It’s that time of year again, where the boogie man is in the closet waiting to pop out, people are saying that ghosts are real (disclaimer: they are…), and the scariest thing of all—Google begins to do algorithm updates randomly that either help or destroy the websites you’re working on. Just like a ghost, Google’s algorithm can’t be seen or know when it’s going to appear and scare the rankings out of you.

For this 2018 Halloween year, we decided to ask others their digital marketing horror stories. If you dare to read these chilling tales, then go for it, read on. If not, please don’t bounce away. Just highlight the URL and share the post with others to give them a fright.

1. Google Manual Penalty During Q4

This scary tale comes from Mark Aselstine at Uncorked Ventures:

“Basically, here’s why you have to avoid penalties. As you might expect as an e-commerce business, almost half of my sales for the year happen around that fun time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

To our surprise, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we woke up with a note from Google…saying that our website had been dropped from the index entirely because we were linking out to some shady spots. At that time, I didn’t even know how to look for cloaked links, or even what they were, but sure when you looked at the HTML of our pages, we had hidden links at the bottom of the pages to every online pharmaceutical seller in the world.

At that time, we weren’t even as worried about organic traffic (we had little anyway) but if you can’t put your company name into Google, then you don’t exist! So after a few tense moments, we were able to have our software folks tell us how we were hacked and in what amounts to a miracle, Google removed the penalty within a week. Sure we missed Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday…but we survived the rest of the holiday season. Back then, it was probably enough of a blow for us to have to close our doors if it didn’t go well.”

It was a scary couple of days!

Moral of the story: Don’t do spammy backlinking. If you’re not sure if your backlink profile is good or bad, call someone over here at Big Leap and we can help you out!

Scared girls hiding in blanket while watching horrors on TV at night

2. Bad SEO Agency Uses Bad Practices

This true story comes from Akiva of Falcon Marketing:

“A client of mine came to us from his previous SEO company because Google had slapped him with a penalty. He went from getting dozens of leads per day, to suddenly nothing. His dental practice started losing business and profits began to decrease. What happened was that his SEO company was petitioning backlinks from irreputable sources, such as pornographic sites, link farms, and directories. He came to us and thankfully we have been able to get the penalty lifted, and are just starting to see his rankings pick up again. Always be careful who you do business with!”

Man covering his eyes while watching TV.

3. Getty Images Will Take Everything You Own

This horrifying story comes from Jered Martin of OnePitch:

“My first job was with a small full-service digital marketing agency in Banker’s Hill. Our agency serviced many clients across the lifestyle sector, legal sector, and home remodeling. One day our CEO was sent a letter from Getty Images claiming our agency owed them a significant amount of money (like $30,000) for images we had used for our clients’ blogs which were not royalty-free and owned by Getty Images.

It was then my job for the next week to flag every single image on every single client blog (over 12 clients, mind you) and then proceed to find royalty-free images to replace the ones we did not own and fully optimize them for SEO.”

Just stay away from Getty Images.

4. Redirects More Like Miss-directs

This comes from Marcus Miller of Bowler Hat:

“The worst instance of this that we have seen was a small charity that provides support and dietary advice for people with multiple sclerosis. After a painful and protracted rebrand and redesign that initially broke down with the first agency and had another agency take over the new site launched. And that is when the problems started and within a week organic traffic was down 90%.

This was not a case of some initial turbulence, the traffic was decimated. And it stayed like this until a representative of the charity got in touch. We have seen hundreds of this kind of problems over the years but I think this had the biggest impact in terms of traffic percentage. We took the job on as a pro-bono project and got to work reverse engineering the issues.

To cut a long (and painful) story short the main issue was redirects with some structural and optimisation issues added in just for good measure. The site had a discussion forum that provided around 80% of the content and around 50% of the traffic. It seems the forum also had the majority of the links pointing at the site. The new forum was on different URLs, had duplicate content, had no optimisation of page titles (not even the basics – 100% duplicate page titles) and no 301 redirects.

We had to get a copy of the old site up and running and implement a series of redirects and optimise the site. It was not a quick fix. But, over time, with redirects in place traffic started to climb again and after six months was back to 80% of the pre-design levels. Now, with further changes the traffic has grown further.

Yet, this was a scary time for all involved. A rebrand. A new start. A painful redesign over 12 months. Everyone was ready for big things and…the organic traffic which was the lifeblood of the website was gone.”

5. If You Add A No-Index Tag You’re Gonna Have a Bad Time

Sean from Flowers Across Austrailia gives us the worst case scenario:

We were switching over to HTTPS and overnight all of our rankings disappeared. I spent a day running through all the checks, but I still couldn’t figure out what was going on.

Eventually, I figured out that the agency had forgotten about a single line of code. All the new pages were automatically forwarded to the HTTPS version of the page, but when that page loaded, some code told Google to not index it.

We got it back up and after a couple of weeks the rankings came back, but it was a worry and cost the company a lot of money.”

If you have any scary stories of your own, let us know about them.