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Is Google Admitting That Negative SEO Is Possible?

Google Changes Answer To: "Can competitors harm ranking?"

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Google has a page in its Webmaster Tools help center addressing the question: Can competitors harm ranking? This has been a topic getting a lot of discussion since the Penguin update. It was getting a pretty good amount before then too, but it seems to have ramped up significantly in recent months.

Some webmasters have noticed that Google has updated the wording it uses to address this question on the help center page. There are various forum discussions going on, as Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable has pointed out.

Back in 2006, Schwartz posted what Google said on the page at the time, which was:

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.

These days, it just says:

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.

Apparently the wording itself was changed in March, though the page says there was an update made on 05/22. Either way, Google recently changed it, and instead of saying “there’s almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking…” Google now says, “Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking…”

That’s not incredibly reassuring.

Google has also added the following video from Matt Cutts to the page:

This video isn’t exactly an answer to the question though. It’s more about telling on competitors’ black hat tactics, rather than your competitors directly hurting your ranking. Essentially, it equates to: file a spam report.

Rand Fishkin at SEOmoz has been testing the negative SEO waters, challenging others to hurt his sites’ rankings. He told us a couple weeks ago that despite thousands of questionable links, his sites were still ranking well.

Is Google Admitting That Negative SEO Is Possible?
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  • http://www.LAokay.com Steve G

    How stupid does somebody have to be that they wouldn’t believe that link spamming by somebody to hurt your site on purpose wouldn’t have an effect, while paying somebody to do it on purpose would? Google simply doesn’t know why a link ended up on a page, only that it did. The fact that SEOmoz’s experiment seemed to fail may just be due to the high quality links they have simply outweighed the negative effect all those spammy links had on it’s rankings. In other words don’t go after Sears with spam, go after some mom and pop shop that ranks high that you want to lower a few pegs. A legitimate test would be to set up thousands of spammy sites and purposely spam up a few top ranking sites that don’t seem like they would have big SEO budgets and watch their rankings drop, then remove the links and watch the rankings climb back up.

  • http://www.kentuckyspecialfx.com Mike Bisch

    I wondered about this for a few days with the penguin update thing and im trying to be as proactive as possible with our theatrical props site but I wonder if being in the yahoo network / being a yahoo store helps or hurts us in any way against the spamy negative seo tactics.
    Im still trying figure out how our site has 900 links according to our Google webmaster thing cause I know we shouldn’t have quite that many.
    If anyone has any suggestions our website is http://www.kentuckyspecialfx.com, I just want to do better in searches but yet not go over board on the links.

  • http://www.consultancymarketing.co.uk Ian Smith

    I agree Steve.
    There aren’t many of us out there who can compete with the link profile of SEOMOZ. Given what I have seen/read, I am sure it is possible for a small local plumber (for example) to do damage to his local competition plumber!

  • http://www.mybidmonster.co.za/Categories/Items femi

    The SEO world is one where there are no “rules” at it seems, big G is the sole player, almost anything can happen overnight and all must seemly bow to thier dictates.

    While they are doing thier best to word off spams and spammers, fair play must be the rule of the game.

  • http://www.peteregan.org/ Peter Egan

    Please forgive me, as I’m somewhat new to this, but can anyone offer some examples for specifically what constitutes a link that would hurt you? I know you all probably covered this eight or nine years ago, but if someone could just give me a couple of specifics it would go a long way towards helping me understand all of this.

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