Negative SEO – Real Problem or Myth?

(Ping! Zine Web Hosting Magazine) – The algorithm update Penguin was rolled out in April of 2012.  One topic with SEO which just won’t go away is negative SEO.   This is the darkest blackhat tactic or unethical way to harm others rankings in Google.  The people that start up these negative SEO sites are actually doing something illegal.  Do not think for one second that you can hire them and nuke your competitors off of Google.  Since the latest and biggest algorithm update in 2012 which was rolled out to combat spam webmasters are deeply concerned about their competitors.  Why?  Because they can hire a negative SEO service to destroy a website’s backlink profile and lose their rankings.

First, a little bit about the Penguin update rolled out a year ago.  It was a long time coming and there is an insane amount of spam on the internet.  Obviously when you search on Google and site after site is just a low value site trying to sell you a crappy $9 eBook; you’re going to get frustrated and use another search engine.  Google had to do something because people were figuring out ways in which they could build tons of exact anchor text from low value websites in order to achieve top rankings on Google.  Lots of spammy links worked for nearly two years, but finally Google took action on them.

Essentially, people were just participating in private blog networks, link schemes, etc. to build a massive volume of low value links in order to beat highly competitive keywords on Google.  They could easily get a highly affiliate driven site ranked for very hard keywords and make a ton of money doing it.  Also, people were putting together “cookie cutter” sites that were dominating Google and really hurting the users experience.

Google has always been about providing the best quality results and would seize to exist if you Googled something and couldn’t ever find what you were looking for.  Over the years Google has adjusted their algorithm to combat people trying to game it.  It makes perfect sense that if you’re participating in unethical practices you’re going to get slapped in due time.  A good example of tactics to avoid would be to troll the blackhat forums and see what people are doing.  If it’s on a blackhat forum, you can bet Google will have a problem with it in time.  Google’s spam team knows about these sites that try to game their algorithm and you can bet they will adjust it once so many people exploit a loophole.

Minimize Spam – Exact Anchored Text

So what this algorithm update Penguin set out to do was minimize spammy websites from their search engine results.  In order to accomplish this, Google developed a way to detect unnatural link building.  Matt Cutts even stated that unnatural link building messages were being sent out via Google Webmaster Tools.  Nearly 700,000 of these messages were sent out prior to Penguin being rolled out.  In order to understand how Google detects unnatural link building, we have to understand how real people actually link to websites they like.

Clearly, the exact anchor text was a huge issue.  Having thousands of links pointing to your website with keywords you are trying to rank for certainly looks very suspicious.  This is not how real people link to websites.   Ask any seasoned SEO and they will tell you people link by your url or brand name.  Even worse is when these links are coming from low value link farms that are really just spam blogs networked together in order to “game” Google’s search results.  Mixing low quality links with exact anchor text can really hurt you.  So many internet marketers, SEO’s, etc. built links in an unnatural manner that did more harm to their site’s rankings.

Google went to war with lots of private blog networks and networks developed just to manipulate their organic search results.  If 60-90% of your anchored text are for keywords you’re trying to rank for you can bet Penguin has pushed your site aside.  One way in which Google sniffed out these networks was by rolling out an update that could easily detect unnatural link building.  To correct the problem, build links with your brand name and mix up your anchored text naturally.  This could easily be traced by a number of footprints Google can identify:

  • Generic WordPress templates
  • Lots of external links
  • Fake blogs which are not niche related
  • Comments closed on all post

Negative SEO Was Born

After people started to figure out that links could hurt a website, people began to start up sites which were geared to get your competitors in trouble with Google.  There has been a debate for the longest time on whether or not a link can hurt you, and with the release of Penguin it became quite clear that it can.  In theory you will hire someone to build a lot of exact anchors from spammy sites and it’s going to cause them to lose their rankings.  Negative SEO sites have deciphered a way to figure out which links are in a “bad neighborhood” and focus on building links from those websites.

So believe it or not, people that get fed up with SEO and have run out of options have elected to try to harm others websites.  By exploiting the algorithm change people can really make it difficult on their competitors.  However, back to whether or not a link can or can’t hurt you.  The newer your site is the less crappy backlink building tactics your site can withstand.  However, sites that have been around for ten years and are established brands can withstand lots of spammy links.

So to answer the question, is negative SEO a real problem or just a myth?  Like mentioned above, yes it’s a real threat to newer sites.  Sites with a good footprint and are established brands should not be concerned with negative SEO.  If you could easily harm a good site with years and years of trust with negative SEO, it would be easy to destroy everyone that stood in your way.  You can bet that people have tried this over the last year, but honestly if they can’t beat you ethically there is a chance they are just wasting their money trying to destroy your site.

Noticing Bad Backlinks

One way in which you can monitor your backlinks is with Google Webmaster Tools.  Once you have verified that you are the owner, you can check all links that are pointing to your website.  In your Webmaster Tools you want to click on “traffic” and then “links to your site”.  This will show you all of the links pointing to your website.  What you’re going to look for is a number of problems in which Google could have issues with.  Please note that it can take several months for your links to show up.  The following are problematic:

  • Sitewide links.  If you noticed large numbers of sitewide links from various sites, you should work on getting those links removed or ignored.
  • Porn links.  Google hates porn sites and if you see a number of naughty links to your website you can bet that Google has a problem with that.
  • Gambling links.  Don’t associate your brand with gambling.  If you noticed a fair amount of these links Google will raise some red flags.
  • Pharmacy sites.  Obviously, you don’t want your website associated with pharmacy sites.  Make sure you check sites that are linking to you and if you noticed a number of OBL (outbound links) links pointing to pharmacy sites you can bet Google will have issues with that.

Keep in mind you want links that are relevant to your website and authority sites.  Gone are the days of getting lots of links from low value sites.  It’s about the quality of your links and not the quantity.  Editorial links are what you want, but you want them mixed up mostly with your url (this means internal pages too).  An example would be www.yourdomainname.com, http://www.yourdomainname.com, yourdomainname.com, your domain name, etc.  There shouldn’t be a clear footprint, meaning all the links are built the same way and are the same kinds of links.

Disavowed Links – Combat Negative SEO

So let’s say the worst case scenario has become a reality and you have noticed one of the above problems.  Not all is lost and the sky has certainly not fallen.  There is a simple solution to negative SEO and most sites will never have to deal with this issue.  However, if you see any of these problems and have waited a couple weeks and seen no change in your search engine traffic, it could be worth your while to contact Google.  If you Google “disavowed Google tool” you will find a way to take care of this issue.  This tool will allow you to tell Google to ignore sites linking to your website, which you see as problematic.  Google is not perfect and sometimes your link profile can trip algorithm flags which can lead to a loss of rankings.

Make sure you provide Google with full details of the links which you see as a threat to your site.    Don’t make the mistake of just saying something like “these links are bad, please disavow them.”  Provide accurate documentations of why you believe the links are bad and ask that they disavow the backlinks.  It can take a number of weeks in order to get your backlink disavowed, but can be well worth it.    Once Google sees that you have cleaned up the problem they usually give your rankings a little boost, which is kind of like a thank you for letting us know.

Lastly, chances are you are never going to have to use this tool.  There are people in this world that just want to ruin others work, but thankfully Google has developed a tactic to combat this.  Negative SEO is a real problem for smaller sites that don’t have a lot of domain authority, but if dealt with correctly, negative SEO doesn’t pose any real threats that can’t be taken care of.

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