Negative SEO On The Rise?

March 22  |  Link Building  |   Ryan Clark

Because of all the recent woes with links causing penalties and filter trips these days, I thought we might as well bring up a very heated topic…. Negative SEO. There are a lot of people who will strongly debate whether or not you can take down a competitor with some ill gotten links. I, for one, am a believer in the fact you can take down a competitor, although it depends on a few key factors …well, from what I’ve seen anyway. There have been very few public case studies on this topic so I sought out someone who would let me test out a few things and see if we could shed some light on the topic at hand.

If you have a very well built brand that has been around for years and it has a very diverse and natural link profile, chances are that you’ll never be taken down by links. But what about a site that’s been around for a while but doesn’t have much of a link profile? Well after reading through a lot of forum posts, talking with clients and listening into Google Webmaster Central I thought the debate must go on.

With Google sending out over 700,000 WMT messages in the past few months, my bet is that the majority of those were for the dreaded unnatural links message. The fact is two large groups of people are going to be on the receiving end of this “penalty”. Affiliate marketers and unsuspecting businesses buying shit SEO services. Everyone knows, whether they admit it publicly or not, that spamming links will get you to the top in no time, some just do it better than others and stay in the game longer. It’s too hard to resist making the fast cash and that’s why so many niches top 10 results flip flop (almost) more than Mitt Romney.

So are we going to see a rise in negative SEO services? Despite what’s already being tested by black hats in the background, I think we’ll see more public companies coming out of the woodwork. I’ve already started seeing posts from businesses complaining that a competitor spammed their site with links and now they’re stuck with a -50 and a message in WMT. Their bionic posters are mostly saying this is impossible and doesn’t happen, but how is Google supposed to know who did it? They’re penalizing thousands of websites already feeling the hurt after receiving their notice of unnatural links. I got a huge kick out of seeing this website pop up today and I’m highly amused and intrigued… I damn near want to try it out, even though I can just go to Fiverr and order all the spam I need.

negative seo

My hat’s off to “Damian” as he’ll most likely have a ton of newbies from Warrior Forum, Traffic Planet, Digital Point, etc. come flocking in. I know some of you might be ready to comment flame for for linking to this service but they bring up a bloody good point on their about us page:

Now, I’ve always known that you could get a site in trouble by simply pointing links at it. But Google has made this easier than ever. To top it off, they have validated what I always knew. Now a days; they send out emails notifications letting people know they have done by building ‘bad links’ and will suffer the consequences.

The catch is, there is no trial, no jury, and no one to appeal to. Just a Kafka-ish faceless corporation. If you didn’t build the bad links, good luck fixing the problem.

Can A Competitor Knock You Out?

If you’re a well established brand with a solid link profile then there’s almost zero chance you’re going to budge. I imagine you’re only going to give them a boost to their already dominating SERP positions and you’ve just wasted time and money. For a smaller business in a not so competitive niche, well then I have to say that it is more than possible to get them slapped. Again, I might provoke an onslaught of comments not in my favour, so let’s hear what you have to say below.

A lot of you SEO nerds may remember this 2007 Forbes article on negative SEO where Matt Cutts says a couple of interesting things on the subject. First he says “piling links onto a competitor’s site to reduce its search rank isn’t impossible, but it’s extremely difficult.” and then “We try to be mindful of when a technique can be abused and make our algorithm robust against it,” he says. “I won’t go out on a limb and say it’s impossible. But Google bowling is much more inviting as an idea than it is in practice.”

So that’s where I agree and say it’ll be damn near impossible to take down a “big brand”. The smaller folks out there trying to compete without cheating, well you might be out of luck in some cases. It’s so bloody hard to know if a client knowingly bought into a link scheme, or their SEO did it without them knowing or if it was really a competitor up to nefarious tactics.

Other Great Reads On The Topic

Negative SEO Case Study Time

Put up or shut up right?

I have a real good friend and Realtor based out of Whistler BC and we frequently get in heated battles over SEO and links. He was so sure that I couldn’t blow him out that he offered to let me try and bowl his site out of the SERPs and into no traffic land. His current site ranks in the top 10 for a few choice Whistler real estate keywords without much of a link profile. The website isn’t that heavily marketed and he doesn’t generate a lot of leads from the site so it seemed to be a good fit. The site currently had less than 100 links and all of them come from him getting awards, commenting on local blogs and being linked from various local resources.

I will start buying tons of targeted anchor text to 3 pages only and I’m aiming to generate about 10,000 links within a week, for 4-6 weeks non stop. I’m going to be buying xrumer blasts, scrapebox, forum spam, blog comment spam, “private” blog network links, article marketing and Wiki link spam. This should be more than enough to either rank him better or eventually get him knocked down a peg or 10.

This will be full disclosure if I can knock his site out of the SERPs, you have my word on that. If it’s possible I’ll get him to reveal his domain name and the stats from his Google WMT. I have no idea what to expect so it should be fun and interesting and quite possibly a really scary outcome. While his niche isn’t nearly as competitive as something like “car insurance”, he still makes a fine living selling some of the best ski real estate the world has to offer. So subscribe to this post and keep your eyes peeled for the update post that’ll be coming in a few weeks.

Negative SEO Results

I’ll link you folks up here once we’re done in a couple months so stay tuned. In the mean time, feel free to express your thoughts below or let me hear about your experiences. Would you take out a competitor or 5 if you could?

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About Ryan Clark

I'm the CEO of Linkbuildr Marketing and the brains behind our branding and blog content. I specialize in effective marketing strategies for hotels, luxury brands and real estate. If your brand is in need of a boost then don't hesitate to contact me for a free proposal. Follow me on Google+: +Ryan Clark Twitter: @Linkbuildr on Twitter. You can also come ask me a question on our Facebook Page.  

28 Responses to Negative SEO On The Rise?

  1. James says:

    Great study Ryan – this is going to be really interesting. We have run a few private experiments and from what we’ve seen negative SEO isn’t impossible at all. We bought a couple of small websites with similar characteristics to the one you are experimenting with and we managed to burn them pretty quickly after a short-term spike in rankings followed by a herculean plunge out of the SERPs :-)

    We wanted to investigate this area because we were certain a competitor to one of our clients (a much bigger brand) had been trying something like this on our client…

    Great job making the study public!


  2. Linkbuildr says:

    Thanks James,

    We might as well see what we can do here because if it becomes a problem, there’s going to be a quick solution. Either that or it’s going to be complete chaos. 

  3. I have some competition who are buying a lot of links, annoying as hell since Google really doesn’t do anything about is… Somebody an ideas on how to act!?

  4. Steven says:

     Great to see a public experiment to be made about negative SEO. Hopefully with enough attention (…NYT?) Google will acknowledge this problem.

  5. Courtney Cox says:

    Great post, Ryan. While I agree with you that negative SEO can be effective, I find it unethical. Business owners don’t go burning down businesses of their competitors (at least not in normal cases) – they step up their game!

    My fear is that negative SEO will slowly become more and more popular and that, to be successful, we’ll all have to participate. Sounds a bit like the presidential election and Super-PACs version of SEO.

    I hope I’m wrong though. It would really be a shame to see SEO go in that direction.

  6. Linkbuildr says:

    Thanks for comment Courtney. I just want to know how easy it is and if it’s a problem then it needs to be addressed…like yesterday!

  7. shelli walsh says:

    Oooh this is a can of worms waiting to explode!

    The problem here is we are all aware of the damage that can potentially be done but we are also aware of once it starts – where does it end? I think most SEOs realise that once this starts it will get so out of hand to bring nearly everybody down that everyone has an unwritten code of honor not to do it. Then again plenty of SEOs out there who don’t give a crap and are just in it for scraping as much money as quickly as possible with no ethics at all could just start to destroy us all!

    In my mind it’s like who is going to push the button first to destroy the world?

    If we go down this road its going to come to a messy end – full scale online war – who wants that?

    I am so tired of Google taking their stance of no comment, no help, tough shit. In fact I am sick and tired of Google full stop. They stopped being an ethical company in my mind a long time ago. Hey maybe if we just all spam Google we can bring them down ha ha.

  8. NotAGoggleFan says:

    One would think that sooner or later Google will be sued by someone who was a victim of a negative SEO attack.  When they lose a few of these, and have to payout and that becomes public, maybe they’ll go back to devaluing links rather than summarily killing your rankings in the SERPS.  Corporate arrogance will only take them so far.  And IMHO, (or is that wishful thinking) they’re getting perilously close to the electric fence and hopefully soon will be zapped like a bug in a bug zapper.  

  9. John Abrena says:

    Funky post Ryan!

    I had the urge to try this out several months ago, but keeping true to my ethical beliefs (and skills, hoho), I didn’t. It does work, apparently, since we tested some of them back 2011. The problem is that if like you said, it is a big brand, or if it’s a small brand but has tons of followers that will zombiely share/link/whatever to it, that site will still go up. And if they DO go up again, like they say “The more hate you get, the more popular you become”. Or something like that.

    Anyway, good luck with that test of yours with your real estate buddy. I’ll be keeping an eye for the results later.

  10. Foot live says:

    In my opinion, negative SEO is not really working, it can impact the concerned website on a short term period, but on the long term, I think the website targeted will comeback, and even more stronger… If someone has example to show me of websites definitely penalized cause of negative SEO, it would be a great thing as I don’t believe it :)

  11. Greg Fowler says:

    This is something that I have been talking about since the advent of fiverr, and other psuedo fiverr sites that are on the scene.  I personally had over 20 plus sites that I tracked down through GWT, and found the site, the WHOIS information was available, and I talked to the domain registrar, and the hosting company, to get them removed, and found out the links came from fiverr???  It is a pain, but some can do some damage to newer sites for couple of hundred dollars.  Older established sites, which good backlink structure it would be more difficult.  It almost seems to be stay out of the scene for a while with the difficult keywords that attracts attention, until your domain brand is established enough to withstand the BS.  

  12. I see the good intention in your experiment. But what troubles me is that popularizing a bad idea (even when not intended) would create an ocean of chaos before the (quick) solution arrives. Hell, there’s enough spam in the web already.

    If ideas like this become popular, the only big task for the search engines would be finding and eliminating spams rather than ranking the best.

  13. Ranker says:

    I have carried out my own trials of various negative SEO tactics and can confirm that they can work, depending upon various factors. I was able to readily suppress the rankings of a relatively new site with an abundance of poor quality links. But the ranking suppression was relatively short lived.

    But other, non-link-related tactics can also be effective. Such as…. injecting fake data into a competitors analytics thus prompting their SEO team to eat up valuable time conducting investigations.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I simply don’t believe that Google are penalising sites for these bad links. 
    What i think is happening is that Google simply ‘ignoring’ any of these links in your profile and therefore you will see a fall in the rankings.

    Just think about it: If you were able to build x amount of links to destroy a competitors site, every single SEO strategy would be to exterminate all competitors.
    Google would not allow this- can you imagine the lawsuits?

  15. Addam says:

    Hey Ryan, interesting article. Maybe Google will roll back this update due to the hot topic of negative SEO?

  16. I’m fairly certain that ultimately, via a combination of seeing where these unnatural links are coming from and how webmasters work with them to sort out the problems – Google will “simply” ignore the type of links that are to become the focus of negative SEO. They’ve already started out taking out blog networks and the like, so I doubt (or would like to think it won’t/hopes not) that this will be a practice that takes off.

  17. Linkbuildr says:

    Actually Rachel you’re in a penalty without a doubt. You’ll need to remove the links and file a reconsideration request. You’ll have a filter in place that will halt you from ranking for those keywords that you overly targeted. 

  18. Anonymous says:

    Hey Linkbuilder – I disagree with you. Firstly I’m not in any penalty I was talking hypothetically :)

    I believe that Google is simply not counting any of these links that they mention in these Webmaster messages, which can in fact feel like a penalty. 

    If we think this through from a common sense perspective- Google are NOT penalizing sites for links being built. If they did, the whole SEO world would change. Companies would just build ‘bad links’ for their competitors and then wait for Google to ban them.
    What Google are doing IMO and they do this very well is giving out the illusion that they are penalizing you. 
    In reality all they are doing is discounting the links which may give you a temporary dip in the rankings and then because of this, you assume you’ve been penalized.

    What Google wants is a mass panic- and for you to stop using Blog networks and link building tools, because they know that they work…

    Everyone knew BMR worked quite well, they advertised it all over the web & therefore it was inevitable that the big G would find out about it and ban it.

  19. Linkbuildr says:

    Definition of a penalty

    “A punishment, handicap, or loss of advantage imposed on a team or competitor for infraction of a rule.”

    From what I’m seeing websites are not gaining any ground on their targeted keywords until the links are removed…or a good deal of them. Google will also smack you down for article marketing, forum profiles, blog comment spam etc. 

    I have see many people being filtered for over anchor text optimization and no matter what links they’ve built to counter act it..they’re stuck on page 5-7. 

  20. Anonymous says:

    How can Google prove that you’ve created those links? 
    It’s impossible. If your competitor created 10,000 links there is no way in hell that you are able to get them removed.

    They open themselves up to all sorts of problems if they carried through with this.

    How can Google have a penalty system in place whereby anyone can damage their competitors by paying $5 on Fiverr?I haven’t seen one study that proves what you’re say is going on. Obviously I’ll be keeping a close eye on your results.I think this is more of the scare tactics that Google employs to keep SEO’s in check.

  21. Linkbuildr says:

    First of all, I really appreciate your input here Rachel. I think we’ll see what comes of all this within the next couple of months so it shall be interesting!

    Here’s a thread to keep an eye on

  22. Anonymous says:

    I agree with you, it’s a hot topic that everyone is now talking about and the questions you raise are valid. Hopefully you’ll keep us updated as your case study progresses.
    As for your final question- No I wouldn’t take out a competitor but I bet a high % of people would…

  23. Allenbrayan says:

    Negative SEO will surely destroy the impact of your site in the Google’s view. Everyone should abide doing it for the betterment of their niche site.

  24. Jon says:

    I’ve never thought of it like that actually. Google might throw the baby out with the dishwater. I suppose trhe million dollar questions is can they detect the good Squidoo from the bad ones? My guess is probably the non-commital “sometimes”

  25. Jon says:

    Any ideas when we’ll get the first update?

  26. sohbet says:

    Büyük çalışma Ryan – Bu gerçekten ilginç olacak. Biz birkaç özel denemeler ve negatif SEO Gördüklerimi gelen hiç imkansız değil var. SERPs :-) bir Herkül’e dalma dışarı takip Sizinle deneme olan birine benzer özellikler taşıyan küçük web sitelerinin bir çift satın aldı ve biz sıralamasında kısa vadeli bir başak sonra oldukça hızlı bir şekilde onları yakmak başardı
    Biz müşterilerimizin bir (çok daha büyük bir marka) bir rakip bizim istemci üzerinde böyle bir şey uğraşmaktaydık belli idi çünkü bu alanda araştırmak istedim …
    Büyük iş çalışmanın kamuoyuna!

  27. Robert says:

    This is a interesting topic. I just went to a linkwheeel biz and have seen no result pos or neg. i will continue to visit your posts though great writing

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