In my 16 years as an SEO I have seen some pretty amazing success stories but sadly I have also seen some horrors that haunt me to this day. They all revolve around deceptively easy mistakes that have catastrophic results. I hope by sharing them with you now you will be able to save yourself or a friend some grief.

  1. The Block Blunder. There is a file called the robots.txt found in the root of most websites. It is this file which can instruct search engines where to and where not to index content within the website for its algorithms to later rank. It is quite a simple file to use but with a single mistake you can easily block an entire website to Google instantaneously which will very quickly remove your site from search results entirely. Sadly this happens far more often than you would think.
  2. The Redirect Blunder. It is a good practice to use 301 redirects to tell search engines where an old piece of content has been moved to; when the URL is changed. Unfortunately, there are a myriad of ways a 301 redirect can really screw things up. For example, older websites often impose a redirect from an old piece of content to the new one but then a few years later they may have overhauled their website creating yet another redirect. If repeated overhauls have happened over the life of a site particularly active sites and the result is Google (for instance) will stop following the redirects if they encounter too many.
  3. Settings Schmettings. There is a great tool (when handled with wisdom) called Google Webmaster Tools which allows a site-owner to specify specific settings to Google. Like any great tool it has equal potential for evil as it has for good. Case in point; a client has fantastic rankings but decides to go into his Google Webmaster Tools account and edit the Geographic Target for his site to Canada only because he figures that won’t do any harm and could increase his Canadian rankings. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that 15% of his traffic and sales were from some top rankings he had on (US). With this simple change his site dropped off the map on and he lost thousands in sales.
  4. Bad Link Building. Don’t do it!! In today’s search engine marketplace if you are offered hundreds if not thousands of links in a given month RUN! Links need to be created organically or extremely carefully through outreach which is why good link builders generally charge over a $100 per link. A recent prospect used a cheap link builder who built such poor links for him (at around $0.10 each) that his site’s rankings dropped precipitously and now he is considering abandoning it. What can he do in recourse? Very little.
  5. Optimizing Blindly. There are a few SEO tactics that worked very well less than 5 years ago but could easily translate into a manual penalty from Google in today’s environment. Unfortunately the documentation that recommended those practices is still online and in some circles is still passed around as gospel. This is why it is important to vet any SEO tactics with a trusted SEO or on reputable sites like Search Engine Land or Search Engine Roundtable thoroughly before employing them.

In conclusion, please tread carefully and double-check your work and decisions so that you don’t end up another SEO blunder statistic.