First, let’s define negative SEO. Negative SEO is using “worst practice” SEO techniques on your competitors to create negative signals to Google. Depending on how strong these signals are, you can potentially cause an unsuspecting website to drop in rankings and therefore free up new slots on the first page of Google for your website. In full disclosure, I have just recently become aware of this niche industry that is sprouting up. DAGMAR Marketing has never employed these tactics against any competitors or for our clients. However, due to the changes Google has rolled out and the proliferation of this micro-industry, I think it’s time for a crash course so we all can be aware.
Does Negative SEO Work?
There is an interesting thread that I have been watching on Traffic Planet Forum. A few of the members have targeted a couple of websites to prove that negative SEO works. Here are their claims:
Rankings Before (22nd March): seofaststart.com dan thies – number 1 seo – number 11 seo service – number 34 seo book – number 3 negativeseo.me negative seo – number 2 destroy your competitiors – number 1 Ranking After (18th April) note rankings are still jumping a little: seofaststart.com dan thies – number 1 (still number 1) seo – not in top 1000 (down from number 11) seo service – not in top 1000 (down from number 34) seo book – number 34 (down from number 3) negativeseo.me negative seo – number 6 (down from number 2) destroy your competitiors – number 13 (down from number 1)
This doesn’t necessarily prove that negative SEO works, as it doesn’t take into account other events that could be taking place at the same time. For instance, Dan Thies states that he was changing out his theme at the time and had category issues. It is interesting to note, though, that there were significant downward fluctuations during the negative SEO campaign. If I was a betting man, which I am, I would bet on black here and say that there is a significantly greater chance that negative SEO works than not.
Common Techniques of the Negative SEO Artist
In the example above, the negative SEO campaign consisted of doing a scrapebox blast that will create several thousand spammy links back to the two sites. In the past, spammy links didn’t hurt as much if you had good links as well in your linking profile. As far back as 2010, however, Google’s own Matt Cutts and his “anti-spam” team have been targeting link spam which has been growing over the years. Now with the addition of the Panda update, which targets blog networks and content spam, it is increasingly easy to create and point these strong negative signals at a competitor. Here is a list from the Traffic Planet forum of more negative SEO techniques. Credit is due to member joshbachynski who neither advises or endorses this list which I have shortened and edited. You can read the full list here.
- If you notice one of your competitors already has spammy links or paid links pointing to its site, you can fill out Google’s spam report and hope that Google will take action in delisting or lowering its rank.
- Create and point thousands of links with the same anchor text for the exact match query to trip Google’s over-optimized penalty.
- Build thousands of spammy links in one day to a competitor which will appear unnatural to Google and trigger the over-optimized penalty.
- Subscribe to your competitor’s RSS feed for new content. Scrape the new content and duplicate. Then get the duplicated content indexed faster by pinging and using social media, etc. The competitor’s site will take the duplicate content hit.
- Buy de-indexed domains and point them at your competitors.
- Buy 5000 +1’s in a day towards the competitor’s site in hopes to trip the spam filter.
Local SEO tactics
- Drip feed 100’s of 1 star reviews with negative comments from different gmail accounts on various review sites – this might not lower their ranking but it will affect the Click Through Rate.
- Take ownership of your competitor’s business profile on citation sources and change the phone number and address.
In essence, Google knows what a good authoritative site looks like from a link profile and content standpoint. Google also knows what a low quality “spam” site looks like. The more you make your competitor look like the latter, the better chance you have of taking over its spot or keep it from taking yours. Again, I don’t use or condone any of these practices. I point them out to create awareness for the problem that exists. Living in an online environment where a malicious competitor can affect your rankings and therefore your income is unacceptable. Why would Google create or allow this environment to exist? Google makes its money with paid advertisements which are tied directly to the quality of search. There are incentives for Google to create a better user experience at all costs (reduce spam even at the cost of innocent businesses) than to allow spam to proliferate. If the end result is a better user experience that promotes more revenue then the unfairness for the few will be overlooked. There are casualties in war and make no mistake, Google is waging war on spam and enforcing penalties which will have side effects such as this.
What you can do to protect yourself
The best advice anyone can give at this point is to be aware of your links and their structure. The best cure is prevention. The more natural and authoritative links you have, the harder it will be for spammy links to influence your rankings. Look at your existing links and anchor text. If you already have some unsavory links and a disproportional anchor text profile then you may be easy pickings for a negative SEO campaign. (credit @joshbachynski) Make sure every page you create is pinged, tweeted and announced on your Google+ account. (This is good SEO practice anyway.) Actively work on your social signals as these are the new links in my opinion and will serve you well going forward in the new age of search. For small businesses, you will want to have an active Review Acquisition Strategy. Constantly adding positive reviews of your business online will quickly combat any negative reviews that pop up. Take ownership of your listing in all the major citation sources (about 30) so you control your listing. Leaving your listing out there for someone else to claim is a risk that isn’t worth taking. Hope that Google gets its conscience a little more in order and addresses this problem before it gets out of hand. If you suspect you have been a target of a negative SEO campaign, I would love to hear about it.