could I let this happen?

Turns out he was typing in each URL by hand to check them. And instead of HTM, he was using HTML. This doc had to have taken him hours to type.”

5. “Just sprinkle some SEO on it”

“At a past in-house job, we built a gloriously crappy site for clients to control and solicit their reviews. The team that built it wanted us to”sprinkle some SEO on it” and we had to call in LSG because Google literally couldn’t render a single page of the site. It took months and months of work and the site couldn’t even do what it was meant to do.”

6. Publish the lorem ipsum with schema
“We had a client who wanted an example of schema markup suggestions and links (don’t ask me why). So we sent over a doc with lorem ipsum as the text. Some dev screwed up and replaced all of the content on every page of the site with that lorem ipsum + markup. I still feel bad, like I should’ve made it clearer, but I really wasn’t expecting that.”

7. You are here, we are not
“We had a new client that was excited to start SEO services after launching their brand new redesigned site. Yay!

Except the client omitted all of their previous location pages (there were hundreds of them) just to get the website up quicker. Traffic to those pages tanked and they didn’t have a backup of the old site. It took us some time, but we created new, better location pages to help recoup the lost traffic.”

8. Sexy bot“An ecommerce client wanted to see if popular search terms had pages attached to them, so they could make dedicated category pages if the category didn’t exist. The client had

millions of products in a ton of categories. So we figured the easiest way to do this was to build a bot that used their site search to search for each keyword in the Big List of Keywords.

Turns out, this was a bad idea for several reasons:We didn’t filter out the keywords, so the keywords included sex products and also slurs.
We didn’t run the bot on the cloud because, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
The client blocked our bot because we were sending so many requests,
The requests also had, again, sex products and also slurs in them,
Our ISP took our building’s internet offline for bot traffic.
We had a very stern talking-to from HR who wanted to know why we were searching for sex

toys and slurs on company computers.

We learned our lesson.”

Tell Us Your SEO Nightmare

And many more to tell. How about you? Let’s hear your worst!


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