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After Deindexing, Negative SEO Becomes A Major Issue

by Jon Cooper
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White hats, you can finally say it: “I told you so!”

After Google finally took down a few blog networks, I think we can all sleep a little bit better knowing that what we’ve been telling our clients all these years & what we’re now seeing in the SERPs is starting to look a lot more similar.

But at the same time, another issue is on the horizon. These seemingly public outings of these blog networks have many SEOs realizing that Google isn’t just ignoring some of these network links – they’re penalizing webmasters for them. 

Google Bowling, which I now call Negative SEO, isn’t new. There’s even a service for it (quote from their site: “we only use legal means to ensure your competitors get banned”. It’s hard not to laugh at that).

The real issue here is that people are sharing their alerts from Webmaster Tools showing that Google is detecting unnatural links, a direct result of the blog networks they’re a part of. And since these networks are now publicly known to be bad, and that they don’t cost much time or money to get links from, some are drowning their competitor’s link profiles in them.

Here is a good example. For those who don’t have a Wicked Fire account, this guy penalized his competitor with $200 worth of ALN links over a three week period.

Take a couple blog network blasts like that, throw in a few comment spam services, an Xrumer blast, and an SEnuke package, all over a 30 day period with spammy anchor text, and what do you get? Most likely, a penalty. I’ve even heard of people taking banned domains and 301ing them as a strategy, which, unfortunately, is working.

The most upsetting part of this is that it’s really an easy fix. All Google has to do is one of the following:

1)   Just ignore these links

2)   Let us flag bad links & 301s in Webmaster Tools

For those wondering about #1, think about it. If they’re ignored, the black hats don’t win because those links become money down the toilet, and for us, we don’t lose because we don’t get a penalty.

The solution

Believe it or not, there is a solution to this problem, but it’s not fool proof, and you’ve probably heard it before.

Take, for example, that you blasted a few big time Fortune 500 companies, whom have never (to your knowledge) engaged in any type of black hat strategies. What would happen?

Probably nothing. It actually might even help them (yes, I’m not kidding).

Why is this? Because Google trusts them. Yes, after all those years of being told to build trustworthy links, it’s starting to show how essential it is that you’ve listened and done as we’ve told you.

The reason is different now. We told you to build links for trust so you could rank higher; now it’s so a competitor doesn’t bomb your link profile.

So maybe it’s time you joined the Better Business Bureau. Maybe it’s time you also forked out $300 a year for a listing in the Yahoo Directory, and even picked up the phone (Gasp!) to join a few niche specific organizations & associations, regardless if they cost a bit more than you’d like for those 2-3 links.

Do whatever it takes to become trusted by Google. Chances are a lot of you won’t have a competitor perform a bit of negative SEO on you, but are you really willing to take that risk?

This post was written by...

Jon Cooper – who has written 122 posts on Point Blank SEO.

Jon Cooper+ is an SEO consultant based out of Gainesville, FL who specializes in link building. For more information on him and Point Blank SEO, visit the about page. Follow him on Twitter.

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36 Comments
  1. Jon you brought a nice point here….So in short…any new blog can be out of Google good guy list..if competitor buys link and point it to them… Don’t you think this may create chaos among web masters?

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Of course Harsh! There’s no way it won’t. It’s really up to the spammers in the community that determine this though. If they start to believe that the best way to move up in the rankings is to move others down, then they’ll sure as hell do it. The small guys are really in the hands of the spammers more than ever, and that’s definitely not a good thing.

  2. Mark says:

    It’s crazy that Google would penalise a site for having spammy links when it’s so cheap and easy to blast a competitor’s site. I understand from looking at the forums buzzing with this kind of thing right now that some webmasters are being told by Google that their sites won’t be re-indexed until they see a “significant reduction in unnatural links”. Fair play… if you can guarantee that the company was to blame for their own spammy links. The trouble is this will now be abused.

    And you can bet your bottom dollar (or £ in my case!) that the guys who run negativeseo.me were the guys spamming search engines in the first place! What a cynical idea!

    • Jon Cooper says:

      I know Mark, it’s just so discouraging. I’m with you on this one – I can’t wait until Google wakes up and realizes what they’re doing.

  3. Ian says:

    Good post – but a quick note:

    “we only use legal means to ensure your competitors get banned”

    They’re not joking. Linking to a website isn’t illegal, and could never become illegal without a *giant* legal mess.

    Funny, sure – but still a true statement.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Yeah, unfortunately it is, but I couldn’t help but at least smile when I see business owners saying “but look! It’s legal! That means there’s nothing wrong with it.”

  4. Nick LeRoy says:

    I’m willing to take the risk. Everyone feel free to purchase crappy links and point them to nickleroy.com ;)

    • Jon Cooper says:

      That sounds like a challenge :). But have you considered doing any negative SEO Nick? Or are you staying away from it?

      • Nick LeRoy says:

        I would much rather spend the money investing in my own sites to legitimately rank #1 than “google bowl” someone else. However, if someone wants to spend money to take down my site please go ahead. I’m sure the crappy links will help diversify my link profile even more.

  5. Anthony Pensabene says:

    Nice post, Jon. One thing, from a reputation management and branding perspective, which worries me about negative SEO, is posing as others on social sites and accounts. I’ve seen an Andy Beal post ( http://www.trackur.com/brand-jacking ) on ‘brand jacking.’ I’ve also helped brands ‘sleuth out’ people throwing around spammy links via Twitter with reputable brand names attached… Creating trust is hugely important for a number of reasons…true branding as well as ensuring others can differentiate your brand from ‘stans.’

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Thanks Anthony! I hadn’t heard of brand jacking before, but I’m not surprised. Which do you think is worse: Negative SEO or Brand Jacking?

  6. Keith says:

    Pretty disappointing that the best advice right now to help protect a brand from negative link building from a competitor is to spend money. Telling clients that they need to come up with hundreds if not thousands of dollars to get included in Yahoo and in trade organizations to get trusted links is going to be a tough sell.

    Sure a medium sized business or larger can look at spending a couple thousand dollars as no big deal. It is the small businesses that could get killed. Try telling a local plumber, lawyer, or retail store that their marketing budget just got increased a couple of thousand bucks because of Google.

    Once again Google making changes that will help the Fortune 500 get more traffic to their websites, and bury the little local merchants.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Thanks Keith, and I’m not trying to come off as a jerk (just curious to hear what you might say), but what would you suggest?

      It was tough writing the end of that post, because I feel the same way. It’s just that there really isn’t much of a solution; Google has left the small guys more vulnerable than ever, and it’s discouraging that they’re making such a huge mistake in 2012. A small business owner’s business might come down to the Googler reading their reconsideration request.

  7. 2) Let us flag bad links & 301s in Webmaster Tools

    This is a tremendous idea. Interested in hearing counter-points.

  8. Bob Jones says:

    I actually mentioned it to @mattcutts on twitter yesterday, but he never replied. Google should have an option in WMT for people to flag bad links. https://twitter.com/#!/anseocompany/status/184086811340054528
    However, Google only shows a subset of backlinks in WMT, they don’t want to give out all the details. Guess that makes this idea kinda fruitless.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Good point Bob, that’s the only reason I’ve heard for why Google won’t add that feature to GWT, which is disheartening because Matt & his team are acting like this isn’t a real problem.

      Thanks for dropping by!

    • Gyi Tsakalakis says:

      They could provide webmasters option to submit urls (or even whole domains) without revealing secrets of the index.

  9. I think that allowing webmasters to control which links they ‘allow’ could cause a number of issues. For the black hats, it would allow them to ‘sculpt’ their link profile, using dodgy links whilst they can get away with it and then turning them off if they get burned – IMO this would encourage black hat. For those getting Google Bowled, what happens if someone gets bombed with 30,000 bad links to their 500 good ones? Could be a hell of a mess to sort out.

    I don’t know why Google don’t just go for the more straightforward option and simply ignore them. If these links have been giving a site a boost over the last few years, presumably if they stop passing value then the site will naturally drop down anyway. I don’t think google should always be looking to penalise sites.

    1 other thing – surely this Google Bowling thing must be pretty obvious? If a site has existed for years with a nice, natural link profile, then suddenly over a few weeks has thousands of new spammy links? Surely the brief for the manual review should be innocent until proven guilty?

    Great, thought-provoking post Jon. Thanks.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Great points Patrick, I agree 100%. You & Bob Jones introduced me to some of the issues the GWT solution would present that I hadn’t thought about before. I too think ignoring these links are the best solution.

      But to your last point, what if the site is fairly new, or what if the spammer progressively spammed them? In a lot of cases, you’re right, it’s fairly easy to see if it was them or not, but in others, I don’t know.

      Also, just a thought – If a site gets spammed with an anchor of a keyword they rank #1 for, then Google should realize that there’s obviously some negative SEO at play. I guess that would be one of a bunch of indicators that could tell us when this is happening.

  10. Courtney Cox says:

    Just like body-building, building an online reputation takes time. Your link profile doesn’t become healthy and robust over-night, and the supposed “quick fixes” will only hurt you in the long run.

  11. Sebastian says:

    Hey Jon,

    It’s quite scary to see just how quickly the initial panic felt but a number of webmasters spread to maliciousness on a number of less than reputable forums. (Granted this also shows how quickly people adapt) but I’ll be waiting to see how Google deals with what I feel will be an onslaught of negative SEO attempts.

    I do wonder if the removal of these blog networks was a manual process similar to the Panda rollouts to prevent negative SEO from becoming widespread.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Agreed, it’s going to come down to really if the community of SEOs that would do it feel as if they can’t move up in the rankings anymore, and if they feel that way, then negative SEO could become, as you said, an onslaught.

      In my opinion I don’t think it was manual. Google is almost 100% any manual action, and they always would rather just do it algorithmically, even if it’s the longer route (I guess that’s because you have the MITs and Harvards of the world working for you). But who knows?

  12. Tommy Walker says:

    Try to game the system, the system gets smarter.
    Time will either promote or expose you. It’s how it’s always worked.

  13. JNG says:

    Do you think Google might be interested in a patent that could shut down these negative SEOs from this behavior?

    http://goo.gl/rPiLI

    • Jon Cooper says:

      I don’t think you can just shut down people from doing something. Technically, it’s not illegal, so the only bone to be picked is between them and google’s search results. Google themselves or any other organization can’t do anything outside of banning them from the SERPs, and since they’re dealing with other people’s sites, and not their own, you really can’t.

  14. FYI the links for webpronews and forbes are going to mailtohttp:// might want to fix that

  15. Tom says:

    I totally agree with you Jon, it would be much better if they would simply ignore all these spammy links.

  16. J says:

    You guys keep repeating that negative seo isn’t illegal. Are any of you lawyers? If so, please explain why this particular form of sobtage is legal. Because to me it seems that the “it’s not illegal to link to someone” line wouldn’t hold much water in an actual court case, since that’s clearly not what is being done. It’s obvious that it’d be extremely difficult to get caught doing something something like this, but if you WERE caught and it could be proven that you were responsible for getting someone’s site tanked, I believe it would be foolish to go bed at night thinking you are free from any legal ramifications, especially if you caused financial loss. Unfortunately, negative seo is far too easy to get away with.

  17. uri lederman says:

    HI Jon,

    Great post,

    We did a quick test on negative seo to see if it is a live and kicking. check it out here:
    http://www.saasaffiliates.com/testing-negative-seo-has-google-opened-the-floodgates-to-competitors-hurting-your-web-ranking/

  18. Brian says:

    I think people are blowing negative SEO way out of proportion — in fact I haven’t seen a reliable & replicable report of it actually happening (the link in your article leads to a login page: I’d love it if you had any links to something I can read).

    I think people are confusing webmaster tool warnings for penalties.

    We have a couple of clients who were buying low-quality links (on their own & on the side — not something we do). They all got webmaster tool warnings, but none of them were penalized. One of them saw some rankings losses, but that was directly due to the fact that one of their link networks is now 50% deindexed — not a penalty.

    Even Uri Lederman’s comment a couple up points to a post where they tested and ‘proved’ that negative SEO works — but also noted that their rankings did not drop at all. Believe me — if your site gets penalized, your rankings *plummet* — all of them. So just because a webmaster tool warning shows up asking you to fill out a reconsideration request does not mean that your site has been penalized.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Thanks Brian! Good point. I don’t think it’s easy to do, because as you said, a penalty is a lot more than just a warning, but it’s still something we should at least educate ourselves on. I think the common misconception of a GWT warning & an actual penalty is something that hasn’t been talked about much at all, and I’m glad you brought it up.

  19. Dan Thies says:

    I’ll believe it’s a major issue when I see real examples. Or when all the twits who are trying to knock my sites down with splog networks and all that junk actually succeed. They’ve been at it for years, but maybe it just takes time. ;-)

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