Recently there’s been a lot of talk about negative seo (welcome to the dark side) so I wanted to do a blog post about it and dive into this subject a little more as well as give you some updates on some things that are going on and that Google has recently announced.
First all, however, we need to define negative SEO a bit and what the state of the union is (so to speak) regarding how likely or unlikely it is. Negative SEO is the “dark side” of SEO and it is simply using SEO not to positively impact your site, but, rather, to negatively impact your competitor’s site instead.
In other words, it’s doing very nasty stuff to your competitor’s site to bring him down in the rankings rather than trying to boost your own rankings. Yeah – like we said – nasty stuff and nothing that we would ever engage in or encourage you to either.
Unfortunately there are already services cropping up that do, however, cater to and even advertise that they will perform negative SEO. Why would they? Well, because for the first time in the history of SEO it appears that negative SEO is now a reality.
Negative SEO Now a Reality
It used to be that you really didn’t have to concern yourself with negative SEO. Google said for a very long time publically that you could not be penalized for sites linking TO your site, even if they were in bad neighborhoods. You could only be penalized for linking out to bad sites.
Well, Google has done a lot of re-posturing lately and rewriting a lot of history. They recently revised their statement that it would not be very likely that you would be affected by negative SEO. Not likely is a far cry from not possible and, indeed, we have independent confirmation that it is indeed possible as it happened to one of our clients.
We had been working with them for many months and they were doing awesome in the rankings. Then all of these crappy links started appearing – not from us or our efforts – and I mean thousands and thousands of them. Their site was aggressively targeted by a negative seo campaign – something we learned later when their story became more public and was used to document the very reality of negative SEO. To date they have still not recovered despite it being very obvious and even publically documented that they were “targeted” by negative SEO – even so, Google has done nothing to reinstate their rankings.
Pandora’s box has been opened
That being said, I’m not sure how many people will really be affected by negative SEO. The fact is SEO is very expensive and most simply will not have the funds to not only maintain their own SEO campaigns but also create negative campaigns for their competitors as well – and remember, the homepage holds 10 slots, so how many are they going to realistically target? It is, nonetheless, very disturbing that Google cares so little about all of us now – all of us which created the sites and content that made Google the success it is – that it would allow this to occur. But the truth is, the only thing Google cares much about these days is their ad revenue – that much is obvious.
It’s hard enough to make money online today without having to worry about things like negative seo, but the truth is that there are companies that are already cropping up online providing this service. Google has opened up pandora’s box and some are taking advantage of it. It’s a pretty shady market and a lot of it is being done thru places like Fiverr.com where someone can still remain anonymous. Shady practices from shady individuals.
We completely disavow this strategy and hope that this blog post in no way encourages anyone to consider what we feel is an unethical practice. However we do feel that it is important to provide you as a site owner, ecommerce owner, blog owner or other online entrepreneur this information so that you can be well informed as to what is going on and what potential impacts it could have on your business.
What can you do about negative SEO?
Well the first thing you can do is acknowledge that it indeed exists (thank you Google) and begin to insulate yourself from the risk. Now one of the ways you can do that is by building the authority of your site. Authority is something that will counteract negative SEO. If you have a very strong authority site there’s really not a heck of a lot people can do to attack or negatively impact your site.
If, however, you have a very low authority site – low links, low popularity, low traffic, low social engagement, low traffic, low traffic diversification, etc… – and someone throws a bunch of garbage links at it, it won’t be very hard for them to negatively affect your site. So, one of the best things that you can do if focus on building the quality and authority of your site up in order to insulate yourself from these potential actions. That should be your first and foremost strategy.
If you stop and think about it logically for a minute it’s actually a good thing to be doing regardless of the negative seo issue. You want to be increasing your site’s exposure, authority and growing your site. So doing it is not only for combating negative seo, but also just for the proper positioning of your site for the long run no matter what.
Recent Google Announcements
Now let’s talk about some of the things that Google has announced recently that may be impacting seo service providers as well as tool and software providers in the industry in the very near future. This is something that can have a big impact on the industry.
Clearly Google has been targeting SEO service providers and really trying to wipe out the infrastructure of SEO by deindexing entire networks of sites and selectively enforcing their rules in a way that they have never done in the past – radically penalizing today what yesterday they simply ignored and, by that very act, actually encouraged.
What they have recently announced was very typical of their non-committal posturing. In fact they did not say that they would or would not do it, just that they were considering it within the next 1 to 3 months. That being said, I personally believe that they will indeed roll this feature out and that it likely is already in development. Furthermore I think it will likely become a strong backbone of their continued anti-seo movement.
The power to disavow – say what?
The feature that I’m talking about would give Webmaster Tools users the ability to disavow links selectively. So if, for example, you suspect that you are a target of negative SEO and have had a bunch of spammy links created to your site, you would have the ability to go into the Webmaster Tools and selectively disavow those links – effectively “reporting” them to Google as spam.
Essentially you could select certain links and mark them, telling Google that you do not claim them or want them to take part in the ranking of your site and that you suspect them to be spam links negatively impacting you. Now, like everything, it is couched in the positive light of being a benefit for site owners. Now, poor ole site owners that have been targeted by negative SEO campaigns will be able to defend themselves. Yah, right.
What about SEO service providers?
But, as an seo services provider, I can tell you that everything that Google spits out as a positive enhancement is something that I view entirely differently. The fact of the matter is that they have taught us through their recent history that you cannot take them or their words at face value. In order to survive in the Google-sphere you need to learn to “read between the lines” and “interpret” what they say very carefully.
I believe that this feature will be used by Google to further police the seo industry and take advantage of people’s desire’s to improve their own site by tearing down others. It will make it child’s play for any site owner to point the finger at anyone or any site they see fit and give Google’s hit squad a new target – a ready-made list of sites for de-indexation.
Now I know that some will argue that link networks aren’t providing any real value and should be taken out anyway and that if this helps make the Net a better place then so be it. The problem is that this approach relies upon Google to make that determination. Given their track record, are you really sure you want to invite them into your home?
Unfortunately people continue to do so
Despite our best council, people still resubmit their sites for reconsideration and along with it think that by reporting a bunch of so called “bad links” that it’s a small cost to pay if they can get back in Google’s good graces. Really?
Do you think that they won’t remember your site? And then there’s the very odd thing about how these very same people submitting for reconsideration and pointing the finger at those “evil” link networks were the same people two months ago buying up links on BMR and other networks like they were going out of style. But now they quickly point the finger at the very people that were helping them out all in a desperate act to try to improve their site’s rankings. Nevermind that they’re only hurting themselves in the process and those that helped them.
A further thought to consider is just what a mess this will be if it is indeed released. People will constantly be pushing the link building envelope until it burns them and then they’ll go back in and disavow some of the links and repeat the cycle. Clearly if Google does roll out such a tool, they’ll have to have some limits and controls on it – great, more policing, just what we need.
Think about it for a minute…
Reporting links on your site to Google is akin to asking the IRS to look over your books and make sure you haven’t made any errors and perhaps invite them, while they’re at it, to look over the last few years just for good measure. Nothing good comes of it.
The far better approach is to get your SEO house in order (quietly) and proceed to do things the way you perhaps should have been doing them all along – focusing more on quality and long term strategy rather than short term gimmicks and hacks.
What Google said in a recent article is that they were considering adding this ability to disavow links via Webmaster tools in the next one to three months. Only time will tell whether that actually comes to fruition or not, but the safe money is that it will. I certainly wouldn’t take Vegas odds on them NOT implementing it. In fact I think the very fact that they cited a timeframe of “one to three months” seems to indicate that it is already in development and slated for release, but hey, what do I know.
I’ll tell you one thing I do know. I know that more information in Google’s hands about your business is not so good for you and all the better for them – that’s what I know. Not being paranoid here, but I do think you need to be cautious and get back to the basics with your site.
Time for some camouflage…
Right now the smart bet is on linkbuilding camouflage. What I mean by that is diluting any “past indiscretions” (read low quality cheezy links you know you shouldn’t have pursued in hindsight) you may have created by add additional high quality links now. Just get on the “straight and narrow” now and don’t try to game the system further. It’s simply not worth it and given what has gone on the past few months and what appears to be on the horizon, there is likely a lot more to come.
The “love affair” you once had with Google is now over and while she can still bring you some great traffic, you need to change up your traffic strategies and focus your efforts on diversifying them. I’m not saying abandon Google, heck, we’re SEO guys after all, but you need to change your focus.
First and foremost you should design your site and your SEO campaign to maximize your potential organic traffic from Google – that’s a given. But at the same time, you should not RELY on that traffic. If you have in the past or if you still do, well, there’s no time like the present to start mixing it up and going after other traffic sources as well. In the end you’ll have a stronger site for it and may even end up thanking Google for forcing you down this route.
You see, marketing is marketing, after all. Though many have fallen into this trap that somehow online or Internet marketing was “different”, the fact is that the various millionaires I know online all have one thing in common – they’re great marketers and they treat their business like a business.
That means that they don’t just rely on one form of traffic and that they maximize the branding and exposure of their site and/or brand at every possible opportunity they get – you should be doing the exact same thing. Your business (and your paycheck) will thank you for it.