Watch Out For Backlink Sabotage

Competitors could ruin your rep

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Here’s an interesting question: If a competitor really, really wanted to get rid of me and didn’t mind being unscrupulous to do it, could he set up a bad link scheme that gets me tossed out of Google’s index?

Well, maybe. Let’s just say that it might be a good idea, especially if you’re just starting out and haven’t built the credibility and authority yet, to pay close attention to who’s linking to you and how much. It would take a lot, mind you, and your nemesis would have to be pretty determined.

The latest, buzzy topic of conversation in SEO (buzzy because certain forums’ vigorous discussion about it has prompted more investigation and a reply from Matt Cutts) has been surrounding a so-called -60 penalty. The collective obsession with understanding the mathematics of Google’s algorithm has produced a series of collective agreement/myth that there are different levels of penalties, e.g., -10, -20, -60, -250.

Google had to acknowledge one of the penalties recently, the -6 penalty, as an oversight to be corrected, so these guesses at various penalties may be somewhat on the mark.

Cutts entered the conversation about the -60 penalty too, his appearance coming just shy of confirming the penalty’s reality. He suggested to a person that they keep a close eye on their backlinks:

"ShyBoy, have you been collecting backlinks in any unusual ways? It looks like you may have, and I would pay special attention to that. For example, if you had been attempting to get PageRank via paid links on various templates, then when that PageRank stops flowing (e.g. if Google improves its detection in various ways), the fact that you have less PageRank can also mean that a site won’t rank as well. If that applies to you, my advice would be to pay special attention to that issue, in addition to the other good advice you’ve already gotten."
One of the commentators in this thread notes that the site in question in that Google Groups thread had some “nasty” backlinks. ShyBoy says he runs a “family business,” so we’ll assume he didn’t do that himself, just for our own piece of mind.

Cutts seems to be implying that a bunch of nasty backlinks makes you look bad, at the very least. Barry Schwartz brings us back around to remind us that once a site has been penalized or dropped, it’s pretty hard to get things back to normal, even if the site itself has been cleaned up, as Google will now watch the site more closely. And that means Google might be even less forgiving of the bad links.

Schwartz cites an explanation from John Web of JLH Design to illustrate why Google pays such close attention to bad links. This is just part of that post:

"[I]f a site has 36,000 links to it and 34,000 links are from theme sponsorships, 1,000 are from keyword rich blog comments, 500 are from web directories, and only 10 are from actual sites giving out an editorial link that would be a pretty good sign that someone was trying to improve their ranking by external methods. If 99% of the links are questionable, then it may give them cause to not only devalue them but devalue the site as a whole as well. "

Schwartz follows that up with the obvious next questions: "Is this fair? Can this be used to hurt your competitors? "

The answer sure seems to be in the affirmative (for the second question), since enough nasty links pointed toward a competitor (which may not be detected immediately and may be difficult to remedy) could ultimately take their site down a few (or 60) notches. It’s like somebody spreading rumors about you in high school. You’ll still be trying to shake that rep at your 10-year reunion. 


Watch Out For Backlink Sabotage
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  • http://www.creativebox.ltd.uk Brian

    Oh and it’s so easy to do. I know of  a real estate company who trawled through 1000s of directories to add their competitors with anchor text that involved certain ‘banned words’ i.e. swearwords, porn etc… Thankfully, they went bust.

  • pit

    This has happend to me in the last few weeks. It’s not about porn keyword or anything, just a huge amount of backlinks in a few days (all comming from just 5 sites). One of them looks like a broken forum (this might be unintentional). I got about 1500 links from that forum. And no…it’s not a site wide. I got a link for each session id google had on it :(

    Does anybody have an idee what to do now? My site has been penalized hard and if this continues for to long I will run out of buisisness

  • Guest


    If Google is able to detect dodgy links and penalise you for them then it is definitely possible, in fact easy, for a competitor to get you penalised.

    I suspect that if the sites linking to you are very bad indeed then it doesn’t need that many to hit the trigger. I have some links to a site that are from domains that are in the form randomletters.com, registered to Russian guys that look like mega link farms with many script generated pages on thousands of sub domains all linked together and then on one page there is a single link to me. When I Google the domain name I find they have tens of thousands of back links which are 100% comment spam. We have dropped 10 places for something which is completely out of our control. At least one of our competitors has been similarly targetted.

    Counter to this is the fact that if you are in a smaller market that has language specific terms then the thresholds for spam detection are set far too high and it is easy for a site to use grey area links to get to #1 without detection. If the current #1 has say 500 naturally developed backlinks with uncontrolled anchor text then you might be able to get someone in New Delhi to buy you 300 with the right anchor text and take the top slot. And you will never get detected because the spam level is set in 1000s to suit the US market size and we opperate in 100s.




  • http://www.riversagency.com web design chapel hill

    I dont know if google actually penalizes for bad back links, I think they just ignore them, therefore you can’t be hurt by them.  Now where linking can get you in trouble is linking out to bad sites or link farms.

  • http://boston.seowebdesignfirm.com/ seo agency boston

    At a keynote I was at in SES NY they said taht google does not penalize for bad backlinks, and will just not count them as good.  But linking out to bad neighborhoods is much more damaging

  • http://chicago.seowebdesignfirm.com/seo-training-class.htm seo class chicago

    I don’t think that in the long run bad backlinks will hurt you as much as good ones will help.

  • http://www.dizisiizle.org dizi izle

    Thank you man

  • http://www.hemroidshelp.com/ Hemroids

    Unfortunately there has always been issues with clear message from Google about how this can and cannot hurt you. The problem is in defacto understanding of the problem. From an administrative or upper end front, this doesn’t happen, but on the front lines, for webmasters and businesses, clearly it does.

    Unfortunately there is a real miscommunication line between Google and webmasters, otherwise would Google would understand this phenomenon better. Alternatively, its possible they already do, but do not want every person to know how volatile the effect really is for fear of massive manipulation

  • Guest
  • http://www.moovinonup.com/ SEO

    no matter where the backlinks come from they should not be able to harm you cause you have no control who links to you

  • http://stantorg.com Orlando

    backlinks  cant to harm your site, because everybody can harm the competitor’s site by making bad backlinks.

  • http://www.homeremedyhaven.com Home Remedies

    Actually, links can harm your website, but it takes a precise set of circumstances and set of links to do it, and most webmasters and SEO’s do not have the information. If they did, this would be happening much more often unfortunately.

    • http://www.controldatainc.com collection agencies

      Im not going to go into the details but it doesnt really take a set of circumstances. Originaly people were taught that backlinks were harmless and would only benifit a site. This is no longer true. We have seen a case where just 2 backlinks from a bad site pushed us back on ranking.

  • http://www.firesprinklersystemsinfo.com/ Fire Sprinklers

    Specific types of back links can cause harm, especially when they are in tandem with various hijacks / redirects.

  • http://www.diziseyret.gen.tr dizi seyret

    thank you man perfect

  • Backlink

    ooh thanks a lot for the tips?
    thank’s for the good post?!!!

    yes cemlouis i just notice the notification there..either i missed that
    part when i upload the theme or they just recently updated their site and also make it more clear about their theme submit policy.
    but still is there anyway they can prevent anyone uploading someone
    else theme..that

  • http://www.etailorpro.com Dallas Web Design

    So how does one fix these bad backlinks. We went from ranking ten down to 20 under a very strong keyword and were the only one for about 5 pages that had only a PR of 1 and fewer backlinks than anyone. We keep pluggin along trying to make it to the top then al of a sudden we drop to twenty. So is there any software out there that will pull all of our backlinks and tell us which ones are good and bad?

  • http://www.thegooglegurus.co.uk SEO Bolton

    I don’t believe in the -60 penalty or any other myths like that, but this topic has been discussed at SEOchat recently. Apparently some of the guys there are getting a lot of work from people who’s ranking have dropped and sites have been penalised due to hiring cheap link building services, which suggests that the theory may be true, and a competitor could potentially harm your rankings. Doesn’t seem fair imo, and until I have first hand experience I think I’ll remain skeptical.

  • http://latentstrength.com instinctis

    Nice touch on your post here, thanks. Is completely true that google and yahoo are great engines for checking your backlinks / InLinks (and a little more)…anyway I used to do the queries manualy untill i found this free tool: http://ministatus.com which also alows one to download the results in pdf file and also generates the free badge price for each and every queried websites.

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