Negative SEO - the practice of competitors engaging in SEO attacks in order to harm businesses in search results - has been a concern in the search industry for years. It's rare that we see any concrete evidence of this actually working, but the suspicion is pretty much always there, and seems to be ramping up these days.
Do you believe negative SEO is working better than it used to? Let us know in the comments.
Last week, a webmaster started a thread in the WebmasterWorld forum asking "Has the most recent Google update made negative SEO easier?" It goes like this:
Negative SEO: Possibly one of the webmaster's worst nightmares. I'd like to speculate that negative SEO is now much easier to do now than it was prior to google's latest updates. Are we seeing more evidence to confirm this? There's certainly more talk of negative SEO.
We all know that links revolving around bad neighbourhoods can cause problems for a site, and it's relatively easy to generate hundreds, if not thousands of links automatically, and fairly easily putting a site on the automated radar at google. These links can also be generated manually, one-by-one, to slowly creep up on a site.
It's now more important than ever to have a GWT account to look out for these issues developing, and to deal with them that much faster if we're to avoid problems. What's your view: Is it now easier to run negative SEO campaigns, and how would you deal with the problem?
The thread spans nearly 50 posts, and there's not exactly a consensus that negative SEO is now easier, though Search Engine Roundtable says "most SEOs" actually agree that it is indeed easier. Barry Schwartz, who runs that site even ran a poll asking if it is easier, and nearly 74% said yes. It got 359 responses as of the time of this writing.
Since then, another WMW thread has sprung up titled "The New SEO is Negative SEO - How to Tank a Site in Google 101". It suggests that the following strategy would work as a negative SEO attack:
The first month, contract a couple $5 guest blog posts [make sure the posts are in broken English of course], then go back to what you were doing.
Second month, try a few more [4-8] $5 [broken English] guest blog posts and add some forum link drops to the mix. Go back to what you normally do -- Nothing will happen.
Third month, add even more [broken-English] guest blog links [2x or 3x per week], increase the forum link drops and sign up for long-term ["undetectable"] directory additions.
If the site hasn't tanked yet, month 4 hit 'em with 20,000 inbound links all at once -- Keep doing it and eventually the site you're aiming at will tank and they won't be able to figure out how to recover -- It takes almost none of your time and costs very little to tank a site due to the "penalty mentality" Google has decided to run with.
There's a bit more to it, which you can read on the forum, but that's the general gist.
The original poster includes a disclaimer: "I don't normally post about 'how to do negative stuff', but Google needs to fix this sh*t, so I hope people understand how it's done and feel free to use it until Google fixes their broken system and mentality -- Penalties don't bring links back to citations; penalties simply change who creates the links and who's site they point to. Period!"
Whether this actually works or not can (and will) be debated, but most people probably wouldn't admit to actually trying it. People in the forum seem mostly convinced of its ability to work though.
In 2012, Google changed the wording in a Webmaster Tools help center article in response to the question: Can competitors harm my ranking? Once upon a time, it said:
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.
It 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. Emphasis ours.
Eventually, Google released a video of Matt Cutts discussing negative SEO.
“So we try really, really hard to design algorithms that are robust, and that are resistant to that sort of thing," he said. "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.”
"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," he said later in the video.
These words did little to quell concern. Plus, that video is nearly two years old. The topic did come up in another video from Cutts last year:
This response didn't really sit much easier with some viewers.
Sadly, some businesses are even receiving negative SEO blackmail threats.
People have long criticized Google for simply not just ignoring the links it considers spammy, so people don't have to worry about stuff like this and spend money, time and resources trying to figure out why Google doesn't like their site and trying to get "bad links" cleaned up. As it stands, Google penalties would seem to double as strategies for negative SEO attacks.
Is this a real problem or is it exaggerated as Google would like webmasters to think? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Image via Google