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Travel is one of the most competitive verticals when it comes to digital marketing as a whole, so when we start to drill down into SEO and some of the horror stories that have unfolded over the years… It can be frightening.

I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to this Halloween horror story blog post!

This is one post in a series of Halloween SEO Horror Story blog posts going live this October! Stay tuned for the others, and horror stories from other verticals!

Carlos Castro, Wolfate

@mxcarloscastro //

The development team implemented AMP on all the pages to increase mobile rankings but they didn’t implement a navigation menu…

Zack Neary-Hayes, Freelance SEO

@NH_Zack //

Dwell time is a ranking factor. Someone told this poor lad to go on all the work PCs and leave the homepage open all day to crank up the session duration.

Dan Taylor, Lead Tech SEO Consultant

@taylordanrw //

Rewriting = Removing

I was working with a tour company specializing in African safaris and cultural experiences, and rankings were good considering the competition levels.

However, as part of our routine checks, we noticed all rankings had fallen off the face of the Earth. I initially thought it was an error in the tracking tool we used, but then on spot checks, it became apparent it was real.

The cause? The company’s Africa specialist who was responsible for coming up with the tours and experiences (and the copy) had decided that they wanted to refresh all the tours – so unpublished all the tours pages from the website whilst they underwent the process.

All the pages were still linked to internally, and just 404’d. He wasn’t too concerned until 2 weeks later and all leads had dried up and didn’t understand why…

Quel est, Hreflang?

Working with a French travel website, who had content in French, German, English, and Dutch, were desperate to rank within the UK for key commercial terms but weren’t visible at all.

They had been working with a  specialist travel SEO agency for a while, producing blog content, metadata, links etc but were getting nowhere. Within days of implementing Hreflang, they went from nowhere in the UK SERPs to good positions and started seeing traffic and bookings. That company has now grown from 2 people to 5.

Joseph de Souza, Freelance SEO Consultant

@infosolutionsg // Info Solutions Goa

The company had a custom-built Content Management system.

When I was asked to do the SEO for them, I found out that their Content management system did not have the facility to enter a unique title tag for each page. Their title tag was hardcoded in the template, same with the description meta tag.

Ramesh Singh, SEO Manager


Unrealistic targets without any content, product or tech support.

We had been asked to produce an uplift of 10x in onsite transactions originating from SEO in the coming months. However, this all taking into account issues of:

  • Not many travel products to sell
  • Incorrect canonicals
  • Duplicates and system-generated pages indexed (10,000s)
  • Pages are built in JS frameworks with no NoScript fallback or rendering, meaning no content in the initial HTML
  • Horrendous page load speed
  • Parameter issues
  • Redirect loops

The cherry on top, staging and other sub-domains are open for indexing, directly duplicating the main domain.

Steve, Founder PageDart

@PageDart //

I recently worked on a CMS migration.

The sitemap.xml had stopped working and was returning a 500. It was over a month before anyone realized.

It was discovered during a Technical Audit.

Although not a huge impact on rankings this shows how easily something can be missed during a migration. To resolve this integration tests were added to the developer’s pipeline to ensure the sitemap was working.

Rhys Davies, Managing Director

@RhysDaviesUK //

I was working as an SEO consultant in an agency across a selection of luxury hotel brands, built on a bespoke platform.

One late Friday afternoon, someone internally (client-side) decided it would be a good idea to change the name of all of the hotel rooms, without any input or sign off, for example, “double room” to “deluxe room” across 4 websites during peak season!

Due to the poor CMS setup of the websites, this meant the URL and all the keyword targeting was changed causing all internal links to these pages to break (404) across 4 websites…you couldn’t book unless you had direct access to the URL link.

Luckily picked this up pretty quickly at 4:30pm on Friday and ask to revert this or implement the following redirects and keep the same metadata.

However the development agency working on the website was based in Spain and already left for the weekend and there was no way to implement redirects without the ht.access file, which no one but the development agency could edit.

The fix didn’t get implemented until the following Monday, causing rankings to drop leading to a six-figure loss in revenue over the weekend 😭

I had to sit through a very awkward phone call with the development agency and the client-side marketing team.

François Joly, Freelance Technical SEO

@tuf //

So this travel team wanted some help because Googlebot is “being lazy” and doesn’t index properly their new website.

Quickly, I discover that when a new user (no cookies) lands on the website, he’s being 301 redirected to the same URL with the current date, so that “the price would be updated”.

Because Googlebot was being redirected too, this 100k+ webpages website had more than a million unique URLs inside logs in a few weeks.

The worst part? The day after the ‘current date’, the prices were not available of course and the URL displayed an Http 200 error webpage.

So massive DC, thin content and a two-digit percentage of 301 inside logs. We had to deindex everything and start from scratch.



Need more SEO Horror Stories?

Read the complete 6-post 2019 SEO horror stories series:


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