SEO Horror Stories

Well, with Halloween right around the corner, I thought I’d write something a little fun today. Although “fun” is hardly the word many people would use to describe their experiences with certain SEO companies.

Our industry has made so many strides in gaining a more credible reputation, and — truth told — many SEO companies have become much better at what they do. Yet we still suffer from many people and companies who claim to do SEO, but that really don’t know anything beyond how to write a title tag. Scratch that, there are some who can’t even manage to get that right.

Most SEO firms actually know what they’re doing and are beginning to do it much better. They’re:

  • Seriously looking at competitive landscape and working that into their keyword research.
  • Looking deeper into the structure of Web sites and uncovering roadblocks to success.
  • Conducting meaningful keyword research, and looking at the information that can be gleaned from paid search efforts to determine those words that don’t just have high search volume, but actually have a history of strong CTRs, time on site, pages viewed and — most importantly — conversion rate.

Good things are happening within our industry. Still, it’s hard to sell SEO to companies when their marketing folks just don’t get it.

Another problem is that prospects often have had some sort of bad experience with an SEO firm. They either hired someone on the cheap, and bought into their outlandish expectations (“we guarantee you a top ranking for XYZ keyword”) or perhaps they ponied up some serious dough, only to find out that — although this company listed all of the things that they were going to do to move the needle — they didn’t deliver much in terms of deliverables or noticeable increases in rankings or traffic.

This is a bit like being the “good guy” who dates a girl after she’s been in an abusive relationship. Sometimes, as “good” as we might be, they’re reluctant to believe anyone, anymore.

To be fair, sometimes a bad experience with an SEO firm is the client’s fault. Perhaps they never implemented very sound recommendations, were the cause of delays, or just never put enough of their own resources into the effort to make it a success.

Other times, though, Web design companies claim to SEO, but they’re truly just a Web design firm. And, there are those who jump on the SEO bandwagon after reading a few columns and claim to be an SEO expert.

Most really good SEOs will tell you that SEO is both an art and science. You become good at SEO by doing SEO, over and over and over again.

You read a lot, sure. But, you practice a lot more than you read. You experiment, test (hopefully on your own site and not a client’s Web site), monitor changes, and see what moves the needle on rankings, traffic, and conversions.

For as long as SEO has been in practice, though, many people and companies take advantage of people’s ignorance, and pounce on the opportunity to earn a few bucks “doing this SEO thing.”

Some SEO firms can absolutely do more harm than good. You must really be careful when selecting an SEO firm. Read what Matt Cutts — head of the Spam Team at Google — said about Traffic Power in 2006.

So, when you’re speaking to an SEO firm and they try and tell you how important it is to educate yourself on proper SEO before hiring an SEO, this is one very good reason to do just that. Knowing more will make it less likely that you’ll fall victim to things that can have a detrimental effect.

The last thing you want is to spend money (any amount of money; don’t go for anything that you don’t understand, as it really can backfire) and then have that money not only be a waste, but actually hurt your rankings and the value of your domain.

In the spirit of Halloween, my company has put together a competition to allow anyone who has had a bad experience with an SEO to share it with others, and win a prize. is your opportunity to share your experience with others, and perhaps others can learn from your bad experience.

We’ll have some great judges reviewing these. Remember, the judges are very experienced SEOs and will be able to tell if you’re telling the truth, or if you’re like one of the clients mentioned above, that just “didn’t get it” and were part of the cause of the issues that led to having no success, rather than the agency. So, please spare us the time if you do not have a verifiable “nightmare” which others can learn from.

The rules:

  1. This must be a direct experience — no hearsay, no second- or third-hand stories
  2. No real or proper names of individuals or companies will be published
  3. You can’t be an SEO company — we’re looking for stories from someone who had a horror story either trying to do SEO on their own, or had a bad experience with an SEO vendor
  4. Vizion Interactive moderates/edits the blog and previews/approves all blog entries
  5. Prize winners are determined by SEO judges

We’ve got an all-star panel of judges, and some great prizes as well. So please come to the SEO Horror Story Web site and share your pain. All entries must be received by October 31 at midnight PST. Don’t delay! If you have a story that someone else might benefit from, get your entry in today!

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