The end of October is known for a holiday loved by both children and grownups. Of course, I'm talking about Halloween, which is associated with jack-o'-lanterns, spiders, skeletons, ghosts, witches and other scary symbols.

Although Halloween has passed, we all still encounter some scary things in our daily lives: websites with on-page SEO issues, black hat optimization techniques and blog comment spam to name a few. This time we decided to discuss the scariest SEO stories during our weekly SEMrush Chat.

Sad to say, but these things have happened to many of us. Fortunately, you can easily prevent all of them, if you know their root causes. Let’s take a look at some examples of SEO horror stories.

Q1: What are the most common on-page SEO nightmares?

It may be surprising, but many website owners are still struggling with basic SEO techniques. There are some technical on-page optimization issues that can be easily and quickly fixed, but if you don’t address them, these issues can significantly influence your overall search ranking.

We asked our chat participants to name the most common on-page SEO nightmares.

  • Keyword stuffing

We received plenty of tweets about keyword stuffing. Many of our chat participants agreed that it’s one of the scariest on-page SEO issues.

The term “keyword stuffing” has been around since the early days of SEO. It’s a shady technique that some website owners and SEOs use in order to manipulate their site’s search rankings for a particular keyword or phrase. There was a time when this method worked quite well. Sites could rank for many terms and phrases by simply stuffing webpages with keywords, even though those keywords were unrelated and their website lacked relevant, quality content.

Today, however, Google has become stricter about keyword stuffing, trying to provide a better user experience. This technique can damage your rankings. Website owners need to create useful, information-rich content to rank high in Google search results. “Keyword stuffing is still a big issue! Google doesn't like it and neither do your readers,” tweeted Express Writers ‏ @ExpWriters.

  • Duplicate content

When content appears on the Web in more than one place, it’s duplicate content. Around half of all websites that we analyzed face duplicate content issues. So, it’s difficult for search engines to decide which version is more relevant to a specific search query and which version to rank for query results. As a result, Google ends up filtering one webpage at the expense of another.

You can use the rel=canonical tag to help search engines figure out which webpage to rank and which ones shouldn’t be indexed.

  • Pages that lack structure

Some webpages look pretty scary because they lack structure. If you want your target users to read your content, you need to make it readable. Structure your paragraphs and don’t make them too long. You can also try writing some one-sentence paragraphs. Break up your content with catchy, compelling subheaders, create bulleted lists and craft your content strategically by highlighting its main points with bold font, pull-out quotes or other elements.

You have to admit that most people will scan your content rather than reading carefully. But instead of fighting this reality, you need to accept it and adjust your content strategy accordingly.

  • Missing tags and meta descriptions

One of the most important elements of on-page SEO is including the correct tags. Whether it’s title tags, header tags, alt tags, or meta tags, you need them on your page. Tags are intended to classify content in a way that’s useful for your readers and helpful for search engines. The latter use these tags to better understand your content. That means that tags are crucial for both your usability and search engine optimization.

Accurate meta descriptions can improve your click-through rates. These elements appear under your page’s URL in search results. The better your meta description is, the higher your CTR will be. If your page doesn’t have a meta description, you might be losing out on a large amount of traffic to your website.

  • Too many on-page links

Having an excessive number of links on your webpage means a bad user experience. If you don’t want users to leave your site soon after they visit it, you need to include only high-quality, relevant links on your site. Make sure to get rid of any links that don’t add any value to your SEO campaign or your website’s visitors.

You can check out a few other on-page SEO horror stories in the following recap.

SEMrush Chat Recap Q1

Andy Drinkwater also mentioned misunderstandings with some clients: “[Another SEO nightmare is] when you tell a client not to do something, and they do it anyway and then complain when it all goes bad.” But we’ll return to client relationships a bit later.

Q2: What is the most black-hat technique you’ve ever seen?

I think many of us have come across some pretty crazy black hat techniques, especially those who have been involved with the SEO world for a long time. We asked our chat participants to name the most black-hat SEO technique they’ve ever seen.

Steve Hill described one of the most black-hat and dishonest techniques he’s ever seen – when fake Google reviews damaged a local business. These reviews were supposedly created by a competitor.

Back in the early 2000s, link wheels were a very common strategy used by many website owners who were trying to increase backlinks and traffic to their sites. This strategy involves the practice of creating a network of sites that link from one to another and to your main site as well. In fact, the main problem with link wheels wasn’t the wheels themselves, but with what black hat SEOs used to build them.

Matt Lacuesta mentioned another black hat technique – invisible font format. Some webmasters create text of the same color as their page’s background in order to make this text invisible. And here’s what happens: website visitors won’t see these keywords on the webpage, but search engines will find them.

Another way some webmasters attempt to hide their text from viewers is to use CSS. By using hidden font format in CSS, they can hide text from humans while making it available to search engines.

A website that’s designed solely for the purpose of ranking is actually useless. First of all, you should create content for humans first and search engines second. Otherwise, your content will have no real value and a bad user experience. After all, the most important thing that affects your rankings is how many actual visitors are satisfied with your webpages.

Mandy Pennington also said that she has noticed many accidental black hat tactics. For example, sometimes people say that their friend “who knows computers” told them to do this or that.

ThinkSEM mentioned a black hat SEO technique that was used by a well-known brand in 2006. BMW used doorway pages to trick search engines and attract links unnaturally. A doorway page is a webpage that’s created for the sole purpose of redirecting site visitors to a parent page.

The brand earned additional visibility and held number-one rankings for generic keywords like “used car” for some time. But when Google found out, the BMW site was penalized and given a PageRank of zero.

The ThinkSEM team also confessed that ‏in addition to seeing black hat SEO techniques, they’ve also used them themselves: “We have an employee on board who got his start in black hat. No fear, he's a white hat now.”

SEMrush Chat Recap Q2

Using black hat SEO techniques can lead to a damaged reputation and low rankings to name a few negative consequences. If you want to keep your website spotless, you need to avoid the described tactics. In fact, there’re many ways to legitimately improve your rankings without violating Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

Q3: When it comes to relationships with clients, what horrific tortures have you experienced from them as SEOs?

We used to agree that “the customer is always right.” But is this always a reality? Some clients can be very hard to work with. Our chat guests told us what tortures they’ve experienced from their clients.

  • Clients obsessed with keywords

Unfortunately, not everybody understands that keyword stuffing can significantly damage your rankings. Some customers still want to load their webpages with keywords, even irrelevant ones.

It’s really difficult to argue with clients who are obsessed with keywords. Even if their organic traffic increases by 100 percent, they want to rank number one for all other possible keywords.

  • Clients who know everything

Some clients act as if they’re SEO gurus. It can be hard to communicate with them and convince them of what their website really needs.

In fact, why hire an SEO consultant if you know everything and don’t need professional help?

  • Scope creeps

Many freelancers and agencies, especially those who have worked in the SEO world for a long time, have dealt with scope creeps. Working with a scope creep goes like this: it starts off well, but over time the situation worsens. As the project gets bigger, your price stays the same. A customer thinks that the additional work is within the scope of your initial agreement. This situation usually occurs when the scope of your project wasn’t properly documented or defined.

  • Clients who ignore recommendations

Many people used to think that communication solves all problems. But sometimes it doesn’t help. For example, you talk to a client and give them recommendations; they agree with you. You think that they completely understand everything, but later they end up ignoring your professional tips and complaining that they aren’t seeing any improvements.

Sometimes clients hire SEO consultants or agencies even if they have their own in-house SEO. Problems begin when they misinterpret or ignore a good piece of advice from a hired consultant or an agency and instead follow their in-house SEO’s recommendations. ”Misinterpreting good advice and turning it bad! Then we hear: ‘Our SEO said to do this.’ And it turned out to be a spammy or borderline black hat SEO technique,” tweeted ThinkSEM.‏

  • Clients who expect instant results

Some clients are too impatient. They want results and they want them now. They want to beat web sharks like Yelp or Yellow Pages in Google search results in only a few weeks.

Dawn Anderson has noticed that some clients don't realize that SEO is always changing, and their strategy must change periodically as well.

It appears that there’re even more relationship difficulties between SEOs and clients than we thought. Some misunderstandings can be easily cleared up, while others are too serious, and the game probably isn’t worth the candle.

SEMrush Chat Recap Q3

Paul Shapiro ‏ @fighto shared his post “ The 44 Nightmare Responses Your Agency Will Get When You Ask A Simple Question.”

Q4: What is the scariest SEO story that has happened to you or someone you know?

Finally, we asked our chat guests to tell their SEO horror stories that happened to them or someone they know.

The first tweet seemed to scare many of our chat participants. Andy Drinkwater showed a layout of a website that he saw last week.

Jerry Frear told how his team helped a client recover from a Google penalty, but 15 months later the client replaced them with another company that actually caused the penalty!

Some people think that if they use the canonical tag, they won’t have any redirect issues. But the thing is, there are other issues that may be causing problems they don’t know about, like the incorrect use of the canonical tag, multiple redirects, infinite redirects and using 302 redirects rather than 301 redirects to name a few.

Patrick Stox told about a ridiculous – rather than scary – situation in which his clients started the rebranding process and found out that they didn’t own their domain.

The SEO issue that Paul Shapiro told us about was not as serious, but the main point here is that a disgruntled employee decided to take vengeance on the company he worked for. I bet it’s one of the most unprofessional acts you’ve ever heard about.

The release of Google’s Penguin 2.0 algorithm has become a serious problem for all agencies that have been practicing low-quality link building for years. Paul Gregory said that he worked for one of those agencies, and they needed an endless supply of fire extinguishers to put out every one of those fires after the launch of Penguin 2.0.

‏”The Summer after Penguin 2.0 was pretty bad. Heatwave, and looking at millions of links to fix penalties on new clients,” tweeted Dawn Anderson.

SEMrush Chat Recap Q4

So do you have your own scary SEO stories? Share them in the comments!

Q5:If there were an SEO horror movie, what would it be called? We’ll start off with “The Google Penguin Massacre”

We decided to make our final question creative and ask our guests to come up with a title for an SEO horror movie. We offered our own idea – “The Google Penguin Massacre.”

Our chat participants turned out to be even more creative.

We made a list of the horror movie titles that we liked the most:

  • Night of the Living Penguin Algorithm

  • The Boss Who Had ”SEO Ideas‘

  • S.E.O.:Sudden. Electric. HOOOOOOrrrror

  • Matt Cutts You: The Revenge

  • The Exseorsist

  • Black (Hat) Sabbath

  • 12 Angry SEO Managers

  • A Nightmare on SERP Street

  • The Silence of the SERPs

  • The Google Witch Project

  • 572 Days Later

  • The Algorithm in the Woods

  • The Endless Search For Page 1

  • The DoorWay Page in the Woods

  • Matt Cutts Bad SEOer Slayer

  • Deadly SEO Howls Chase

  • The Uneducated SEO

  • Invasion of the Web Snatchers

  • Killtext: the Content That Had No Context

  • Attack of the Killer Penguin and the Unhappy Panda!

  • DIY Site Migrations

  • Dawn of the Dead Links

  • Creature from the Black Hat Lagoon

These ideas were provided by the following chat guests:

That’s it for today!

It was an interesting and slightly scary discussion! Thanks to everyone who took part in our chat and shared their frightful SEO stories.

As you can see, these stories don’t come out of nowhere. They’re the result of engaging in various black hat SEO tactics or forgetting about basic but crucial optimization elements. If you learn the best practices and apply only legal techniques to your optimization campaign, you will never become the main character of an SEO horror movie.

Author Photo
Liza PerstnevaLiza Perstneva is a Social Media Manager at SEMrush and a #SEMrushchat host. Follow Liza on Twitter.
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