Many of you will be familiar with the phrase ‘SEO’, it stands for Search Engine Optimization and is the means of manipulating sites and data to ensure that websites finish at the top of the Search Engines Results Pages (SERPs for short) for specific keywords.
The industry is a massive one, with companies spending huge sums of money to ensure that their sites are the ones found in the search engines. After all, the search engines send traffic, and targeted traffic can mean BIG money.
Various aspects of SEO are well known. Link building, keyword research, etc, etc. All these have made it ‘mainstream’. But one aspect that is less well known is the dubious concept of negative SEO.
What is Negative SEO
Just as SEO is the manipulating of data using known techniques to get a site to rank well in search engines (in most cases, specifically in Google), negative SEO is the use of using techniques that are known to generate penalties to negatively impact a site in the Search Engines.
In 99% of cases this is done to a competitors site to give another site a competitive advantage. Because another site takes an SEO hit, the site of the individual or company doing the negative SEO campaign gets boosted by comparison.
A few years ago this was just an idea, the reality didn’t really exist. This was because Search Engines saw the danger, realised that offsite links couldn’t be controlled and so just discounted the links it didn’t like.
But times changed and SEO moved on. Now there are thousands of backlinking tools that can be used to spam out millions of links. Add in the likes of private blog networks created to scam the system and you realise the search engines have a tough battle staying on top of it all.
For this reason they started not only discounting links they considered were created by spam tools or on bad neighbourhoods, but actively using them as a reason to negatively impact the SERPs of sites that were taking part.
Which is all well and good but it opens the door for negative SEO. Now firms can use these known tactics to attack a competitor, reducing their appearance in the search engines, and taking their traffic.
This is far from just a concept – case studies have shown that there really is the ability to harm sites with negative SEO. Firms across the internet are going to have to be careful, and Google is going to have to address this before it becomes an even bigger problem than spammed links.
How Negative SEO is Done
When it comes to SEO the basics are fairly clear. They have been tried and tested over a number of years. Sure the occasional update boosts some methods and hurts others – the latest Google updates in Panda and Penguin attest to that. But for the most part SEO is a fairly stable concept.
Negative SEO is different. Until recently it has only really been a concept more than an actual practice. Because whilst the theory sort of worked, the practice was a lot harder to pull off, if at all.
Things have changed in the recent Penguin and Panda updates though. We have gone from it just being a theory to something that has been proven to work. Google opened the door to Negative SEO, and now many companies are taking advantage of it to hurt competitors.
Here we are not going into the morality or legality of it. Instead we want to highlight how it is done so companies can be aware and try to come up with methods to combat it (and the more it is written about the more Google will be under pressure to come up with a solution).
So exactly how they do it?
Just as in SEO we are looking at what Google considers. Only now we want to see what they consider to be bad, what they do a SERPs punishment for. Since we can assume you don’t have on page access we will be concentrating on off page SEO methods.
- Publically known private blog networks. Recently Google took down number of large private blog networks that were gaming the backlinking system. They also hurt the SERPs of those that were involved.Getting a competitor linked to from a network that has or will be impacted will provide a negative SEO hit for that site.
- Buy Links. Another thing that Google cracked down on is sites that have bought links. By using such sites that Google knows about to link to competitors, you will harm their SEO efforts.
- Spammed links. Using software such as scrapbox and xrummer was an old SEO practice that Google cottoned on to. Now such links are more likely to hurt your SEO than help it – which is why it is a powerful negative SEO technique. Create thousands of spammy links in such a manner and you’ll negatively impact the SEO.
- Bad neighbourhoods. The main aspect of theory until now, and it is still relevant. Links from porn sites and spam/link farms will still create the negative SEO impact that many are looking for.
Negative SEO is a practice now, not a theory. Make sure you understand what it means for you and your web site.
Negative SEO – a Couple of Examples
People have been guessing that negative SEO was possible for years. The theory had some merit but it was never quite practical. However since the recent Panda and Penguin Google updates all that has changed.
Upon realising what Google has changed with it’s updates people also realised that negative SEO had become a very viable option. No longer just a theory, it was something that could be put into practice.
Of course not everyone was convinced, and still others needed to test to be sure. Which is why a few case studies were quickly created. They proved, quite conclusively, that negative SEO was not only an option, but very possible and very powerful.
The Negative SEO Case Studies
The two most famous of the negative SEO case studies came from the TrafficPlanet forum where users selected two sites to hit with negative SEO campaigns.
Case Study #1 – seofaststart.com
Selected for a number of reasons, ranging from it being hard to impact an SEO guru through to him gloating about people dropping in the SERPs, and him being smart enough to gain from the publicity of it.
What was done
Over the course of 11 days one million scrapbox links were pointed at the site, completely using the anchor text “Dan Thies”. It turns out that at the same time another group started using blog posts on a known link network to also do a negative SEO campaign on the site (for much the same reasons).
So this meant there were spammy scrapebox links AND links from spammy blogs.
So what happened?
- Dan Thies started at #1 for Dan Thies and stayed there
- It fell from #11 for the phrase ‘SEO’ out of the top 1,000
- It fell from #34 for ‘SEO service’ and is no longer in the top 1,000
- It fell from #3 for the phrase ‘SEO Book’ and is now #34
So there was a definite drop in ranking just by a quick and limited negative SEO campaign
Case Study #2 – negativeseo.me
Targeted as they claimed to offer negative SEO to destroy the competition.
A 1 million link scrapebox spam list was hammered out to, with 100% anchor text ‘destroy your competitors’
- It dropped in the SERPs for the phrase ‘negative SEO’, from #2 to #6
- It dropped in the SERPs for ‘destroy your competitors’ from #1 to #13
So simple, limited negative SEO campaigns can make a real difference