Negative SEO: Let’s talk about it, shall we?
OK… so finally I have decided to talk about NEGATIVE SEO and I bet as soon as this gets published I will get comments and emails that will tell me: GAB GAB GAB YOU ARE WRONG… Negative SEO doesn’t exist mate…
Well… here we go:
If there is one thing that you can rely on in the SEO game, it’s for Google to not only pull the rug from under you, but also to change the furniture whilst you’re at it. For the most part that is understandable – it’s their job to get the search engine results they want, and it’s our job to get the ones we want.
But that doesn’t mean that every update they do is a good idea for users or SEO practitioners alike. And the latest raft of changes to the SEO environment rather stress that point for us. They went gave the elephant in the room tusks.
The elephant in the room, the one everyone was ignoring, was negative SEO. And despite it being a hefty elephant, it was easy to ignore. Depending on who you asked it was either not possible, or so incredibly difficult it was almost the same thing.
You’ll notice the past tense in that paragraph. Because these days not only is negative SEO very possible, it’s pretty easy to do by anyone with more than a few brain cells to kick around.
It’s All About Backlinks
As with so much in SEO terms, negative SEO is all about the backlinks. When you think about it, it has to be. Negative SEO is the practice of using SEO metrics to make a site rank further down the SERPs – so the owners of the sites, who have access to on page aspects – aren’t likely to do it to themselves.
Which puts it down to backlinks. Which is where the big change to the Google algorithm really made negative SEO possible.
Until now we knew that certain backlinks – links from certain places, certain types of links, links with certain footprints, etc, would be discounted – Google considered them no more than spam links.
But that is all they were – discounted. The Penguin updates changed that though. Whereas they were only discounted before, now they actually came with a penalty.
This means that people can point backlinks that have a penalty at sites they are in competition with, and watch those sites move down the listings.
We were quickly assured, by Google and some SEO experts, that such negative SEO campaigns were not feasible, they did not have that effect. That was soon discovered to be false though. Examples, including hitting a negative SEO company, and an SEO guru, quickly emerged.
So Google changes have given the negative SEO elephant tusks. We’re awaiting to see what their next move is with considerable interest.
Now… let’s go with the next topic..
How to do Negative SEO
Knowing how negative SEO is done is important. We’re not saying that everyone should be doing negative SEO – we’ll leave the morality options up to people who can explain ethics better – but we are saying everyone should know and understand it.
Because the more we know about negative SEO the better we are able to protect ourselves. You can’t stop people from doing a negative SEO campaign if they decide that they need to target your site, but you can help minimise the damage by understanding how they will go about doing it. And, of course, if you feel that your ethics are ok with negative SEO, you can conduct a similar campaign yourself.
As will positive SEO the idea of negative SEO is to understand what Google is looking for (and to a lesser degree, other search engines). The difference being we are now looking at what Google will harm a site’s SERPs, for, not trying to find what will give them a boost.
Let us assume that for negative SEO the people conducting the campaign don’t have access to on page SEO (otherwise they are either hackers or trying to hurt their own site). This will mean backlinks.
Google has used backlinks as a major metric in it’s SERPs for years. Whilst it can be argued the reliance on links has lessened in recent times, they are still vital…and now that negative SEO is in the picture they are again moving to the forefront.
Negative SEO is done by using links that Google will think are spammy and pointing them at a site. Because Google now punishes spammy links they will have the site falling down the SERPs.
But what are spammy links? Such things as:
- Links that are on ‘bad neighbourhoods’ such as link farms and blog networks.
- Links from numerous irrelevant sites
- Links with the same footprint (e.g. all coming from the same software such as ning, obviously done with linking software)
- Over optimisation of anchor text. If 1,000 links all use the anchor text “lose belly fat” then it is obviously trying to game the system
The problem is that these ‘obvious’ points mean that now negative SEO can be done. Use these techniques, point them at other sites and watch them drop down the SERPs.
How to stop it?
It’s hard, if not impossible. But a large backlink footprint that is ‘naturally’ made (no over optimisation, no obvious link between them) will help create a large buffer. Google needs to be making tools that will cut all this out though.
Proof Negative SEO Works
Negative SEO had long been a good theory concept. Some swore it could work, but it needed such a massive effort that it was usually better just to keep up positive SEO rather than delve into the negative aspect.
As with all things Internet though, things change, and in the case of negative SEO they changed drastically. Thanks to the Penguin and Panda updates we have seen negative SEO go from being nothing more than a thought exercise, to it becoming a very real, and very problematic issue for many webmasters.
Not everyone was willing to admit that negative SEO was possible though. Some swore blind that Google would never allow such things to slip through their algorithms. After all this is the company that has the motto “Don’t be Evil”. But as we will see, they may not be being evil, but they’re letting many others be so thanks to negative SEO.
Google even admit it is possible themselves. Whilst they originally used to have a topic in help saying other sites are unable to do anything to effect your ranking, now they admit it is possible and you should contact the owners of sites to get links that could harm removed. But what if you have a negative SEO campaign adding 30k+ links from different sites over a week? Google, it seems, have no answer and just wash their hands of the whole sorry business.
But what about that proof that negative SEO exists, and can work, and work well?
Step forward SEO forum TrafficPlanet.com. The users of Traffic Planet heard claims that negative SEO was not possible and decided to take up the challenge, to prove that it is.
So they decided to target two sites
1. SEOFastStart.com – done because the owner (Dan Thines) crowed about the latest Google updates, and that he is smart enough to turn negative SEO into a positive for PR.
2. NegativeSEO.me – a site dedicated to doing negative SEO. A worthy site to be hit.
They then proceeded to fire off 1 million Scrapebox links to each site, using only the anchor text “Dan Thies” (to his site) and “Destroy Your Competitors” to the negative SEO site.
- Stayed at #1 for Dan Thies
- Dropped from 11 to out of the top 1,000 for “SEO”
- Dropped out of top 1,000 from 34 for SEO Service
- Dropped to 34 from 3 for “SEO book”
- Dropped to #6 from #2 for “negative SEO” (mmm not huge drop)
- Dropped to #13, from #1, for “destroy your competitors” (that one hurts a bit more)
So what’s the future of Negative SEO?
For sure anyone doing Negative SEO is really trying to fight a difficult battle.
My theory is that you are better trying to do awesome white hat SEO vs trying to take someone down.
I also believe Negative SEO will not work vs real authority sites and sites with a serious trust level in the eyes of Google… but the small players with very low links are at mercy of crappy links I’m afraid.
So there u go folk… Negative SEO, go and figure…
mmm what’s next?
About the author
I'm an SEO professional living in the South Coast of NSW - Australia. SEO is what I do... I'm not a web guy, or a webmaster, or a designer... I just do SEO ;) Love it. Enjoy it and I still have fun doing it.