SEO Scares: Five Bone-Chilling Digital Marketing Fiascos


Here’s a spooky story. Every modern-day SEOs worst nightmares were once the norm. Remember the days of keyword stuffing, buying links, and content spinning? Unless you’ve been around as long as Dracula you might not, but trust us…they were very real tactics used by SEOs not more than ten years ago.

In case you’ve ever been tempted to try a few black-cat practices, think again. These terrifying tales of penalties and rankings losses might persuade you to beware. After all, the only thing scarier than ghosts and ghouls is de-indexation from Google. We’ll take a visit from Beetlejuice any day!

Sure, we’re all kept up at night with thoughts of urgent Google Search Console messages waiting for us in the morning, but for these brands it was much, much worse….



Overstock may be a great place to shop for Halloween lights and fake pumpkins, but in 2011 they were banned from ranking for their own brand name for two full months. Yep, you heard that right. Their penalty was so severe that they couldn’t even rank for their own brand name. For. Two. Full. Months. Talk about a full-on SEO horror show! So what did they do to deserve this? They were offering discounts to schools in exchange for backlinks with very specific anchor text.

Moral of the nightmare? Don’t get sucked into link schemes, and don’t get psycho with the anchor text.



Creeps of a feather flock together, and in this instance, JC Penney took a page from Overstock’s book of spells and bought a bunch of links. Their penalty was just as severe, with many pages being degraded from ranking on the first page of Google’s results. After cleaning up their links, and blaming the mess on its SEO firm, they were back to business as usual 90 days later.

Moral of the nightmare? Be careful who you associate yourself. After all, even Jason wouldn’t be caught undead hanging with Freddy.



No, cloaking isn’t Casper the Friendly Ghost’s favorite pastime. It’s an outdated SEO tactic where a site shows something different to crawlers than they do to human visitors. Google doesn’t like this, and when they found out, they removed the site from their search engine. Fortunately for BMW, Google only removed the site for three days. Today, this penalty would lead to a loss of traffic of around 71,600. That’s 358X more than Jason’s body count in all 12 of the Friday 13th movies combined!

Moral of the nightmare? Leave the cloaking to the experts…Slimer, Moaning Myrtle, and the Ghost of Christmas Past, of course.



When a slasher hides behind the door, it’s best not to enter. In WordPress’ infancy, their ranking was briefly gouged when Google caught them playing host to a third-party seeking increased rankings. These Doorway Pages featured hidden links and resulted in the CMS being penalized for spam. For 48 bloodcurdling hours the WordPress homepage didn’t rank for its name, and their PageRank bled out from PR8 to nothing.

Moral of the nightmare? Maybe don’t take a marketing shortcut through that door next time.


Demand media

This one is really bad because it didn’t result in just a penalty, but an entire algorithmic update, or so the story goes. Rumor has it that so many SEOs complained about Demand Media’s low-quality content that Google released the Panda update, which targeted low-quality content. Go figure. Despite claiming no material impact from the update, Demand Media was spooked enough to reduce their writers’ assignments.

Moral of the nightmare? Quality over quantity, lest a maneater come after you.


Don’t be next!!

Shortcuts in horror movies often lead to torture, torment, and an untimely death. Don’t let your website fall victim to the same fate. By associating yourself with SEOs who play it by the book, you’ll stay out of the shadows and on the first page where you belong. Contact us today….we dare you.



Author avatar
Stephanie Fehrmann
Stephanie was an SEO content writer before transitioning to a management role. As the co-founder and Head of Content at RMG, she oversees everything from the development of content strategies and content creation to day-to-day office operations. She graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in Journalism, and enjoys showing clients the power and versatility of content.
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