Can I Get Penalized for Who Links at My Site?

SEO Question: I was recently threatened by a competitor about them pointing bad links at my site. Can I be penalized based on who links to my site?

SEO Answer: For most people it is unlikely that a competitor is going to go to such lengths to try to sabotage your business, and it is probably not worth being too paranoid over. The whole reason SEO works well is that few people actively practice it.

Having said all of that, the answer to your question is yes. I have seen it done a couple times and there are many different mechanisms people can use to hurt your rankings. Google is constantly testing new algorithms. Sometimes sites will not rank for their own names due to too much similar anchor text. Then at other times sometimes Google creates new algorithmic holes while trying to patch old ones.

As far as building shady links goes, some search algorithms may ignore them and some may give them a bit of a negative weighting on your overall relevancy. Generally though the more positive signs of quality your site has the more low quality signs you can get away with. In that regard probably the best way to protect your site from competitive sabotage is to ensure you don't have domain canonicalization issues (ie: engines realize and are the same) and work hard to build legitimate signs of trust. Dan Thies offers some good link building advice in this video, but there are a limited number of quality votes any site can get. The key to beating competitors in the link game is to create more legitimate reasons for people to want to link to your site.

Different engines have different mechanisms for analyzing your link profile. For example, Yahoo! may place too much emphasis on sitewide links while the same links may not help you as much in Google. If you push the low quality links hard enough it may boost your site to #1 in MSN and/or Yahoo!, but you may end up with a link profile that prevents you from ranking well in Google (audio here). Also keep in mind that if competitors try to use links to hurt your site in Google they may also be boosting your Yahoo! or MSN rankings.

In summary I think the two best ways to avoid competitive threats are to stay away from hyper competitive industries OR work hard to create enough legitimate signs of quality that your site is hard to harm.

Published: March 14, 2006 by Aaron Wall in Q & A


December 14, 2006 - 2:35am

There's an interesting discussion going on about this topic on the most important italian SE forum these days. The position of the majority of the members there is: "you cant be penalized if a bad site links to you".

The problem is nobody can show evidence. I'm asking to a broader audience here: have you experienced a penalization due to bad backlinks? In this case are you sure no link chain existed between your site and the site you received bad links from. I mean: If site B is bad, have you linked to site C which links to site B?

December 14, 2006 - 4:50am

Of course they remove some sites for manipulating their relevancy scores. Some of them they remove are removed for buying too many links.

What is to stop me from buying a competitor a bunch of obvious paid links and getting them nuked from Google? Sites of real brands gain trust and can get away with more, but if your content quality is not that great and you do not have much of a brand it is easy to make you look like an aggressive link buyer and get your site nuked.

And even with the relevancy algorithms it is all mathematical ratios anyway...what is the good to bad link ratio, etc.

Does your site look like a natural part of the web? If not it may be demoted or penalized.

March 20, 2006 - 1:47am

Hi farDesi
Do you have many citations from local areas? Where is your site hosted? Do you link out to any local sites? Do you have your address on multiple pages of your website?

Generally rather than trying to lose quality natural citations I would try to figure out why people gave them to me and then look for ways to get more local people to want to do the same. Also hosting locally, linking out locally, getting local links, and putting your address on your site can help search engines understand where your site belongs.

Akash Kumar
July 25, 2006 - 2:17pm

No, you cant be penalized if a bad site links to you but you can get penalized if you link to a bad site.

Akash Kumar

July 25, 2006 - 8:36pm

Hi Akash
You shouldn't be selling SEO services if you believe that.

April 9, 2006 - 8:01pm


Your article about being penalized by who links to your website is stimulating.

I am aware that all the Search engines, especially Google and SEO gurus talk about theme based linking , meaning that you should only link to websites who have similar contents to yours.

On the surface this looks like a great idea, but when you think about it seriously, it is very childish, moronic and silly.

It is like saying: all doctors should only network with and do business with other doctors, all engineers should only network and do business with other engineers, and all carpenters should only network and do business with other carpenters, and all prostitutes should network and do business with only other prostitutes, and all search engines should network with and do business with only other search engines.

If this theme based linking strategy is to be applied to Google search engine who advocates this, it will go out of business in 24 hrs.

Is Google and all the search engines and gurus who advocate this silly strategy linking and doing business with only the other search engines?

Is Google linking, networking and doing business with only other search engines?

The answer is NO!

So, while this advice may be good and profitable to the advisors, it may be poisonous to the websites and companies who implement it.

This is common sense

What is wise is to diversify your linking, so that you can spread your sources of traffic as widely as possible.

Some of the traffic you get from your links may not be targetted and they may not buy your product at the moment.

But they may bookmark your website and in the future when they need your product, they will come back and buy from you.

I have had customers who book marked my website and came back and bought from me after 2 yrs! It was hilarious when they told me that!

So cast your net for traffic far and wide so as to get maximum expsoure.

Success in internet promotion is about traffic, exposure and networking.

March 14, 2006 - 10:41pm

If a competitor had the money (and was evil enough to do to it), they could do the following -- Pay for thousands and thousands of backlinks to their competitor's website until Google picked up on it and threw them out of their results. It's as simple as that. Google would think that they were spamming their engine, and would penalize them.

March 14, 2006 - 10:59pm

Why would someone stupid enough to help competitor build links to rank good in yahoo and msn.

March 15, 2006 - 2:43am

Some blackhats have thousands of spam sites and could place a million links at you overnight.

The most dangerous links are between your own sites if you do heavy cross linking within your own network or if you have banned or penalized sites linking in. A devilish competitor could registser a batch of domains in YOUR name, lace them with hidden text, keyword spam and your adsense code, then link them into your network. They can find out where your sites are hosted and a phone call will get the new sites on the same ip block. Total cost: a few hundred dollars - cheaper than buying links and possibly more effective.

April 9, 2006 - 10:01pm

I redirected your link to instead of the MLM page you were linking at.

I don't think all good links are necessarily incestuous in nature. A banker can link to a currency exchange site and they are both dealing with money. Relating topics are...related.

You have to think more in terms of topical relationships and how things fit together...not just how a micro niche is structured.

For example, Danny Sullivan is at the top of the search engine marketing social sphere in large part because he is a guru of search.

The most authoritative people who link at SEW are not usually linking and voting to push SEO or SEM. They are usually voting for search.

Even people outside your sphere can link at you if they are interested in what you have to say, but most aggressive manual link building techniques do not involve creating value, being relevant, and filling market demand. Most of them revolve around pushing shit, like bogus MLM programs that rely on using bogus anchor text on others blogs to push their untargeted marketing system. And of course there is a true and finite cost in terms of time and money to spur up demand for anything.

The value in search (and in web publishing as a whole) is filling market demand. You can only go so far with artificial techniques. If at some point you don't work at brand building than your marketing spend is usually going to be improperly balanced and your returns are going to be less than they could be.

March 15, 2006 - 6:13pm

Hi Aaron,

Could you elaborate more on canonicalization. You said that...

In that regard probably the best way to protect your site from competitive sabotage is to ensure you don't have domain canonicalization issues (ie: engines realize and are the same) and work hard to build legitimate signs of trust.

How does canonicalization effect 301 redirects from to

March 16, 2006 - 6:40pm

I could be wrong, but didnt something like this happen to ??

March 16, 2006 - 6:47pm

Someone else got a C&D for posting on what happened to SEO Inc., so I would prefer not to comment too heavily on their position at this point.

At some point I believe that link quality issues may have hurt them though (although I am uncertain as to who bought the links, etc.).

March 16, 2006 - 7:05pm

OH, sorry about that! I dont want you or myself to get one of those. Its just I was at the SES NEW YORK 06 a couple weeks back and talked with a guy from SEO INC (in the expo area) about it and he would'nt even go into it to much detail but so I guess its still sensitive issue!! Sorry!

March 17, 2006 - 7:15am

Latley one of my sites got quite a few links from UK domains. Boy did I slide in the Canadian and US searches... but got a boost in Too bad I don't sell in UK. What is the best way to get my self off these sites. Contacting the site owners did not work.

July 21, 2015 - 9:26pm

I had a website that a former employer tried to do negative seo on and it ended up backfiring on him and shot it straight to the top. These were techniques i would never try, however it did go against him and took my client to #1 in a very competitive market. My suggestion, don't do it!

August 7, 2015 - 9:20pm

...but if your client already ranks #1 you might not see much upside from it. Further, while you might get a ranking/exposure/search traffic boost in the short term, the next time a major algo update happens with something like Penguin that site might get fried to a crisp for 6 months or a year.

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