SEO horror stories to avoid

Today's insights take a look back at some of the big brands that tried to duck under the radar by employing dodgy SEO practices, but ended up hurting themselves in the process.

Manipulating search engines has long been a big no no – it was easier in the past, but the engines are getting more mature and won’t fall for the same antics they may have let slip by them in the past.

Today we’re going to take a look back at some of the big brands that tried to duck under the radar by employing dodgy SEO practices, but ended up hurting themselves in the process.

But before we jump into the examples, we need to first take a look at two important areas of SEO – black hat techniques and white hat techniques.

Black hat techniques – this rather ominous sounding title refers to techniques that seek to manipulate how search engines perceive the relevance of a webpage in ways that are often inconsistent with the search engine’s guidelines. Some of the more common Black Hat techniques that have reared their head in the past include link manipulation, keyword stuffing and hidden text, all of which have been used to skirt search engine algorithms and get webpages over the line in first place.

In the opposing corner are the clean and crisp ‘white hat’ techniques that seek to improve the ranking of a webpage while keeping ethics in check. This extends to generating quality, relevant and well organised content; placing relevant keywords in the title and h1 tags; and putting relevant keywords in the anchor text of inbound and internal links.

While white hat techniques may be harder to implement (quality takes time, and as such it can take time to reap a harvest), the rewards of acting ethically sure outweigh the implications for getting caught wearing the black hat – this can include being removed from SERP’s for an extended period of time.

So to strike fear into your heart, and hopefully provide you with the ammunition to help your website rise through the ranks, read below for some SEO horror stories that some big brands wrote themselves into…

BMW the Luxury Used Car Dealer

Back in 2006, those making a search for ‘used cars’ were likely to find the luxury German car brand, BMW, at the top of the search results – an unlikely match for those typically looking for a car on a budget.

Investigations were made and BMW were found to be using doorway pages – pages used to spam the index of search engines by inserting results for particular phrases with the purpose of sending visitors to a different page. In short, search engines were seeing one thing and visitors were seeing something completely different for the sole purpose of improving visibility. While a spokesperson for BMW stated that their intentions were honourable, Google saw it as an undeniable deception, and as a result BMW’s website was wiped from the public eye with a ranking of zero.

JCPenney put their pennies towards SERP dominance…

What does nuclear engineering and ‘black dresses’ have in common? How about casinos and evening dresses, or Bulgarian property and cocktail dresses? If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out some hidden riddle, don’t worry, the answer is simple, they have nothing in common.

There is no link, but thanks to the Black Hat practice of link schemes, for a time back in early 2011, retailer JCPenney dominated SERP’s, ranking first even for branded keywords such as ‘Samsonite carry on luggage’.

The reason for this unnatural clout was revealed to be due to paid links appearing on 2,015 sites, most of which were completely unrelated to the retailer.

While Penney denied any foul intent on their part, pinning the blame on their search engine consulting firm, the damage had already been done, and they lost top position for a range of generic terms, but eventually bounced back to higher rankings after around 90 days.

A Toy Story

While this case doesn’t involve any malicious black hat tactics, it gets a special mention purely for the high impact horror for the brand in question.

Back in 2010, toy store giant, Toys ‘R’ Us purchased the domain ‘’ in order to get a handle on the lucrative ‘toys’ keyword – who could blame them, having such a sought after keyword in your domain is SEO gold – or it should have been…

Having spent $5.1M on the domain, you’d expect big returns; but the team responsible for handling the project forgot one crucial element – they failed to set up 301 redirects to the old URL, and as such, Google re-indexed and their ranking for ‘toys’ dropped in the SERP’s.

While there are plenty more SEO horror stories we could dig up from the grave, we’ll spare you the nightmares. We hope that the above will encourage you to avoid the black hat and keep your website alive and breathing by using clean, well thought out, white hat SEO tactics.
If you’re looking to optimize your website in ways that bring real results without the fear of being chased down by the ever-watchful search engines, get in contact with us today, we’d be happy to lend a hand.