A quick glance over the major SEO blogs this morning showed me there was no major headlines in the sector, however despite it not really being ‘news’, one article did catch my eye. The post in question appeared on SERoundTable – and was all to do with ‘negative SEO’ and how SEO companies are now being asked to launch negative SEO attacks on their clients’ competitors in a bid to help their clients rank well.
Now, if you’re not familiar with the concept of negative SEO, I’ll quickly fill you in. As I discussed in one of my very first posts here at Bubble, negative SEO is all to do with sending out negative signals about a site to Google in the hope Google will punish the site in question both in terms of trust/authority and rankings.
The concept of negative SEO has been around for years and years but Google had always claimed that what others did, particularly when it came to dodgy links, couldn’t hurt your rankings… but then in March 2012 they did something that made everyone raise their eyebrows – they changed the wording of their “”Can Competitors Harm Rankings?” document.
While pre-March 2012 it read:
“There’s almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages.”
Post-March 2012 it read:
“Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages.”
Of course the change in wording got the SEO industry talking… particularly when, just a few months later, the first Penguin update was unleashed on the world. Following the update, it became obvious that negative SEO was no longer just a rumor (I mean Google practically admitted it was possible by changing the wording of their doc) and was possible… the idea being that SEOs could build negative links to a competitor site which could directly affect their backlink profile and could lead to a nasty little (or big!) penalty from Google themselves.
Between May 2012 and now, talk of negative SEO has remained steady, with lots of chatter in the SEO forums about supposed negative SEO attacks taking place… but despite that, we still have no proof of a negative SEO attack taking place and being successful – and in fact comments from Google’s webspam king Matt Cutts seems to support this.
“Many of the reports of “successful negative SEO” that we’ve investigated, the claims didn’t hold up. In this case, we had already caught the site in question for spammy links going back years and years–long before the negative SEO campaign started.”
As I mentioned earlier, despite the fact that we’ve no proof negative SEO works, we’re seeing more and more reports of SEOs claiming that site owners are now wanting to pay them to play dirty and take their competitor out of the running by launching a malicious backlink attack in a bid to get to the top.
While it’s fair to say that negative SEO is probably more than just a harmless rumour, the question of whether it’s a real threat is still up for debate. As I mentioned, while negative SEO attacks might be going on today, we’ve still no proof they actually work and/or can help a site to rank above its competitor.
When it comes to trying to improve your rankings, I’d really advise you against negative SEO attacks on your competitors. Why? A few reasons – firstly, we don’t even know if it works. Secondly – working on improving your own site’s positive rankings will be more effective and rewarding long-term. And thirdly – if Google ever finds out you carried out a negative SEO attack on your competitors, you could be in major trouble…
In terms of whether you should be worried about negative SEO attacks on your own site, I’d say there’s no need to lose sleep over it… but I would still keep an eye on your backlink profile using tools like Opensiteexplorer. Majestic SEO, Google Webmaster Tools and ahrefs.
Look out for any unusual links which are found linking to your site – and if necessary try and contact the site owner to request the link is removed if you’re majorly concerned. This post should give you some top tips on how to conduct a link audit, while this one should help with link removal requests. If you’re still having issues, you could give the Disavow tool a go – but be sure to read up on the Dos and Don’ts before you start disavowing!
As ever, I’m keen to hear what you think about this one. Do you think negative SEO is something to be worried about – or have you ever had experience with negative SEO? Leave me a comment below or tweet me – @amy_edwards88.