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Can Google Really Keep Competitors From Harming Your Business?

'Disavow has not worked,' cry webmasters

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Can Google Really Keep Competitors From Harming Your Business?
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Some webmasters aren’t convinced by Google’s “solution” to negative SEO.

Wasn’t Google’s Disavow Links tool supposed to be a major help in preventing negative SEO – competitors (or other enemies) associating your otherwise legitimate site with “bad neighborhoods,” by way of links?

Do you think Google’s tool does its job the way it should? Is it the answer to this problem? What more should Google be doing to help webmasters? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Perhaps Disavow Links has helped combat negative SEO for some, but it hasn’t stopped the issue from coming up repeatedly since the tool was launched. Google has a new Webmaster Help video out about the topic. Matt Cutts responds to the user-submitted question:

Recently I found two porn websites linking to my site. I disavow[ed] those links and wrote to admins asking them to remove those links but… what can I do if someone, (my competition), is trying to harm me with bad backlinks?

Notice that Google rephrased the question for the video title: Should I be worried if a couple of sites that I don’t want to be associated with are linking to me?

Cutts says, “So, you’ve done exactly the right thing. You got in touch with the site owners, and you said, ‘Look, please don’t link to me. I don’t want to have anything to do with your site, and then if those folks aren’t receptive, just go ahead and disavow those links. As long as you’ve taken those steps, you should be in good shape. But if there’s any site that you don’t want to be associated with that’s linking to you, and you want to say, ‘Hey, I got nothing to do with this site,’ you can just do a disavow, and you can even do it at a domain level.”

“At that point, you should be in good shape, and I wouldn’t worry about it after that,” Cutts concludes.

So, this has basically been Google’s advice since the Disavow tool launched, but is it really the answer? Based on the submitted question, it makes it seem like the webmaster did what he was supposed to do (as Cutts acknowledges). So why submit the question if the issue was resolved? Is it just a matter of time? Is the webmaster overlooking other variables? Is the solution Cutts prescribes really not the solution? Is there even a truly effective solution?

Some webmasters in the comments on YouTube aren’t convinced by Cutts’ response.

“What a crock Matt,” writes user jeffostroff. “What about the scammers who have 5000 links pointing to our site from sites in China or Russia, where no one responds, not even the web hosts. Disavow has not worked. When are you going to offer ability to disavow whole countries. I’m sure many Americans don’t want any links coming from other countries if their site is targeted only to Americans.”

That comment has the most YouTube likes of the bunch so far (17) .

“I don’t think simply disavowing links is necessarily the solution Matt,” HighPosition’s Chris Ainsworth comments. “Agreed it will help to disassociate a website from any rogue/malicious links but it doesn’t solve the on-going issue of competitor link spam tactics. In many cases, especially with larger brands, managing link activity can be a time intensive process. Should it be the responsibility of the business to manage their link profile or should Google have the ability to better identify malicious activity?”

That one got 15 likes.

Google has been talking about the effects of the Disavow tool on negative SEO from the beginning. In the initial blog post announcing the tool, Google included an FAQ section, and one of the questions was: Can this tool be used if I’m worried about negative SEO?

The official response from Google was:

The primary purpose of this tool is to help clean up if you’ve hired a bad SEO or made mistakes in your own link-building. If you know of bad link-building done on your behalf (e.g., paid posts or paid links that pass PageRank), we recommend that you contact the sites that link to you and try to get links taken off the public web first. You’re also helping to protect your site’s image, since people will no longer find spammy links and jump to conclusions about your website or business. If, despite your best efforts, you’re unable to get a few backlinks taken down, that’s a good time to use the Disavow Links tool.

In general, Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking. However, if you’re worried that some backlinks might be affecting your site’s reputation, you can use the Disavow Links tool to indicate to Google that those links should be ignored. Again, we build our algorithms with an eye to preventing negative SEO, so the vast majority of webmasters don’t need to worry about negative SEO at all.

So really, it does sound like Google does aim to shoulder the responsibility for negative SEO, rather than webmasters having to rely on their tool to battle it. Google wants to do that battling algorithmically, but is it doing a good enough job?

Comments like the ones above and countless others in various threads around the SEO industry would suggest that it is not. Google is probably right in that “the vast majority of webmasters don’t need to worry about negative SEO,” but what about the minority? How big is the minority? That, we don’t know, but as often as the issue comes up in discussion, it seems big enough.

Even if Google isn’t doing a good enough job combatting the issue, that doesn’t mean it’s not trying. Google makes algorithm changes on a daily basis, and many of them are certainly aimed at spam-related issues. Perhaps it will get better. Perhaps it has already gotten better to some extent. The concerns are still out there, however. Real people appear to still be dealing with negative SEO. Either that, or they’re just diagnosing their problems wrong.

What do you think? How common is negative SEO really? What would you like to see Google do to address the issue? Share your thoughts.

Can Google Really Keep Competitors From Harming Your Business?
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  • http://www.linkyiwu.com/ Yiwu

    I Think in some special niche Google can’t stop this.

  • http://www.stripireland.com John

    Usual google waffle. My website has been targeted by a competitot with 1000′s of spammy links from china, russia etc. Webmasters don’t respond and disavow has not worked. Google should be smart enough to know that a site with a good reputation is not going to suddenly begin acquiring spammy links themselves.

    • http://www.mattcutts.com The sad thing

      The sad thing is, John, that when someone tarnishes your link profile, the only logical action remaining to you is to level the playing field and mess up the link profiles for all of your competitors. That way, everyone is starting over with a bad link profile.

      Ethical? No.
      Logical? Absolutely.

  • tom g

    Typical Google puke! Thye make us do all the work and they just keep coming up with more crap for us to do. THEY should know that a site about (say) weddings should not have porno sites pointing to it. If there are 100′s of such links it would take a ton of time to go and find all the admins of all them sites. What a joke. Compitition can buy 1000′s of links for cheap to kill you. Google created a big monster and wants us to tame it for them for FREE!

  • http://www.trulia.com/profile/crystalguthrie/ Crystal Guthrie

    How often should mom and pop businesses be checking their links and disavowing suspicious activity? This is a terrible solution for most real world website owners.

  • https://plus.google.com/109096094773861702252/ Chris Ainsworth

    Firstly thanks for the mention Chris, much appreciated.

    The point is that, in my opinion, webmasters should not be responsible for managing their link profiles; at least not to the level which Google currently desire.

    Accurately analysing a link profile, identifying malicious links, requesting link removal and filing a disavow is a time intensive and costly process. It’s not just the cost of the time required, but also the cost of the tools to do the job. Link warnings generally point users towards the links listed in Google Webmaster Tools but realistically you generally need a fuller insight that what GWT offers.

    Enterprise or multi-national corporate organisations with massive marketing budgets may well be able to afford the time and effort of link analysis/removal but the average SME’s won’t have the budget to do that, nor should they.

    Google built their algorithm on link analysis so why should the average webmaster have to sort this for them? Google should be able to effectively handle unnatural links and decide what is intentional and what is not. Perhaps webmasters should play a role in this process, but taking sole responsibility for link removal? Is that really the job of the average small business owner? I think not!

    If Google do expect every day webmasters and SME’s to effectively handle malicious link activity the they must provide greater insight regarding where the issues reside. A simply ‘Unnatural link’ warning via Webmaster Tools is not enough, they need real insight into where the problem(s) stem from. Most SME’s probably don’t even use Google Webmaster Tools!

    Chris

    • http://www.mattcutts.com Disavow Query

      What could truly help Google is a disavow query tool in GWMT.

      When my site was hit with negative seo, I discovered it when I started seeing Queries in GWMT for things like “sex sex.” Google could have easily worked backwards and immediately stop sending people to my site if I could have just flagged the query for them. After a few months, the bad queries have dropped off, yet Google still says that “sex sex” is the number one anchor text to my site.

    • Mohan Arun L.

      Exactly my thoughts. Its not our job to point out to Google what links to ‘disavow’ and what links to not disavow! Google is supposed to be smart enough to sort out what links to consider and what links to just ignore. Instead, Google is so stupid (with all those PhDs!) so as to shift the burden on webmasters to tell Google which ones to ignore and which ones to account. I have been telling all along that: Including linking in the ranking algorithm is a fundamentally flawed concept. Everyone may link to you and you may still have bad content, nobody may link to you and you may still have good content.

  • http://google.ca bob

    Every time Cutts opens his mouth, it’s to say “we’re trying” this and that. Trying is never enough. It’s results that count, and G is ultra short on those. Controling the planet’s business with idiotic rhetoric, like “we trying” doesn’t cut it Ain’t that just so… G?
    After all, I’ve been trying to walk on water and fly forever… ! does that make me a dictator allowing others to die from my idiotic efforts? Really… bots are G’s and Cutts brain cells

  • http://www.mattcutts.com The Ugly Truth Matt is…

    …that I can go out to Fiverr right now and point 150,000 bad links at your website for $5. If I have a fifty dollar bill burning a hole in my pocket, you’ll be picking sex-links out of your link profile for the rest of your life.

    It’s too time intensive to try and manage adding 150,000 links to that stupid “disavow” tool. I’m not going to invest the time to manually sort the good links from the bad links. That’s Google’s job and I’m a small business. I don’t have time. Google, DO YOUR JOB!

    Google spawned the Negative SEO industry. Shame on Google.

  • http://www.ibizdaily.com Anthony

    There is a higher level discussion to be had here and many people are touching on it. The fact is that it is Google’s job to do this kind of stuff, to weed out the junk, link spam, etc. etc. They are the ones coining millions off their ads – that they then tell you where to put, etc. etc. They need to do this stuff they keep telling site owners to do – these insane rules that they keep coming up with are literally impossible for small business people to keep a track of, let alone implement. The job of the site owner should be running their business and website – the job of Google should be figuring out all the ways competitors game their own (Google’s) system. Not only does Google make all the money, they want us to do their work too. It has reached the level of insanity.

    And frankly, Cutts really gets me as he sits there calmly and goes through this stuff and expects it to be done by a million mom and pop shops – he’s probably worth millions. Very annoying -

  • http://ripsychotherapy.com Mike A.

    If Google identifies a “bad” link, why can’t Google just assign zero “juice” to the link. That wouldn’t hurt the innocent website and there’d be no gain from the link to the black-hatters. Google’s current proposal is just not viable for your average business.

  • http://www.danielkamen.com Daniel Kamen

    Plain and simple if there was no such thing as negative link building there would be no need for the disavow tool. Google Stated there only going to ignore bad links, but if that’s the case then why offer the disavow tool- That’s YOUR JOB Mr.G! The fact that sites get letters or pings is proof that there is such a thing as bad links. If they stop being a watch dog on links and just made certain links 0 value the SEO world we be a much prettier place and they would stop negative SEO which has now been created.

  • Han Solo

    If Google didn’t pass any juice, either negative or positive, from crappy links and crappy sites, and only passed juice for “good” links, then there would be no incentive for creating crappy links or content, either for your own site or to negatively SEO a competitor. Bingo! As it is, he Big G has everyone jumping through hoops, in the hope that the big bad Penguin won’t whack them. Google’s like the IRS. Millions of hours wasted on unproductive work. I don’t trust anything Matt Cutts says. Google needs some serious competition. I’ve been using Bing more and more lately. You should too.

    • http://www.seventhman.com/ Shaleen Shah

      What’s the use of the disavow tool then if it’s not working? I hope that Google will come up with a way to flush these spammy sites in as easy as 1-2-click. I’ve read about this bad links cleanup tool but I’m not sure if it really works. Now, with all these shady folks gaming the system makes me wonder if page ranking is nothing but another vanity metrics in the making. For now, just doing my due diligence of checking links…

  • Mike

    If you own an authority site with age and a solid backlink profile you will probably be fine..

    However if your site is relatively new with little backlinks then you can be taken out easily by a competitor. Pretty simple to keep an eye out for any new kids on the block entering your niche and get rid of them with a few spam blasts.

    Google doesn’t care…

  • http://www.searchermag.net/google-adwords-consultant/ Evan

    this article on google warding off your competition was interesting

  • http://www.realitist.com Robert

    First of all, sites do aquire, pay for, spammy links all the time when someone offers to submit their domain to a hundred thousand “high” quality directories and other sites for $14.99. Bite now sucker!

    However, google is also working hard to ruin good sites. Remember when sites could have a list of off topic sites they found helpful as a webmaster? Now those links are supposed to be toxic/unnatural for both parties, stupid.

    It is a real problem google won’t provide a box where the site or 3rd party pr repairer asking their link be removed could drop in both domains and both parties could see if the linking is a problem for google or not. All too many webmasters are taking google warnings (if they even got one) to try and remove all links to them below PR4. We know they are lying saying google told them ours is one of a few bad links pointing to them, but what are we supposed to do as they threaten to disavow our site. Thanks google.

    In my opinion Google is getting over extended, bogging down and will have to build something like the NSA has in the desert to keep taking on new projects like google india. Heck, one of my wordpress sites has 43 articles, 30 arcade games and 13 thousand tags, how can anything keep track of billions of these kind of sites?

    The worst part, google seems to think the only sites we should be exchanging links with is our competitors and no ad same topic niches, everything else is unnatural or a spamming scheme. This is helping us? Or is google just trying to reduce their load?

  • http://alternativesto.net Frank-e Bishop

    - As a Internet/Web user for over 20 years, I am astonished by people and web media outlets, such as webpronews…on the amount of time and attention given to a Web Search engine that hasn’t been around not even 15 years and whose search capabilities are often manipulated, mediocre and inconsistent. Point being…the web is a massive place that can now be navigated and discovered quickly with a click, which would include places of alternatives. The same goes with almost anything related to computerized technology and in life. If you don’t exercise and use alternatives, you’ll just end-up doing things over and over and over and over again expecting different results – Unlike a Google SRP. Ironic isn’t it?

  • http://Searchsmiths.co Ben Kemp

    Disavow Tool:
    In answer to the 1st question regarding whether the Disavow Tool works, I’d have to say rarely (if ever) does it demonstrate any positive impact.

    That said, its difficult to say exactly because for most clients, I am invariably battling multiple Panda/Penguin issues at the same time.

    For internal pages with lots of incoming links, its probably faster and more effective to rename the affected page/s and break the links that way.

    That’s become a crucial factor now that Penguin seems to have expanded its focus from the domain to include and punish internal pages with either/or low-quality links or over-optimised anchor text.

    Negative SEO:
    From what I’ve seen, it is not very common but its uncommonly effective. This is the unfortunate by-product of a the current witch hunt…

    Cleaning Up – The BIG Problems Are…
    Not knowing precisely what is good or bad is troublesome to even the most experienced webmasters… For the average site owner, this is just a nightmare of epic proportions.

    Education is missing from the equation! The preponderance of available literature on SEO exhorts them to do things which are guaranteed to now destroy their rankings. Only a tiny percentage of site owners have the faintest inkling of the perils that await them in open waters.

    For those that comprehend the penalties of Penguin, Google’s poor data quality compounds their problems severely. The incoming link data in Google Webmaster Tools is often pathetically and woefully inaccurate!

    God help iuus if THAT is what THEY are basing their valuation of our sites on…

    1.) It regularly includes links from sites that have been dead for a year or more.

    2.) It always includes links that you KNOW you’ve long since had removed.

    3.) It often associates words with your site that are not found in the anchor text in the known links.

    4.) It includes links you’ve know you’ve Disavowed…

    This unnecessarily wastes huge amounts of time for individuals, and collectively costs billions of dollars and millions of hours of lost productivity across the web….

    The Pointless Waste of it All
    All of this anger and frustration could have easily been avoided! Google could have decided to simply ignore or discount the obviously erroneous… Instead, they’ve set out to harshly punish the possibly guilty with no thought to the collateral damage.

    On top of that, they’ve provided a Disavow Tool that does not work effectively, and crap data which makes identifying where the problems are more difficult than it should be.

    All of this makes it harder to get on with useful stuff like improving our content! :-)

  • http://Mabuzi.com Kevin

    Bastards, Not Google(although they should take some blame been the provider), these twits with their sh1tty tactics.

    I have had the bad links and well just about any thing you can think off. My e-mail address even got banned for spamming which of course i dont do.

    The new one on Google Places Local listings is to use the report an issue.

    As soon as I see my reviews disappear I notice straight away we disappear from our main category screen printer in local search.

    I have been reported as closed, incorrect address, images, reviews.

    Crazy is Google uses these user edits as if they were legit. Really surely they can check the IP address?

    Yes I know that Local should not be used as website as pointed out by Google help volunteers, I get that, but when you rank at the top local for your business, its good business.

    It must be worth a lot as this is a regular 4-6 month exercise I go through every year for the last 4 years.

    Once again: Hi Google can you please use me as the source for my listing and return all my reviews, images and categories please.

    What would I do to the Black hatter that picks on the little man? Leave it up to your imagination.

  • http://elainequinn.com Elaine Quinn

    Interesting post but the scammers will always be one jump ahead of Google’s algorithms no matter how many PhD’s they have.

  • Ralphie

    More talking out of both sides of their mouths. Google for YEARS has said a competitor cannot harm you and if you check the google webmaster forums there are a few die hards that still parrot this crock of you know what.

    But then they come with the disavow tool, why? Well because they are forced to admit that “Oops, competitors CAN harm you.”

    By invoking a penalty Google gave power to links spammers who can either fire up some automated tool or pay $5 to get thousands of spammy links to your site. By the time you find out, you have already been penalized and once penalized GOOD LUCK getting Google to reconsider, disavow tool or not!

    This is really frustrating because by creating a “penalty” they are creating work for webmasters who’s job should be creating great content. Instead now every month we have to check our link profile for spam, disavow and pray we dont take a penalty!

    Hey Google I have an idea…why not just IGNORE links you find spammy instead of imposing a penalty… Why not MANUALLY verify the site is good or bad should your algo send you a “spam” signal about a site?

    Of course they will not, it takes manpower and effort so instead the webmasters and site owners have to spend the manpower and effort becasue Google cannot control its own algo…

  • John

    I don’t think it should matter who you link to or who is linking to you, if you have good content that is all that should matter, why is everyone playing this stupid game and worrying all the time, I don’t play that game and no matter what changes are made, it doesn’t affect me, I play the content game.

    • Ted

      Its because when web spam or google algorithm changes push my online store down in the rankings it can affect sales so dramatically that it may cost people their jobs. My company has 100 employees with basically a + or – 25 employee swing year to year because of organic traffic .

  • http://www.blogete.com/ Lakhyajyoti

    Another informative post. One of my blog has been badly targeted by one of my online friend. I tried disavow tool, but it did not worked for me.

    • http://www.cliffordlin.com Cliff

      I tried it on my site too and it didn’t’ work. It was literally easier for me to create a whole new site and work on it than it is to fix it.

  • Ted

    Keyword stuffing still tops the charts…

    Chinese and Russian link spamming and content theft run rampant.

    Sites can be submitted to google using alternative or even 3rd party hostnames and suffer duplicate content penalties…

    In terms of negative SEO prevention…Google !@#$ing sucks.

    People ask why it matters: When my online store gets pushed down in the rankings by negative SEO or google’s algorithm changes it has a profound effect on sales. My company has 100 employees with a + or – 25 employee swing each year that seems to match the state of SEO for the year. Peoples lives and families are being effected.

  • john

    To make peoples sites drop down the listings is simple, It as just happened to me and all they did is put text links in porn sites, and loads of exact match anchor text. google does not care though why would they this is how they get more money for adwords.

  • http://www.mindconnection.com Mark

    Negative SEO is alive and well. In some cases, SEO (Spam Emitting Organizations) themselves attack a site this way. Then they contact you saying your rankings have dropped and they can help you.

    Google does NOTHING about negative SEO. Google takes FOREVER to remove its own spam, such as diigo and blogspot spam. We have one site with hundreds of inbound spam links showing up in Webmaster Tools, even though the majority of those (about 85%) were removed over 8 months ago! That site is still invisible on Google, even though it has great content (no Panda issues) and ranks well on other search engines. Why all those inbound spam links? Done by a couple of Spam Emitting Organizations (yes, we were able to figure out exactly who) precisely for the reason I outlined at the start.

    I no longer use Google for my own searches. I use Bing, because the results are better–not the Google guideline-violating clutter of ads you see on the Google SERPS plus no slave to Amazon and Wikipedia as Google is.

    I’ve also cut my AdWords budget by 95%, since Google thought it was OK to cut my revenue by 95% and it took me months to get it back up while Google didn’t care one bit about collateral damage to good businesses that had made the mistake of trusting Google.

    I’m doing everything possible to make Google irrelevant to my business. That seems to be what Google wants, or the company’s behavior would be dramatically different from what it has been.

    • glover

      i think seo need to spam google often. we not want matt cutts lost workjob. antispam department is most valuable thing in google and they need more and more investments to make such stupid videos.

  • http://www.joomlabliss.com JoomlaBliss

    Exactly how will a bot know that I contacted all those malicious sites and asked them to remove the links to my site?

    …me thinks, just another PR campaign this disavow thing, to scare people into checking links and dare not even think about buying any ;)

  • eggsonthesmile

    I just created a legendary fart and smiled warmly about it. Grrrrrr! I am a growling onion! Very slowly and carefully…

  • https://www.searchen.com John Colascione

    Google’s Disavow Links tool is a big waste of time for everyone including Google. All it does is create confusion and waste time for everyone., I bet Google regrets even rolling it out.

  • Ian Cadle

    they cant stop negative seo, its sad but true

  • http://antrixtraders.com antrix

    As being an SEO analyst, I will be improving my website optimization very soon.

  • http://www.computeradvice.info/author/mikerothwell/ Mike Rothwell

    Man, this is getting stupid now. I’m scared to link to anyone nowadays for fear of Google retribution (either now, on sometime in the future when the goal posts change again).

    I know its been said a thousand times before but Google should just ignore links it feels are not editorial.

    The internet is built on links, why do site owners now have to do a link audit to every link coming to and from our websites…

  • glover

    change links in indexed articles (2-3 articles) to any not very high authority website and you will tank it.
    buy at fiverr 1 million of xrumer or scrapebox comments to any site and

    1. high authority site will go up
    2. low/mid authority site will tanked.

    So, what mr. cutts tell us about preventing of negative seo? Lie again?

  • http://waystomakemoneyonnet.blogspot.com/ Eleazar

    When you respects the similar subject then Google takes this into account.

  • http://www.peprismine.com GG4U

    Thanks for the great article…..keeping my fingers crossed

  • http://www.designfacet.com Sean

    One of my site is in flash and doing just fine, the other one was done in wordpress and was hacked constantly. I am not to replace that with a static site. Sadly this is the world we live in. I also have managed to keep track of intruders and know exactly who they are and where they are coming from.

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