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Negative SEO – Will the Negative Finally Lead to a Positive Outcome for Webmasters?

First of all we need to explain exactly what Negative SEO is – it’s using SEO know-how to take down a competitor’s website – namely backlink pointing to bring down sites.  This is scary stuff indeed for businesses and webmasters alike.

Dan Thies

The link business is in trouble again following a recent change in the way in which Google penalizes sites.  This has been highlighted by keyword expert, Dan Thies in his recent attempt to prove that negative SEO works.  The story started when Dan congratulated the head of Google’s Webspam team, Matt Cutts for mass penalties visited on blog networks.

Whatever the ins and outs of this convoluted story (and it’s still not over), negative SEO is a reality that organizations and webmasters need to take on board.  While you may be pretty sure that you (and your company) would never resort to using unethical SEO practice to harm the business of your competitors, there’s no way of ensuring that these negative SEO tactics won’t be used against you.

Until March 2012, the usual penalty for inorganic links (also known as artificial links or unnatural links) by Google was trademark suppression which would affect brand searches and would push a website’s ranking further down the Google search list.  However, Google has recently taken to imposing penalties that will have a granular impact on specific rankings and even warning websites in advance of the penalty.  This is all part of Google’s new plan to crack down on “over-optimization”.

So, first of all, what’s the difference between “organic links” and “inorganic links”?

Well, “organic links” are the result of natural link building, incoming links to your website where somebody has linked to you because they felt that your content was worth sharing.  They are good quality links that come about in several ways:

  • You write some great content (with links to even more great content) that other bloggers link to as a way of providing their readers with more insight or further information on what they’re writing about.
  • You write lists of resources and post links to them so that readers can find the links they need all in one handy place.
  • Write some how to’s and tutorials that provide clear instructions for your niche audience – make sure that you provide links to other resources that will be useful for your readers.
  • You approach one of the big companies and offer to write a guest blog post for them – the article needs to be well-written and interesting and you will need to provide links to other sites/blogs as well as your own.  Providing guest blogposts is a great way of earning trust and credibility, especially if the website your are writing for is a well-known and respected player such as the BBC or the Guardian.
  • You comment on a website or blogpost that is relevant to your subject.  The comment needs to be informative (don’t just say “Great blog post”) and offer some further insight or information on the subject.  If there is more information on your own blog on this issue, you can summarise it briefly and then say “I wrote a blog post about this matter where I go into much more detail, you can find it here” – and provide a link to the post.
  • You form relationships within an online community and the insights you have to offer result in you (and your blog/website) becoming the “go-to” resource on your core subjects.

All of this organic link building involves research, effort and hard work on your part – but it’s all worth it because you will gain a reputation for providing good content that is a showcase for your expertise and that naturally attracts visitors to your site.

Inorganic and unnatural links, however, are fast becoming the “bad boy” of online content.  They are not the result of knowledge on a subject or hard work – they come about from:

  • Leaving “spammy” comments on good websites/blogs – such as “Good post – have a look at this:” – providing a link to a blog or website that offers the reader no added value or is not even remotely connected with the subject.
  • There are no credible online relationships formed with inorganic links – the person posting is being paid to do so, has no expertise in the subject or issue and has not gained the trust of an online community in any way.
  • Links that are provided by link networks – networks of countless websites/blogs that have been created with the sole intention of linking back to specific websites.  These are usually built by dubious SEO agencies (who outsource the work to remote workers in developing nations working for a low hourly rate).
  • These blogs/websites will contain literally hundreds of “spammy” links which, instead of providing the reader with added information or further insights, serve solely to drive the traffic to a particular site.

These inorganic links are bad SEO – a way of cheating Google.  This has come about because Google will actually favour a website with lots of links pointing at it – the search engine thinks that if so many people are sending their readers to the website – it must be good or it must contain important information.

Google Penalty

Back to the problem of negative SEO and the inorganic / unnatural / artificial links that are invoking the wrath of Google at the moment.   The marketing of inorganic links has become big business and there are SEO services that specialize in doing this – very often using SEO personnel from overseas.  There are even software companies who sell tools that automatically post unnatural and inorganic links, and hosting companies, webmasters and copywriters who provide them.  Large numbers of inorganic links do work to raise your position in the search rankings and Google has allowed this to go on until now.

Using negative SEO tactics to harm competitors has become an industry in itself – with practitioners offering their services in using negative SEO to take down competitor websites for their clients.  By creating link networks that contain hundreds of “spammy” links some SEO companies offer to use these techniques to take down a client’s competitor’s website.  And it’s working a treat!

Because Google has no way of knowing who has posted inorganic links, it has lost the ability to enforce its own guidelines on buying links.  This has now led to the current situation where a website owner cannot prove that he has not posted inorganic links and Google is putting the burden of proof onto the website owner.

Businesses who have never used these negative SEO tactics are now receiving warnings or penalties from Google for these rubbish links and this is causing mayhem.  Successful, respected SEO companies who have been providing an excellent service to their clients are bearing the brunt of this – losing business as the work they do is considered to be underhand.

There is utter panic amongst SEO companies and webmasters as they scramble to use all the resources available to them to hunt down these bad links in a bid to prove to Google that they are not responsible for them and do not deserve the warnings or penalties they’ve incurred.

One way of solving this problem would be giving webmasters the ability to deny links from within Google’s WebMaster Tools.  This has been on the wish list of many webmasters for years and they’ve been asking Google to provide what could turn out to be a simple solution to what’s growing into a huge problem. Perhaps the chaos and commotion that we’re seeing at the moment will have a positive outcome and spur Google into doing just this.

Let me know your thoughts on this, have you experience negative SEO, would you consider taking a competitors site down? Do you agree that Google should allow webmasters to “block” these links in GWT?

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5 Comments

  1. Marcus says:

    Hey, the webmaster tools link alerts could work out well but really, you would think that Google should not be penalising for external factors alone and the reality is that we don’t actually know if they are.

    Whether it is some combination of factors and having some dodgy on site work makes you vulnerable to an off site attack means that everyone should do their best to be squeaky clean and may even help clean up the industry a bit long term.

    Webmaster alerts could work well as if you are paying for link building and then google suddenly gives you a message stating that these links are dodgy and you disallow them, it is not going to take people long to realise that a lot of SEO money they are spending is just being flushed down the spam toilet.

    It’s Google though, and despite their current push for transparency, I simply can’t see them going this route. Equally, they can’t allow this to be become a practical norm else all hell will break out as it’s certainly easier to follow these tactics to bomb the competition than it is to spend time building an authoritative site and social credibility.

    I would say it is an interesting time to be in SEO, but it is always an interesting time to be in SEO. :)

  2. jonnyross says:

    Marcus,

    Thanks for taking time to comment, I would agree with you I do hope this helps clean up the industry, and i would also hope that having a good clean site will be a good enough signal to help avoid the wrath, however i am not so sure that is good enough to rely on.

    I think a constent check on your bank link profiles / GWT and GA is required to ensure you can be ready to take action before google does.

    I really hope google integrates this into GWT, for me its the most obvious solution, fingers crossed!

    Jonny

  3. Mark says:

    Quote “Businesses who have never used these negative SEO tactics are now receiving warnings or penalties from Google for these rubbish links and this is causing mayhem”

    Please can you provide a specific examples of businesses which has been hit by a penalty.

    I work for a company with a website which is currently under attack. We are very concerned about this but can not find any specific examples.

    Thanks

  4. jonnyross says:

    Hi Mark,

    thanks for the comment, unfortunately I am unable to offer specific examples as they are either sites I am working for, or currently in discussions with.

    I would be more than happy to have a chat and see if I can offer some advice… is it worth me picking up the phone to you?

    For specifics, I’d recommend having a look in webmaster world threads for specific sites.

    Jonny

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