Negative SEO is belief that SEOs can use spam links or black hat links in order to negative affect a competitor’s rankings. Recently the idea of negative SEO resurfaced when the Penguin update from Google affected many SEOs and their clients. Originally named the over optimization update, it targeted sites with blatant black hat or grey hat SEO tricks like keyword stuffing, content spinning, and scraped content. However, prior to the update there were many strange things happening at Google. Some SEOs using the Google Webmaster tools received the following message:
“Dear site owner or webmaster of http://www.ihopeitsnotyoursite.com/,
We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.”
This could imply that Google was now considering penalizing for SEO black hat link building. Google has for a long time said it does not like paid links brought for the purpose of building page rank. In the past, Google said that:
“There’s 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.”
This was followed with statements by Google representative that Google would never penalize sites for inbound links. However, in November of 2011 Google amended their statement and wrote:
“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.”
Adding the word “almost” created buzz in the SEO community. It seemed as though a pattern was emerging that bad link practices could negatively impact your rankings. This could cause serious issues because if true then to get to the top all one needs to do is create bad links to competitor’s sites. If Google was trying to reduce spam this approach could actually have the opposite effect. Suddenly SEO would become a war where people would be actively building links to all their competitors as a means of not just ranking better than their competition but eliminating it altogether.
So is negative SEO or anti-SEO real?
Probably not for the reasons stated above. Links are Google’s bread and butter and it is easier for Google to ignore links rather than penalize for them. Sure they can detect bad link strategies but the goal would be to inform the SEOs that use them to avoid such practices and make them aware there is no benefit from such practices. The reason for the modifications to the policy has more to do with Panda and that there are tricks where you can get your competitor’s penalized. It does happen so it is hard for them to say that 100% of the time a competitor can not hurt you.
If you feel you have been a target of negative SEO, please feel free to contact me and I’ll try to help.