Watch Out For Backlink Sabotage

    February 27, 2008
    WebProNews Staff

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.