Negative SEO is the ability of a third party to influence the rankings of another website strictly through links. Typically that third party is a competitor and typically they are trying to add as many spam links as they can to trip a filter and get their competitors website penalized by the search engines. This tactic raised it’s head when a couple of SEO guys attacked a well-known keyword research guru and shared their results online. The results were staggering and really exposed a hole in the linking aspect of search engines algorithm. Coincidentally this also occurred about the same time the Penguin Update was released by Google. Out of this controversy came conversation on not only does this tactic really work but also what are website owners to do if it happens to them? More specifically how does a website owner remove links that are out of their control?
Well, Google’s initial answer was TOUGH, it’s your website and you should be more award of links that point to your site and you should also remove any links that point to your site if it violates their guidelines. This stance softened a bit when the webmaster community cried foul and so Google then said well do the best you can, document it and communicate with us. In the meantime they still penalized websites that violated their guidelines.
Now I ask, how fair is that? We have a client that was a victim of Negative SEO. They had for years had front page rankings for their main terms and those rankings were obtained by total white hat tactics. After Penguin they disappeared. Upon investigation we found several hundred links that were 100% spam and were purchased, in our opinion, strictly for the purpose of hurting them. It worked and this is how we found out about Negative SEO.
To gain the good graces of Google back we did everything to remove the links, we were met with very minimal success as a majority of the websites linking to them had no/bad contact info and those that did have good contact info just did not respond. We developed a very detailed report for Google, submitted it and were told it wasn’t good enough. We tried again to get those links removed and maybe were able to remove 1% of them, got bounced emails, one email saying we had hacked their website and no answers to any phone calls we placed. Again sent this information to Google and again were told it wasn’t good enough. So we tried once again and the results were the same, now we’re waiting to hear for the third time.
What would be an easy solution to the folks who have had Negative SEO applied to their websites? How about the ability to disavow links? You log into your Webmaster Tools (Google) or Bing Webmaster and download the links they say you have pointing to your website, find those that you did not gain yourself and tell Google or Bing to ignore or disavow them. Simple, right? Evidently it is for Bing but not for Google.
Bing rolled this feature out the end of June and Google? Nothing! They would rather you suffer the consequences of a dirty competitors actions than make their job easier. I tried the feature this morning in Bing and was pleasantly surprised how easy it was. I downloaded links to a website, found 1 that we didn’t gain and although it was a legitimate link it was of really no value, I told Bing I disavowed it by entering it into a field and clicking a button.
Google, you have been the front runner when it comes to webmasters and communication but on this you have failed miserably!