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Can Your Site Lose Its Rankings Because Of Competitors’ Negative SEO?

Rand Fishkin Challenges You To Take Down SEOmoz With Negative SEO

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Rand Fishkin, the well known SEO expert and Founder/CEO of SEOmoz, has challenged the web to see if anyone can take down his sites’ rankings in Google by way of negative SEO – the practice of implementing tactics specifically aimed at hurting competitors in search, as opposed to improving the rankings of one’s own site. Fishkin tells WebProNews about why he’s made such a challenge.

Do you think negative SEO practices can be effective in hurting a competitors’ rankings, even if that competitor is playing by all of Google’s rules and has a squeaky clean reputation? Let us know what you think.

First, you’ll need a little background. There’s a thread in the forum Traffic Planet started by member Jammy (hat tip to Barry Schwartz), who talks about an experiment run with the cooperation of another member in which they were successfully able to have a hugely negative impact on two sites.

“We carried out a massive scrapebox blast on two sites to ensure an accurate result,” Jammy writes. I’m not going to get into all of the details about why they targeted specific sites or even the sites themselves here. You can read the lengthy forum thread if you want to go through all of that.

The important thing to note, however, is that the experiment apparently worked. BUT, Fishkin maintains that the sites in question weren’t necessarily in the best situations to begin with.

“In terms of negative SEO on the whole – I think it’s terrible that it could hurt a site’s rankings,” Fishkin said in the forum thread. “That creates an entire industry and practice that no one (not engines, not marketers, not brands) benefits from. Only the spammers and link network owners win, and that’s exactly the opposite of what every legitimate player in the field wants. Thus, I’m wholeheartedly behind identifying and exposing whether Google or Bing are wrongly penalizing sites rather than merely removing the value passed by spam links. If we can remove that fear and that process, we’ve done the entire marketing and web world a huge favor.”

“I’ve never seen it work on a truly clean, established site,” Fishkin tells WebProNews, regarding negative SEO. He says the examples from the forum “all had some slightly-seriously suspicious characteristics and not wholly clean link profiles already, and it’s hard to know whether the bad links hurt them or whether they merely triggered a review or algorithm that said ‘this site doesn’t deserve to rank.’”

“If negative SEO can take down 100% clean sites that have never done anything untoward and that have built up a good reputation on the web, it’s more concerning and something Google’s search quality engineers would need to address immediately (or risk a shadow industry of spammers popping up to do website takedowns),” he adds.

When asked why he would antagonize those who disagree with his view by offering his own sites as targets, Fishkin says, “Two things – one, I’d rather they target me/us than someone else. We can take the hit and we can help publicize/reach the right folks if something does go wrong. Other targets probably wouldn’t be so lucky.”

Perhaps there should be a Good Guy Rand meme.

Good Guy Rand (Fishkin)

“Two – if this is indeed possible, it’s important for someone who can warn the search/marketing industry to have evidence and be aware of it,” says Fishkin. “Since we carefully monitor our metrics/analytics, haven’t ever engaged in any spam and have lines over to some folks who could help, we’re a good early warning system.”

So what happens if challengers are successful at taking down either SEOmoz or RandFishkin.com?

“SEOmoz gets ~20% of its traffic from non-branded Google searches, so worst case, we’d see a 20-25% hit for a few days or a few weeks,” Fishkin tells WebProNews. “That’s survivable and it’s worth the price to uncover whether the practice is a problem. Our core values (TAGFEE) dictate that this is precisely the kind of area where we’d be willing to take some pain in order to prevent harm to others.”

When asked if he’s confident that Google will correct the problem in a timely fashion if he’s proven wrong, Fishkin says, “Fairly confident, though not 100%. I have my fingers crossed it won’t get too messy for too long, but my COO and community manager are a little nervous.”

Fishkin concludes our conversation with: “I’d say that the evidence on the Traffic Power thread is strong that if a site already has some questionable elements, a takedown is possible. But, it’s not yet proven whether wholly clean sites can be brought down with negative SEO. I hope that’s not the case, but I suspect the hornet’s nest I kicked up will probably answer that for us in the next month or two.”

Word around the industry is that Google is making SEO matter less, in terms of over-optimization. Google’s Matt Cutts talked about this last month at SXSW, and that discussion had led to a great deal of discussion and speculation as to just what this would entail.

“The idea,” he said, “is basically to try and level the playing ground a little bit, so all those people who have sort of been doing, for lack of a better word, ‘over-optimization’ or overly doing their SEO, compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site, we want to sort of make that playing field a little more level.”

One thing’s for sure though: If negative SEO can truly impact clean sites, that’s not quite the level playing field Google is aspiring to create.

Fishkin’s experiment is going to be an interesting one to keep an eye on. If SEOmoz can be severely impacted from this, who’s to say your site can’t? Do you think it’s possible? Tell us in the comments.

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  • http://howardperks.com Howie Perks

    Huge thumbs up for Randy and the crew to take this on! There is so much talk about about this out in the forums.

    If it does happen, then this tactic and Google will be in the spotlight for having a huge flaw. However, I doubt it will because if I found this thread (or 1 of th many others) then I’m sure Google is way ahead of the game on this type of negative SEO strategy!

    Looking forward to checking back for the results!

    In Success,
    Howie Perks

  • http://www.account-direct.com Accountants for doctors

    Accountants for doctors, make sure about their complete profile, previous organizational records, achievements and his (if any) best performance award in the same field.

  • http://legacymarketingservices.com/ Carla

    This probably will not work or even be a valid test becuase 1) the negitive activity and characteristics would have to out weight the positive activity and characteristics and with Rand’s sites this may take a good while to accomplish. 2) Most site owners who would ordinarily suffer from negitive seo do not have a massivly powerful site like Rands (maybe 1% of the authority), so I don’t think this test is going to be a worthwhile experiment IMO. There is a very good posibility that even with a brutal attempt, it will not be effected like an average site would.

    @John,

    Exactly, Fishkin’s reasoning has got to be the stupidest rationale I’ve read in a long time.

    The average business site does not spend ALL of their time living, breathing, and thinking SEO and how to get links.

    And some of the negatively impacted sites “didn’t have a good link profile to begin with?” . . . Please.

    Again, most business don’t spend hours analyzing if particular types of links are “right” for them.

    SEOmoz has good information and tools, but the holier than though attitude wears a little thin.

  • william

    This is easy

    1. Google + the site with 1000 votes in 48-72hours

    2. Get sitewide/blogroll links on 100 blogs

    You have to have “Google Webmaster Tools” on sites to get best rankings, but then it also alerts Google to possible “bad practices”

    Google + is possibly the worst idea right now for Google to use as a determination for ranking as it can be issued by “seo terrorists” as a means to take down rankings along with other basic “bad link-practices”

  • http://Pets4You.com Marty Martinez

    I feel this is what happen to me. I am being penalized big time for inorganic links pointing to my site, I did not place these bad links, nor would I. Yet I continue to try and get them removed to have Google reconsider indexing my site. I am at a loss, determining good from bad links.. I continue to feel someone’s SEO affected me. Anything my bad experience can lend your efforts please let me know. This has been hard on me and my clients.
    Marty
    520 404-2277
    Here are my communications and efforts.:

    —– Original Message —–
    From: “The Google Search Quality Team”
    To: “Marty”
    Sent: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 9:01 AM
    Subject: Re: [#951560385] Reconsideration Request for http://www.pets4you.com/

    Hello Marty,

    Thank you for your request.

    As you noted, there are still many inorganic links pointing to your site.

    We know that perhaps not every link can be cleaned up, but in order to deem a reconsideration request as successful, we need to see a substantial good-faith effort to remove the links, and this effort should result in a decrease in the number of bad links that we see. You might consider pushing back on the SEO company you used to get more sites which need to be contacted.

    Once you are confident that you have done everything you can to remove these links, please reply to this email with the details of your clean-up effort.

    Sincerely,

    The Google Search Quality Team

    From: “Marty”
    Subject: Re: [#951560385] Reconsideration Request for http://www.pets4you.com/
    Date: Tue, 10 Apr 2012 09:42:48 -0700

    I have worked hard. Please say I have complied to your satisfaction. Please Reconsider Indexing or Reinstating Pets4You.com.
    I have worked hard to make corrections (Between 2/06 – 3/15/12), reviewing each site on google.com/webmasters/tools/, trying to determine bad links – finding emails, sending out emails (950) with live links attached, requesting link removal we emailed all who have not responded a 2nd & a few a 3rd time), some have private emails and we get no responses, some emails are no longer any good. Over 150 responded OK to removing links, some removed the links without responding, so far we have had 153 responses to links removed and 100s of links to Pets4you.com have been removed. An SEO Co. we used agreed to remove links they placed. I sent out emails daily on 2/10 – 2/16/12, 2/20, 2/24, 2/25, 3/1, 3/2, 3/4, 3/5, 3/6, 3/7, 3/8, 3/9, 3/10. 3/12, 3/13, 3/14 and 3/15/12. I have kept a detail log of my efforts to comply and show all I have done.
    1) Since 2/6/12, I have put in 138 hours and removed over 153 links to Pets4you.
    I Reviewed 1000 sites and 1000s of links, located emails (most through whois a few in view source) and sent out a total of 950 emails. So far 154 replied OK, that links were removed, several do not respond, some have private emails and we get no responses, some emails are no longer any good. 84 Returned mail – addresses had permanent fatal errors. 15 returned, 4 returned from , 2 returned from , 3 returned from , Several links in google.com/webmasters/tools/ were not good or no links found.
    2) I asked questions on http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Webmasters?hl=en, with little to no responses.
    Prior to 2/6/12 efforts to comply.
    1) 1/14/12, I Sent 290 emails to all participants that joined our previous link exchange program located at http://www.pets4you.com/breedersdirectory/ to please remove our link. – because we had asked for a link back. Most have not replied, 74 removed the links.
    2) I removed our link banners we offered and all mention of link exchange from Pets4you.com.
    3) I have eliminated my old sites and placed 301 redirect to Pets4you.com site.
    Breederlink.com
    AAAPets.com
    ABCPets.com
    AnyPet.com

    4) I removed all links to Pets4you from my other sites:
    Breedersdirectory.com
    1stClassBreeders.com
    Dogbreedsource.com
    Catbreedsource.com
    Gods-Pets.com
    Guess I goofed big time, this has hurt my business, employees and clients and was not intentional, but a lack of supervision and knowledge on my part. Knowingly I would have never authorized link farms and have no recollection of adding them and remain suspect of other involvement, to no avail. Regardless, I have worked hard to do as you requested. ( After Panda, I paid for SEO for 1 month (10/2011), then I realized I goofed and stopped, also an employee placed banner links with more then 1 link on each, not knowing if these were bad we removed most. I am paying the price. I have never felt so penalized. I continue to believe in Google’s effort to improve searches. Please say I have complied to your satisfaction.

  • http://paversonline.org Carol Kellerman

    hm… Even with this news google update? http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com.br/2012/04/another-step-to-reward-high-quality.html I’ll think about something tricky =)

  • http://www.legal-marketing.co.uk Evolved legal

    Rand is a genuine nice guy but also a highly shrewd business guy – this is great publicity, well done Rand. However your site is not like the millions of others impacted by google. Yes, you’ve earned your brand and status and well done, but it would be easy for google to see negative seo on your site as it’s so trusted.

    As other people have pointed out, this is not a good test for the general millions of other webmasters out there furious with google and it’s policies. A good test would be a small site with no brand and clear history behibd it.

  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/117895169424507660944 Andy Keel

    This is for real, it’s happening to me and I’m glad someone with more reputation than myself is finally looking at this issue.

    After those sites showed up in our Google Webmaster Tools account (see below) it was like the “Panda” update all over again without the algorithm change, about a 25% drop in organic traffic. The domain keyword is “county jail inmate search” so you can see which of the toplinkers are related by domain. Some of these have tons of Clickbank (or similar) ads with generic looking results that truncate the URL of the page they link to which causes A LOT OF 404 ERRORS because GoogleBot tries to follow them (I believe that’s a secondary tactic).

    askives.com 4,754
    county-jail-inmate.info 3,438
    pizzasaversclubcard.com 1,048
    gotprinters.com 988
    crimeparasol.com 304

    After checking today, 2 of the lower linking sites have suspended accounts so I may be able to report back on increased/decreased SERPs. It would suck if we lose traffic, but some of the sites that are in those sites with ours have since fallen out of other SERPs we rank for so I’d say it doesn’t matter how good the site is if we all suffered.

  • http://www.LAokay.com Steve G

    I think this is going to bring in a whole new era of link spam and Google simply didn’t think of the repercussions of telling people that they were focusing on link spam again. Honestly, they should have said they’ve updated their link quality algorithms and left webmasters guessing at what the exact change was. By making this a main topic they’ve basically given webmasters the ammunition they need to take down certain sites. I don’t think if you have a lot of quality links that a few hundred or so bad links is going to necessarily punish a site to the point they loose all their search traffic and should only have a minor impact, but if you don’t have a lot of quality backlinks and simply have a good site that people enjoy and as such you’ve been rewarded with higher rankings, then your site can be impacted by negative SEO, depending how good of a job somebody does at spamming your site links everywhere.

  • IMback?

    Well even if negative SEO can effect a site’s positioning in SERPs, we all should know by now that G will fix it later on, so lets not do anything too drastic.

  • http://www.homohominisacrares.net Jesus

    Hi there,

    Yesterday I noticed a drop in several of my sites of 60% of the visits. After the Panda 3.4 update ¿is there any other update?

  • http://www.quote-4.me.uk Coversure

    Not sure what’s meant by a 100% white hat website. After all, using link building methods, surely you can turn it a little grey first before doing the negative SEO campaign?

    • Fishkinish

      Good question, what is a 100%?

      This is more of an advertisement for Fishkin than the subject. Nice try, we’re watching you Fish.

  • http://www.balisilverjewellry.com Sabastian yakar

    Sure it will. I have seen this with my own sites. I did come down from first page as #1 to 5 th page on Google.
    You might wonder what mistake I did! heheheh very stupid one. Instead of fixing my sitemap I made unavailable to Google.
    And I have become aware of it after 6 weeks. Learn the lesson hard way.

  • http://www.twitter.com/cutey Ashley, cutey

    Google has got to sort this, quickly but I just don’t think they care.

  • http://www.nakulgoyal.com Nakul Goyal

    Great move Rand.

  • http://www.pozycjonowanie-torun.net Pozycjonowanie

    Birger, I doubt EXIF data has a direct effect on rankings. However, the point is to add geocodes to the EXIF to help increase the local signal about your business. The collection of signals that reinforce the location profile help in combination to verify it for local search. On Flickr and some other sites, this EXIF data helps insure the photo gets mapped to its location automatically and results in a separate information page about the photo — which will include the longitude and latitude values in text on the page where search engines can crawl it.

  • http://www.the-system.org Paul Moran

    Chris I’ve been ranting on about this for over three years on my blog.
    Links are all that matter. Good ones count, bad ones count against – its a balancing act.

    Over the years I’ve managed to get my own sites banned from having been No1 on google for top keywords like car insurance. I overcooked the linkbuilding, so if I can do it to myself – I know I can do it to you and you and you……and so unfortunately can all those bad competitors out there now!

  • http://www.pozycjonowanie-torun.net Pozycjonowanie

    eye exam coupons said: What can be more wonderful than if you get a free eye exam coupon from an experienced surgeon? Eyes are one of the most precious gifts to human body and need periodic care. Cost of an initial test often matters for many visitors at any medical care center. Free eye examinations are great one of the great reasons to purchase Walmart Eye Exam Coupons.

  • http://www.pozycjonowanie-torun.net Pozycjonowanie

    I’m like Dana. I bookmarked this and will review it in the future. Always like to get the perspective of more than one person and to have this many is great, especially for a subject I’m always interested in. Nice work Heidi.

  • http://www.tombrewerjr.com Thomas Brewer

    My SEO folks just uncovered some spammy blog comments that were posted are attributed to my site. We have no idea where they came from and are actively trying to have them removed – with no luck as of yet. It has not bee3n determined what the impact will be to my site in the serps yet.Negative SEO does exist. It is happening to me right now. Good luck to all.

  • Anonymous

    Try it on low traffic sites. My websites were ranking well before the update and they were penalized because they got too many links. There is no keyword stuffing or anything else. What my site has only backlinks. Which are third party backlinks and anyone can get it to my website.

    And regarding your challenge I can say that a person cann’t get off wikipedia, facebook, yahoo or any other established site from the search but it will definitely work on low traffic sites that are not well indexed and A newly launched website will fear the most.

    • Fishkinish

      “If negative SEO can take down 100% clean sites that have never done anything untoward and that have built up a good reputation on the web, it’s more concerning and something Google’s search quality engineers would need to address immediately (or risk a shadow industry of spammers popping up to do website takedowns),” he (Fishkin) adds.

      My question, what is 100%? Is Fishkin trying to say his site is 100% , or if it does get taken down is he planning on saying his site wasn’t 100%. Now that Google has taken note of this, of course they will do what they can to not hurt Fishkin’s site, because it is them who are ultimately failing. Moreover, why would any thief come to the store to steal knowing he has been invited to steal, fishy, or should we say Fishkinish (real clever, I know). This analogy is also going to prove Fishkin’s “suck up theory” right.

      There is a limit to sucking up to google (look at me use lower case, I know I’m a daredevil), Fishkin need to note that the algorithm change is only hurting small and medium businesses not the large sites. So, right of the bat his theory is going to work with his site. Well, if Fishkin really want to test his “suckup theory”, he should buy a brand new domain name (small/medium business are only migrating to internet now) and bring it to first page for some useful keyword (there need to be relative competition to come to first page) and then let us know when to start hurting it. He shouldn’t let the world know (especially Google) about this experiment, because Google would alert itself and would try to prove us wrong by ensuring that Fishkin’s domain doesn’t get hurt according to “shut up Fishkin theory.” I am sure he will know the result within a month.

      The fact of the matter is, negative SEO will live and work as long as incoming link is worth more than outbound links. Moreover, incoming links is not bringing together internet as would outbound links. Doesn’t Google want every website to be full of content (ie. an master of the subject(s) = directory), so outbound links will create them exactly what they want. Google got this entire thing wrong, well divide and conquer is never wrong, if you are the one dividing and conquering.

  • Olga

    What makes this experiment already invalid (and I am quite surprised that Rand has not realized this yet) is that by letting the world know about his experiment so publicly, it is so obvious that Google will prove us wrong by ensuring that the domains in question don’t get penalized.
    Anyway, let`s see what happens but I am very skeptical about the validity of the outcome.

  • MBijl

    SEO Profiler customer care sucks!
    Made the mistake to try-out for one euro.
    Despite cancelling they are charging us EUR 117.81!
    Be warned. Nice front but unfriendly back-end!

  • http://wholesaledefenseonline.com Allen

    Bottom line, protect yourself. They are trying to create a “checks and balances” environment. Relates more to their ROI than the quality of the search results, to an extent. Go Giants!

  • http://jacobking.com Jacob King

    Most people who try to do Neg SEO prolly won’t even get that right.

  • http://www.dirkschiff.de Dirk

    But other sites are not so strong than seomoz.org. they will be lost rankings when they get attacked from spammers

  • http://www.spiegelschrank-bad.eu Spiegelschrank

    Congrats to Rand Fishkin on two levels:
    1. Great public service and
    2. Brilliant link bait!

  • http://www.spiegelschrank-bad.eu Spiegelschrank

    I Love SEO