Negative SEO has been a big topic in the search industry this year, particularly since the Penguin update and Google's link warnings to webmasters. Many have wondered how easy it would be for their competitors to trick Google into making their sites look like parts of "bad neighborhoods'".
Have you seen examples of Google allowing negative SEO to take place? Let us know.
For all Google has done to combat search spam, and talk about issues more openly with webmasters, concerns about negative SEO still linger.
It didn't help much when Google changed the wording in its Webmaster Tools help center to make it seem more possible that this could happen.
Google used to say:
There’s almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages.
Our search results change regularly as we update our index. While we can’t guarantee that any page will consistently appear in our index or appear with a particular rank, we do offer guidelines for maintaining a “crawler-friendly” site. Following these recommendations may increase the likelihood that your site will show up consistently in the Google search results.
This year, that section was changed to say:
Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages.
If you'll notice, Google changed it from saying “there’s almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking…" to “Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking…”
Not an incredibly reassuring change.
Eventually, of course, Google launched the Link Disavow tool, which lets webmasters tell Google to ignore certain links or links from certain domains. In theory, this should be a good tool to combat negative SEO if you're actually experiencing it (though there is no guarantee that Google will actually ignore the links you tell it to).
According to Google, however, it's very unlikely that you are experiencing negative SEO. This was the topic of a new Webmaster Help video from the company, which features Matt Cutts discussing negative SEO and the Link Disavow tool.
"From the very beginning, we have to think about, when we design an algorithm, or when we take action on sites with the manual web spam team, we try to think about, 'Okay, is there some way somebody could frame somebody else? Some way that person A could hurt competitor B?' or something like that," says Cutts. "So we try really, really hard to design algorithms that are robust, and that are resistant to that sort of thing. Any algorithm that we've done in recent years - that the web spam team has worked on - we do try to walk through those cases and make sure that we're resistant to that sort of thing."
"At the same time, as Google has gotten better at assessing, you know, the quality of backlinks, and taken stronger action on a lot of link networks (especially both public and private link networks) earlier this year, a lot more people are thinking about their back links - how do they clean up their backlinks?" he continues. "And some people are asking about, what if people try to do negative SEO, which is 'Google bowling,' or they try to point links to a site to make that site rank lower. Again, most people don't have to worry about this. If you're just a regular mom and pop - you're a small business, this is not the sort of thing where you're likely in any way, shape or form to run up against this. In my experience, there's a lot of people who talk about negative SEO, but very few people who actually try it, and fewer still, who actually succeed."
Cutts mentions in the video that they did another video on the Link Disavow tool. You've probably seen it by now, but just in case you haven't, here you go:
For people who are in competitive niches, who are really worried about this Cutts suggests using the Link Disavow tool. Here's what Google said about negative SEO in an FAQ when the tool was first launched:
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.
Now that the year's about over, it's a good time to reflect on the changes Google has made to its algorithms and to the tools and resources it has provided webmasters. I don't think anyone can say they haven't at least communicated more changes this year than in any other year in recent memory. The Link Disavow tool is something that webmasters and SEOs have been waiting for for a long time.
Has Google improved in your opinion? Is negative SEO a non-issue now? Tells us what you think.