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11 Mar 2013

Negative SEO

Google has recently changed their algorithm in two significant ways, and they have come to be known as the Panda and Penguin updates. These massive algorithm overhauls are designed to improve the search rankings for user friendliness, along with eliminate the “unfair ranking” of certain websites due to spammy links.

Many SEOs who work on a consultant basis, as well as many independent SEOs that build their own websites have been hit very hard by these two updates. If they were practicing extremely black hat SEO, it is almost impossible that the websites they were working on were NOT hit by these updates.

The obvious question is: if Google is so good at predicting spam and penalizing a website for using spam to rank, shouldn’t it be very easy to build links to a competitor’s website and get them in hot water with Google? After all, all you would need to do is throw a lot of low quality links at your competitor’s site with highly specific anchor text for a few days and you could build their link profile significantly. If you were using the spammiest methods, there is no doubt that you could build over 100,000 links to their website in a matter of hours. Of course, Google isn’t going to index all of these but it will definitely pick up on a large chunk of them.

These speculations have left many in the SEO community terrified of negative SEO. However, the hype isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. If negative SEO was as easy as throwing a few thousand links at a competitor with 1 anchor text, then it would speak volumes about the unsophistication of Google’s algorithm, which we all know is a very solid piece of technology. SEO itself would be devalued if this was as easy to do as some are saying, and the simple truth is that it takes quite a bit of time and talent to properly negative SEO someone else’s website.

The way to think about it is this: how did sites get “organically” penalized by Google? It wasn’t by following such a simple strategy as the one outlined above. Black hat SEOs generally use these techniques over longer periods of time, with more variation, velocity and frequency in their anchor text and links in general. If you really wanted to properly negative SEO someone, you would have to be sophisticated enough to know what aspects of black hat SEO work and what aspects do not.

Can it be done?  Yes.  There are reports of sites losing rankings based on negative SEO techniques.

Is it easy to do?  No.  Most likely it would be expensive as it would require buying links and other techniques that Google frowns upon.

Would people spend the money required to take down a competitor?  Yes.  It comes down to ROI.  Let’s say your site is ranking #3 for a highly competitive and lucrative term.  Let’s say, for example, it would cost someone $5,000 to take down your site so they can move up a spot.  If they succeed, and your site disappears from the SERP’s, moving you up to #2, is it worth their investment?  In many industries, it could very well be.  The increase in traffic from each top position may well provide the ROI.

Should you grow a few gray hairs worrying about this?  Worrying is a useless state of mind.  Instead, be proactive!  Here are a few suggestions to protect yourself:


  • Record your internet marketing efforts.  Keep a master document with any link bait content that you produce, where you are distributing to, and how.  Track links to these sites.
  • Download a baseline of alll of your inbound links using Majestic or Open Site Explorer.  Examine these reports every month to see if you see anything that looks out of character.
  • Download your referrer information from Google Analtyics.

If you notice any spikes in this data and you can’t correlate it with your own marketing efforts, investigate.  As I mentioned above, an experienced SEO will not just shoot 100,000 links to your site in 1 day. They will start by buying a few high profile links, and build up the quantity of negative links slowly.  If you notice links you don’t recognize, investigate.  If anything seems out of place, then track it all, and have all of the documentation ready.  If you notice an increase, then you may want to consider sending a reconsideration request to Google with all of your documentation explaining what is happening.   This would protect your stie from undeserved penalties.

The only question left is, What’s to stop Black Hat SEO’s from engaging in this strategy with their own sites, and claiming someone else is doing the Black Hat link building?

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Search engine marketing expert with 15 years of experience in the industry, working with small mom and pop shops as well as large corporate websites. I have experience with all aspects of inbound marketing, including SEO, Link Building, Social Shares, Usability, Conversions, PPC, Email Marketing, and more.