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Negative SEO is not a new concept but it is one that has recently become more mainstream. These are underhanded tactics where companies do SEO activity for their competitors so it appears that they are breaching Google's guidelines and they get penalized.

This SEO campaign then ruins the competitor's organic rankings in order to improve their own rankings. The most common practice is to build low quality, anchor text links to a specific domain in order to trigger a Google penalty for that site or specific page.

We asked some SEO experts in the UK and US their opinions on negative SEO, what techniques are being used and how you can prevent it from happening to you.

How much truth is there that negative SEO exists or is being used? 

Kevin Gibbons, SEOptimise

It's actually pretty scary at the moment - as there is truth in negative SEO working effectively, see posts like this one from Aaron Wall. Of course Google are looking to favour brands in its search results – and big brands will be more protected by this due to the fact that they have authority and more natural back link profiles. 

This means that negative links wouldn't stand out as much percentage wise and the strong domain should be enough to protect it from any potential influx of negative links. It's definitely the smaller and less authoritative sites which are at more risk from this.

Is it really possible to negatively impact another site's search rankings?

Edward Cowell, Guava

It is potentially possible...but it is extremely rare. I was chatting to one of the Google Quality team who reckoned they'd only ever seen a couple of cases ever that fell into this category, and they look at thousands of websites a month.

Jennifer Dunphy, Vayu Media

Yes, it is, and the SEO industry chatter on this topic is at its highest level in years.  Google has rolled out the Penguin algorithm update on April 24, 2012 which is supposed to target websites that use spammy sources of links.  However, the SEO community is in agreement that this update has increased the danger of negative SEO tremendously.  Basically, a competitor would be able to engage in tactics that the Penguin update deems spammy and hurt a company’s rankings.

Kevin Gibbons

Yes – I used to believe that the worst case scenario from a negative link would be that it would have no impact. But we've seen a few sites take drops recently and the most obvious explantation is due to negative links. Of course you'd like to think that the only way to get to the top of Google is to focus on yourself and building a brand – but you can't be naïve to what is actually happening out there and you need to make sure that your site is well protected from any negative SEO activity.

Kevin Ryan, Motivity Marketing

You can do all sorts of under handed things in search. You can proactively go out there and write a bunch of negative reviews and spam the search engines. That's the basic way to look at it. I've not seen any case law on it yet as it's difficult to prove who's doing it.

What kinds of techniques would you use to do this (not that we're planning to)?

Jennifer Dunphy

Obviously, we don’t want to encourage anyone from participation in those type of tactics. But for illustration purposes it is safe to say that generally speaking a unscrupulous competitor could engage in:

  • duplicate website content theft and distribution
  • linking from widely known spam link generators
  • over optimization for anchor text
  • optimizing for undesirable or negative keywords
  • falsifying business reviews so they don’t appear natural (perfect scores all around)
  • targeting of valuable website links and tricking other websites to remove those valuable links

The issue at hand is that Google cannot distinguish if you are paying for these spam tactics or your competitor is on your behalf.  This is why the SEO community can’t stop talking about this risk.

Alex Moss, Pleer

Over the past month, we can see that there are a lot of Panda and Penguin related updates. Those posts go into detail about what not to do on-site and off-site. Take notes on what not to do off-site and perform it on the site you are targeting. 

I also want to make it clear that I don't perform any negative for any of my clients nor would I ever suggest to do so. This is simply one way of doing it.

Edward Cowell

Very blatant link spam or hacking sites so that they contain hidden text and links are two basic techniques. However there is a slight ironic twist to it that Google may not notice some of your negative SEO efforts and may potentially reward the website you are targeting for the links, so as much as you might harm a competitor you could equally benefit them.

The reason this topic has picked up steam recently comes from Google increasing their anti-spam efforts and Googles increased level of communication with webmasters via Google Webmaster Tools. So even if you don't get a website directly penalised via negative SEO, simply causing Google Webmaster Tools to send a competitor an Unnatural Link Profile' message for instance, will still waste a great deal of the competitor's time and energy.

Kevin Gibbons

Obviously I wouldn't recommend this – but I'm sure sites like Fiverr.com have done pretty well out of this update!

Do you know of any examples?

Edward Cowell

I would describe negative SEO as self defeating, a bit like MAD, if everyone engages in it everyone loses. My personal opinion is if everyone is simply focusing their time and effort on trying to destroy each other, it means no one is focused on making the web better for users.

Jennifer Dunphy

I can’t name names, however, a client who has reached out to us to help his business with rankings was targeted by negative SEO. After our review, we found that he posted a very negative comment on rip-off report about his former SEO company that he wasn’t happy with.

Based on the timing, it appeared that this company then targeted his business.  His doggie boutique store website started receiving links with bestiality and sexually oriented material. Based on the extent of the negative SEO campaign and the business owner's limited budget there wasn’t much that he could do to reverse the negative impact besides pleading with Google for a manual review. He ended up switching his domain and starting from scratch.

How do you know it's happening to you and what do you do about it?

Kevin Ryan

With advanced SEO tracking you can see where the trends start to occur.  A good SEO manager is already looking for negative SEO. They'll keep an eye out for a spike of negative comment strings and back links going in from strange places. You need to look for terms that are starting to drop down and downward trends in words that aren't normally turning downward.

Kevin Gibbons

What I would advise on the defensive side is to make sure you do a cleanup. This is quickly becoming a key part of an SEO project now, so if you spot unnatural links in your profile (whether you've built them or not) try to get them removed. 

If you're not in control of it, then send a Google reconsideration request, providing a report on the links you are in no control of and ask that they have no value towards rankings – this really should be part of Google Webmaster Tools and I've got a feeling it will be coming later this year.

Heather Taylor

Published 9 May, 2012 by Heather Taylor

Heather Taylor is the Editorial Director for Econsultancy US. You can follow her on Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.

236 more posts from this author

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Negative SEO

I'm the guy on Fiverr who had the nseo gigs that the blogosphere has been talking about. *braces self* Anyway, you should know that they were all rejected by fiverr, who understandably, frowns upon negative seo.

However, while I have a gig for over 15,000 links, (under the name NegativeSEOguy) I feel any buyer could get a similar effect from using other gigs that are similar. So, yes, this is a gap in the search algorithm, but let me suggest that there might be times when some feel this gap can, and should, be exploited for good reasons, such as when a competitor puts up a site like '(yourbrand)sucks.com' or if you have stuff on the first page that you don't want prospective employers to see.

I've had people buy my gigs that are losing business because some joker puts up a free blogger site that makes unfounded accusations...yes, this could be actionable under the context of 'libel', but nothing is to stop the person from doing it again...also, some people are extorting businesses with 'Hey, if you like your current ranking, and want it to stay that way, pay us $x...if not, we'll blast you down to page 300.'

The next 6 mos will be a Wild West as far as the serps are concerned, with people trying to gain and retain rankings by any means necessary. Perhaps the good thing about NSEO is that it reveals the need for search to evolve once again.

over 4 years ago

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John Ryder

The most recent changes make it easier than ever to conduct negative SEO in my opinion.

For example, one of the easiest ways to perform negative SEO on a competitor would be to build exact match anchor links in an attempt to weight the profile of their links anchor text to appear spammy.

over 4 years ago

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Chande

@NegativeSEO: how big must a site be that this update would not hurt it? I mean, you will obviously profit from the market opportunity. And I really like your comment on "wild west" in the next 6 months.

over 4 years ago

Steve Harvey-Franklin

Steve Harvey-Franklin, Director at Attercopia

It would be interesting to get a legal view on such activity. Bad linking could be (in my view) akin to slander, brand damage / unlawful / unauthorised use of brand. We all know how protective big brands are about unauthorised use of brand, or activities that damage brand. Targeting a site to lower its rank could feasibly be viewed in the same light. It's also in the same league as bogus bad reviews.

over 4 years ago

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Russell O'Sullivan

Personally, I agree with some of the statements above.. isnt it better to focus your time, effort and budget on makign sure you are at the top of your game when it comes to your own site and optimisation?

A question I would ask, is it bigger firms with more staff on their marketing/seo team that engage in negative SEO, or is it more likely to be smaller companies, who spend all their time thinking about their competitors?

Also, what do you guys say if one of your clients turned up asking about nseo - would you go for it?
Just seems fruitless in the long run!

over 4 years ago

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Alex

I agree...Negative SEO is a major issue at this moment, especially with the Google Penguin update. It still remains to be seen what will happen.

over 4 years ago

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Damon

Well I agree that negative SEO is a scary thing and something should be done to stop it or at least point it out. SEO Firms can easily identify these activities since they possess the professional expertise and tools however it is difficult for small or medium webmasters to locate and get rid of them.

over 4 years ago

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Tee

Russell, you may agree, as does most everyone else, the it's better to focus on your own site than to engage in negative SEO, but when it happens to you, there's nothing left to do but damage control. That takes your focus off your own site and forces all your energy on needlessly trying to remove links.

I know, because it happened to my site. And, let me tell you, whoever did this, it was easily done. From the dates oc the spam posts, it looks like it took them just one day.

Now my hope is that thousands of people embark on negative seo campaigns. That's not because i want small business owners to suffer, but because we need a lot of innocent people to get hit. Then a few of them that have a big enough audience will make some noise and force google's hand to fix this.

With that said, i will now tell you what the idiot that targeted my site did. You can do it too and knock sites out of the serps. Like i said, i'm not condoning this, but the flaw in the system needs to be exposed before it can be fixed. So here's what you do:

Create multiple accounts on sites like:

Livejournal.com
Blogger.com
Bcz.com
Weebly.com
Insanejournal.com

Create 3 to 20 accounts in each. Write nonsensicle posts in each account. Link to the target site in every second post, or so. But also link to some authority sites too. Now, also in your posts, link all the spam accounts together. Now, to google, this will look like a blog network interlinking with eachother to boost rankings. The target site will be toast.

One day of work is all it takes to tank a competitor.

over 4 years ago

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jeet das

I don't think anyone will start using negative SEO techniques by spending lot of times. Still, in this Ranking competition who knows you competitors would definitely try this as a strategy. Very difficult to stay in top of search engine these days.

over 4 years ago

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