Best Digital Agency Practices

Most Shocking SEO Blunders + Oversights

SEO mistakes can cost companies lost traffic and profits.

The world of digital marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) is still unchartered territory for most brands and marketing departments. In many cases, a marketing director’s relationship with an SEO firm is based on trust because the curtain is often drawn over the “mystery” of their work. It’s geeky, nerdy stuff that many traditional marketers don’t understand nor care to understand. This lack of knowledge and understanding, however, can cost the company untold losses if the wrong SEO agency is hired. 

When bad SEO happens to good marketers.

The following stories are jaw dropping to professional SEOs, but unfortunately, most of us see mistakes like this on a daily basis. What’s incredibly disturbing is that the mistakes and oversights we have found were performed at the hands of a client’s trusted SEO company or search marketing firm. So, they were actually paid to do this damage.

We have two types of clients. Those who find us before they have ever worked or hired another SEO firm (these are the lucky ones) and those who find us after they have hired another SEO firm and have failed to see positive results.

In some cases these are oversights, reflecting poor quality assurance by the SEO team previously on the account. Or, in most of them, the resulting mistakes are executed upon or overlooked because the agency in question doesn’t truly offer SEO and search marketing services.

The following are examples of shocking SEO blunders and oversights we have discovered after taking over accounts from other supposed “SEO agencies”. Read on and try not to spill your coffee on your laptop.

1. Search engines are blocked.

One client came to us reporting a 70% drop in organic traffic over the past six months. The traffic loss was steadily worsening and had started when they launched their new website. The new website launch included a brand new domain switch, which usually leads to a traffic drop. But a loss in traffic on this scale was beyond a new domain name.

Our client hired us right away to dig deeper. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to discover the issue. We found, in a matter of minutes, after trying to run a scan on the website that the previous web developers had left a line of code in place that blocked search engines from actively crawling and therefore ranking the website.

Typically all website development companies stage a website before it goes live on a staging domain. To prevent this staging website from showing up in search engines, the developers tell search engines not to crawl the site by installing a line of code. This is all well and good. But, once the new website is live, the developers are supposed to go back in and remove that code in order to then allow search engines to crawl and scan the website.

This agency had neglected to do so.

What makes this even more shocking:

Our client had also hired a social marketing agency after the launch of their new website. We still can’t figure out how that agency missed this traffic dip and failed to diagnose it themselves. Any social marketing agency you hire should also be checking your Google Analytics to see how traffic is improving.

2. 5,000+ links from a black hat SEO link farm.

While our first example is a result of negligence and was a careless, yet costly, mistake, this example is one of a deliberate and calculated black hat SEO tactic executed on a client’s website without their knowledge or consent. One of these tactics is link farm link building.

Black hat link building has always been frowned upon by SEO professionals, however, up until a big crack down by Google in 2012 and 2013, many SEO firms were conducting link farm link building and enjoying fast boosts in search term rankings. Their clients didn’t know any better and were completely unaware, in most cases, that their SEO firms were using this highly questionable tactic to rank their websites.

A link farm, as defined in Wikipedia, is:

link farm is any group of web sites that all hyperlink to every other site in the group...Although some link farms can be created by hand, most are created through automated programs and services. A link farm is a form of spamming the index of a search engine (sometimes called spamdexing or spamexing). 

The success of link farms was short lived and it all ended with Google’s Panda and Penguin updates. And while clients of Cement Marketing enjoyed a boost in rankings because we always have and always will execute only white hat SEO strategies, thousands of link farm victims saw a dramatic decrease in traffic or their website growth became stagnant.

One of our clients, a law firm, had enjoyed an increase in traffic after hiring a national SEO company.  Upon hiring the company, our clients received a new website with some canned content and presto– their website visits went up. But while they noticed an uptick in traffic, they did not see an uptick in leads or calls. This is a common red flag and a sign that your SEO firm is using black hat tactics.

After hiring Cement, our team discovered 5,000 links pointing to our new client’s website. The odds of these being authentic were slim to none. Acquiring that many authentic inbound links would have taken a concerted effort by an SEO team for at least four to six months and the client would have had to have been involved.

Sure enough, when we examined the links we found websites like ZeldaTattoo.com linking to them. If you click over to that website you will see a list of links in the righthand column, it is filled with other link farm victims. Needless to say, the client had no idea these links were being pointed at their website.

The damage is done, however, and it will take months to rebuild the website’s reputation in Google and other search engine’s eyes.

3. Hidden outbound link pages.

Not as damaging but equally egregious is the discovery of an outbound link page on a client website. Unbeknownst to them, their SEO firm had created a hidden page on their website and from that page had created a list of outbound links to other client websites.

This is also highly frowned upon by any white hat SEO professional, but is now also a penalty by Google. Outbound lists of links can actually hurt your search rankings

4. Failure to optimize page titles and metas.

Optimizing page titles and meta descriptions based off of keyword research should be a given. However, properly optimizing them is not. We still see page titles and meta descriptions optimized to the wrong keywords. And it is no best practice not to keyword stuff a page title, but to make sure its page title directly mirrors the headline on the page.

5. 301 say what? No 301 re-directions.

When your website design firm launches your new website ask them to perform 301 re-directions. They will likely say, “sure, of course we do that!” But, we have seen countless websites launched by other firms without proper 301 re-directions in place. This can cause a significant drop in search rankings and negatively impact your website.

To ensure they have actually installed the 301 re-directs take an old URL from your old site that no longer exists, this could be a page or post you have deleted from the navigation of the new website. Type in that URL and see if it automatically re-directs you to the new equivalent page. Having trouble finding old URLs? Look in your Google Analytics under content and find a previously popular page.

Now, also remember, that when designing a new website deleting existing pages may not be the best course of action at all. If those pages are ranking and pulling in traffic they should not be eliminated.

Costly SEO mistakes can be avoided.

Fortunately, these mistakes never have to happen to anyone. If you hire a true SEO firm at the start of your website design project you will be protected. To be sure you have the right firm read our post on auditing your SEO agency. Or, just call us at Cement. We perform audits of websites and can quickly assess your agency’s work