Can Google Really Keep Competitors From Harming Your Business?

    August 20, 2013
    Chris Crum

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.