GoogleBowling, Negative SEO & Outing

Apr 19th

Excessive Complexity & Unintended Consequences

Sergey Brin recently said:

You have to play by their rules, which are really restrictive. The kind of environment that we developed Google in, the reason that we were able to develop a search engine, is the web was so open. Once you get too many rules, that will stifle innovation.

He was talking about Facebook, but those words are far more applicable to Google.

A Social Experiment

In the movie Dark Knight the Joker ran a social experiment where he offered 2 boats full of people the opportunity to save their own lives by blowing up the other boat. The boat full of "criminals" threw the button overboard & the other boat also decided not to push the button.

Of course taking someone's life is more extreme than taking their livelihood, but if you do the latter it might create stress and/or other issues which in effect lead to the former. Some people who see their income disappear might have a heart attack, others might have marriages that soon falls apart, leading into a spiral of depression and substance abuse & eventually suicide. Others still might have employees that get laid off & end up heading down some of the same scary paths - through no fault of their own.

Negative SEO Goes Mainstream

Anyone who outs or link bombs smaller businesses (small enough that Google punishing them destroys their livelihood rather than just giving them a bad quarter) is a _______. Anyone who advocates outing or link bombing such businesses is an even larger _______.

Why?

With all of Google's warning messages about abnormal links they have built the negative SEO industry in a big way. In some instances those who are not good enough to compete try to harm competitors. I received emails & support tickets like the following one for years and years...

...but the rate of demand increase for such "services" has been sharp this year. Every additional warning message from Google creates additional incremental demand.

And this is where outing a competitor makes one a total and complete _______ of a human being.

A Recent (& Very Public) Example of Negative SEO

Dan Thies mentioned that it was "about time" that Google started hitting some of the splog link networks.

Anyone who knows the tiniest bit about the social sciences could predict what came next.

In response to his Tweet, someone signed his site up for some splog links & Scrapebox action. Now he is getting warnings about his unnatural link profile. Dan didn't intentionally violate Google's guidelines, but he became a convenient target:

15th March - Dan Thies posts smug tweets to Matt Cutts and pisses off the entire internet.
18th March - seofaststart.com - blog posts started - anchor text "seo" "seo service" and "seo book"
22th March - seofaststart.com - 1 million scrapebox blast started - 100% anchor text "Dan Thies"
26th March - Dan Thies posts in Twitter that he has received an unnatural links message.

Since then Dan has installed a new template & his rankings tanked. Is it the template or the spam links? Probably the spam links, given how many other sites have got hit for using too much focused anchor text.

  • Will the site stay tanked? If so, now Google's approach to anchor text & link spikes allows independent websites to get torched in a few weeks for a few Dollars.
  • Or will the site come back stronger than ever with the help of the spam links? If it does, then how long is it before people start accidentally spam blasting their own websites & posting a public case study about burning a competitor on a forum, then citing that forum thread in their reconsideration request?
  • If the site quickly comes back, will that be due to a manual intervention by a search engineer, or from an algorithm more advanced than some people are giving it credit for being?

When asking such questions one quickly arrives at another set of questions. Is it the web that is broken? Or is it Google's editorial approach that is broken? If the observer breaks the system they observe, then the observer is the problem.

The Bigger Issue

The bigger issue isn't the short term trends for SEO related keywords or Dan's site (he will be fine & rankings are not that important for sites about SEO), but the big issue is that if this can happen to a decade old website then this can happen to literally anybody.

Piss off a ...

  • competitor
  • SEO
  • web designer
  • web developer
  • business partner
  • blogger
  • blog reader
  • former customer
  • freetard
  • ex-friend
  • bitter family member
  • insert any classification or category you like
  • etc.

... and risk getting torched.

When you out someone for shady links, you can't be certain they were responsible for it. They could have had a falling out with a consultant or business partner or another competitor who wanted to hose them. Or their SEO or webmaster could have been non-transparent with them.

Then you out them & they might be toast.

White Hat, Black Hat & ________ Hat SEO

Any of the ________ who promote competitor smoking or competitor outing as somehow being "ethical" or "white hat" never bother to explain what happens to YOU when someone else does that to you.

Sketchy marketers can make just about anything look good at first glance. No matter how shiny the package in concept, it is hard to appreciate the pain until you are the one undergoing it.

Building things up is typically far more profitable than tearing things down & if SEOs go after each other then the only winner is Google. Literally every other participant in the ecosystem has higher risk, higher costs & is taxed by the additional uncertainty. Sure some of the conscripts might get a bit of revenues and some of the "white hat" hacks might gain incremental short term exposure, but as the marrow is scraped out of the bone, they too will fall hard.

Google is betting that the SEO industry is full of ________. If our trade is to worth being in, I hope Google is wrong! If not, you will soon see most of the quality professionals in our trade go underground, while only the hacks who misinform people & are an unofficial extension of Google's public relations team remain publicly visible.

That might be Google's goal.

Will they be successful at it?

That depends entirely on how intelligent members of the SEO industry are.

Published: April 19, 2012

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Comments

April 19, 2012 - 12:59pm

and when the small business losses all the natural....then they beef up the spend in SEM....in turn makes Google more happy

April 19, 2012 - 1:51pm

If they had dedicated the same amount of time to the SEO (creating great content with a great design, etc.) of their own websites, they would have probably reached the firsts possitions by now, and no new update could penalize them

April 19, 2012 - 2:09pm

...part of the point of this post was that indeed sites can get hit during future updates if others target them with negative SEO.

Even if you do "mind your own SEO" others can still get you hit, as things are currently programmed inside Google.

Google let some of the massive spam link networks run for a while (I think in part because they were dealing with hacked site issues and then Panda) & then wanted to hit the spam link networks hard ... sort of making up for lost time ... but in hitting them hard they quickly created yet another SEO service those folks can use & sell.

Ultimately this will likely only speed Google's push toward identity integration in search. Google+ (or maybe Twitter, if Google buys it) will at some point become a much bigger deal.

April 19, 2012 - 1:58pm

I'm looking forward to some more conclusive results on whether just a bunch of spammy links can move rankings, but it doesn't matter.

The fact that it's possible to generate the WMT warning message, combined with the way Google handles those, means that a lot of webmasters are going to "turn themselves in" and even go try to get natural links removed. This is why I asked Matt Cutts about the "WTF" warnings on Twitter in February when it started. I think you're one of many who RT'd. Talking to him about the splog networks was just to check for a pulse.

Now that it's started I'll have to let the process play out, but then I think I'll go back to back to my original plan.

User-agent: Googlebot
Disallow: /

April 19, 2012 - 2:15pm

...imagine what it is like running a pretty clean but decently large SEO firm that caters to small businesses & has fairly tight margins. Then a bunch of clients get these messages & some quit, while others turn you in for something you didn't do (and perhaps some of what they turned you in for was done by an earlier lower quality provider that was spam city), while others still need hours and hours of hand holding and trust rebuilding to stay onboard. All those things cut into margins & that is just at the external consultant level.

I bet some in-house SEOs might lose their jobs over some such stray warnings (either because they mentioned it & said they were uncertain what to do, or because they didn't mention it right away and when they later did that made them be seen as one who was withholding information from the company).

And then when you get down to the individual small business owner that is trying to do SEO themselves...this is just one more layer of uncertainty, confusion & wasted resources.

April 19, 2012 - 4:14pm

How can you protect your site from a negative SEO campaign? Is it impossible?

April 19, 2012 - 5:01pm

... Getting targeted & hit is still not too likely in most markets. And if Google gets a sense that this stuff is ramping up they will likely change their approach somewhat.

But generally speaking, the stronger your site's profile is & the more balanced it is (lots of high quality links, not pushing too hard on anchor text, good usage data with loads of brand searches, etc.) the harder it is to knock out. Whereas if your links are mostly lower quality, user experience data is weak & you are pushing hard on anchor text you might be able to accidentally penalize or filter yourself (even without the help of anyone else).

Goldilocks SEO = slightly lower short term returns, but also lower risks.

People might be able to get individual pages on some strong sites hit, but it would be quite hard (likely impossible really) to completely take out something like eBay.com or Amazon.com.

April 19, 2012 - 4:24pm

I can completely see where you are coming from.

Negative SEO seems to of become a real viable option (though not one I condone) in flaming the competiton.

We as an industry need posts like this one and the numerous others that bring this issue to the forfront and say undeniably that this practice is wrong, and Google needs to take action.

We as an industry need to protect our clients, and to some level our competitors from negative SEO. But there are some points where I have to draw the line. I recently wrote a blog post (http://www.seofosho.com/blog/seo-ethics-and-our-industries-cowboys) in which I outlined a pretty basic way of identifying SEO agencies that are using crap spam tactics whether they be malicious or just gaming the algorithm.

Google needs to provide us some real data that is going to let the small business owner sleep at night knowing that a competitor with an SENuke blast isn't going to kill thier site.

April 19, 2012 - 5:16pm

...I disagree with the thesis entirely.

Your other bits are spot on...but understanding the "reputation problem" requires analyzing who wins from it and how.

The reason SEO has a bad reputation is that it is convenient for Google, some non-SEO web workers, & some alleged "white hat" SEO players for the industry to have a bad reputation.

  • If SEO is seen as risky then that retards people actively investing in SEO & that gives Google a stronger editorial control over what ranks where. It also makes AdWords feel/seem more appealing. Double win for Google.
  • Some web designers like the idea of SEO experts seeming sketchy so that there isn't a separate need for said experts & the designers can charge their clients extra for not doing actual SEO work then tell their clients "the SEO is in the code."
  • A lot of the "white hat" SEO players also want to give the perception that stuff is spammy if they don't do it. That others are full of risk means others are less appealing. Follow their magical white hat ways and you too can rank - risk free (except, in reality, risk is everywhere). Yet anything they haven't tested is labeled as black hat simply because it is new and they haven't tried it yet. What goes unmentioned by these folks, is the stuff that they out as spam (when it is done by a competitor) is often stuff that they later teach as "advanced" 6 or 12 months later.
  • Business is about getting returns. The question is primarily who gets them, how much do they get & how long do they get them for? Who funded eHow? Well that was Google.
  • The reality is if 100% of SEOs were "white hat" then Google's guidelines would only grow that much more restrictive to further restrict profit potential. In reality all this stuff is a matter of give and take. Google keeps evolving their algorithms & eventually SEO will be so darn hard to do that it won't be worth attempting for many folks, but whenever Google closes one thing off they often open up other things. For instance, the excessive weight on domain authority is precisely what helped the content farm problem grow to epic proportions before it got wiped away.

Granted there are some scammers who rip off clients, but the people who do that stuff aren't really SEOs...they are scammers. The narrative of "Google sends flood of free traffic to your website that acts as an annuity for the rest of your life" is a sales pitch that many uninitiated folks will fall for without doing any research. But if they were entertaining cold calls & reading spam emails from marketers promising them $20,000 or $100,000 a month forever for a couple thousand Dollar one-time fee, then weren't they sort of looking for a scam?

The folks at Traffic Power were not SEOs...they were scammers. According to the Wall Street Journal, their CEO was allegedly involved in gang activity & after he exited the SEO scene he was arrested for doing something like mortgage scams.

Anywhere there is an appealing narrative & lots of money scammers will flock and sell themselves as being like the real thing, but when scammers were pushing get rich quick Google Money Tree reverse billing fraud (through Google ads even) somehow that didn't manage to be seen generally as "by Google." With that in mind & from that frame of reference, why should the SEO industry claim the impact of scammers who try to feed off the SEO industry as being something that is part of the SEO industry? It isn't ... it is scammers posing as SEOs. No different than boiler room stock salesmen, timeshare salesmen, and so on.

AND (and this part is important) just as often as an SEO company scams clients, there are likely a far greater number of prospective clients that try to scam the SEOs...

  • merchants & affiliate networks that shave leads
  • merchants who do profit share but fudge the numbers low
  • companies that are expecting a 10,000% ROI quickly
  • companies that claim to be up for longterm engagements, but can the SEO as soon as the rankings are achieved (and, worse yet, those who don't want to be on retainer but expect you to be available at the drop of a hat any time their rankings drop at all)
  • companies that do other spammy stuff on the side & then outsource that blame onto the consultant if/when it finally catches up with them and causes issues
  • etc etc etc

Finally, one last reason for the SEO reputation problem is that there can't be a strong counterbalance due to the structure (monopoly control) of the marketplace. When SEO works really well, there is no incentive to share the story of the success, as it might draw scrutiny from Google & invite competitors to clone some of the best pieces of the strategy.

April 19, 2012 - 4:36pm

The problem with ALL of these supposed "proof" examples like the Dan Thies one is that I have no clue what links Thies had going to that website BEFORE he was link bombed. His website very well could have dropped regardless of whether those link bombs happened or not, based upon his past link building efforts which are now seen as being bad links. Did Google penalize those previously built links or just devalue them or was every single link built before the link bomb pure as snow? Does anyone really know?

For once, I would like to see an experimaent done a month or two AFTER the latest Google update and not the second it is rolled out. I nor anyone else has a clue whether Dan Thies' website had been evaluated already via the new algorithm before the link bomb happened. Most site adjustments are still occurring or happened last week or the week prior. Sites are moving all over the place that were not link bombed.

April 19, 2012 - 5:09pm

Yeah, it's a useless test so far. The only SERP that has dropped ([seo book]) is one that...

1) I expected to drop because my existing WP theme died during a site move last week, forcing me to "de-optimize" the site itself
2) Fluctuates a lot because the only site that absolutely belongs there is, well, Aaron's.

I've never done any "link building" for the site. Hardly seemed necessary. People link to it enough on their own because they like my free book, and because there are a few important posts on it.

April 19, 2012 - 5:22pm

...the thread that mentioned Dan's site also mentioned another site tanking around the same time (I think it was NegativeSEO.me?)

Further, I know many SEOs who have filtered themselves out of the search results on accident by being too aggressive with link building and anchor text focus. I have even done it to myself a couple times over the years. ;)

If you can accidentally hose yourself, then surely someone else can do it to you as well.

And the issue isn't just anchor text, but also the quantity of links relative to the size of the existing profile & the age of the site. I have also seen older sites (like 4 or 5 years old) with few inbound links that ranked decently well get hit by a spike of links and drop back near the end of the SERPs for months.

Maybe Dan's site is old & authoritative enough that it is hard to knock down & keep down for an extended period of time, but it is super easy to hose new websites.

And if SEOs can accidentally do that sort of stuff to themselves, then of course someone else could do it to them well. Google doesn't have access to the credit card information every time someone buys a link.

Case closed.

April 19, 2012 - 6:48pm

So far, I have gained more Google traffic from this than I've "lost." They drove my site all the way to page 1 for [seo] before it fell back some, but it's still higher than before.

Negative SEO is a big fat fail here. They selectively choose which rankings to measure when, but Analytics will show you....

http://t.co/KyXJOhxQ

April 21, 2012 - 3:36am

...doesn't mean it was a failed exercise.

And now that the results are very much public one could expect that the trends will be abnormal, as Google doesn't want to be made to look dumb or easily tampered with. But the fact is that many people can & do torch competing websites.

In short, the results proved the spam links worked & then there was at some point a fall off, but now that it is public, one can't really trust much else of the response headed forward...at least not in this scenario. But the techniques & strategies can be applied to other websites and impact them in a negative way.

If competitors couldn't hurt you on a negative SEO campaign then there wouldn't be so many people accidentally getting themselves filtered from their own efforts.

April 21, 2012 - 9:18am

I'm not sure who you are trying to fool here?

Of course you have more traffic - everyone is now talking about you.

Ranking for SEO, you started at number 11, now you can't be found! "Can't be found" isn't higher than you were before - anyone can check where you rank for that now.

April 21, 2012 - 4:06pm

...the highlighting of & discussion around the negative SEO campaign was almost like a public relations campaign for both Dan's site & Traffic Planet. In a few months Dan's site might come back stronger than ever with all the additional signals that are created by such a campaign.

The only thing is that it was remarkable when mapped against current industry trends & so on, and that the next site that gets hit in such a way might not generate as much coverage and such.

April 21, 2012 - 4:42pm

specifically to get a lot of coverage.... and because although we wanted to publicly prove 'negative seo' was possible we didn't want to ruin anyones livelihood - Dan being Dan will profit from this ultimately ;-).

Dans site could come back stronger - and if it did we could repeat the excercise if we wanted to - and we continue to repeat it over and over.

The aim isn't to punish Dan. It's to prove publicly to Google that it can be done so they do something to stop it.

April 21, 2012 - 6:22pm

@JammyFromTP, thanks for commenting here. Your choice of targeting is perfect. The SERP you targeted [seo book] generates less than 10 visits a week under normal circumstances. Although it appears to be a relatively high volume query to those who don't understand the market, almost everyone searching for [seo book] is trying to get to *this* site, not mine.

Although I don't believe the project did what some TP members think it did, I do believe that it proves the concept possible, especially if (as Aaron and others have said) you targeted a less well linked site.

At the very least, it shows that a big burst of spam (3 million links is pretty big...) can move a site very quickly - look at what happened to [seo] - I linked to a Twitpic from Analytics above - you guys drove it all the way to page 1, and it stayed up there for 3 days before it dropped.

365 days divided by 3, you just need 120 sites and you might be able to do "rolling spam" to keep one of them on page 1 all the time. Even that is something Google will have to think about here.

I mean, you know... spam might not be as effective as it used to be, but as you guys demonstrated, it can be done in really high volume. :-)

April 19, 2012 - 7:05pm

https://plus.google.com/u/0/105378806328377750709/posts/Bh49XR5FtU6 If this is what happened to Dan, we officially have the SEO version of Anonymous. LOL

April 19, 2012 - 9:47pm

I fully agree with Brandon..

In theory, negative SEO should not be possible. If negative SEO services become more and more popular this will eventually reach a critical mass that will effect Google's SERPS enough to force Google to remove anything in the algo that is giving essentially 'negative link juice' Any sort of penalty should only be given out when there is clear indication both the referring and the target sites are being controlled by the same entity. Lots of 301 redirects would be an example of a fairly reliable/clear indicator. Some may say dupe IP addresses also, but there are many shared servers on one IP.

If they ARE doing this, I would guess they expect they can use their massive resources to 'stay ahead of the game' They also may be relying on the fact that enough 'horror stories' about the Panda update will cause more and more businesses to be scared to utilize any services labeling themselves as SEO. There was an article I read a while back about your average person/business has a negative connotation association with "SEO" So if Google IS doing this it may be more about psychology than sound logic regarding the algo.

If someone has determined a way to consistently lower the rank of any website they choose (with exception of some of the larger properties like Amazon/Ebay, etc.), please PM me. I want to hire you! :)

If all the SEOs starting moving to a reverse strategy of sabotage/negative SEO, it should force Google to remove that part of the algo eventually. I think it is a case of a massive company with a lot of brainpower, money, and egos that can't accept the fact that their SERPS will always be able to be manipulated to a certain degree. Seems like it is all a game to me.

April 21, 2012 - 3:46am

In theory, negative SEO should not be possible.

In theory some of the spammy stuff that works shouldn't work either. But theory and reality are often misaligned...in accounting, economics, psychology, sociology, health & search. Only 100 years ago there were ads running about making your home into something like a beautiful castle using the power of asbestos. We are still messing many things up today...just look at all the financial fraud that was uncovered a few years ago & continues to this day.

If negative SEO services become more and more popular this will eventually reach a critical mass that will effect Google's SERPS enough to force Google to remove anything in the algo that is giving essentially 'negative link juice' Any sort of penalty should only be given out when there is clear indication both the referring and the target sites are being controlled by the same entity. Lots of 301 redirects would be an example of a fairly reliable/clear indicator. Some may say dupe IP addresses also, but there are many shared servers on one IP.

I agree with a lot of this, but redirects do not guarantee shared ownership...just that someone is more savvy, has more capital & has more scale. Also, how the algorithm is designed, there is not only the ability to harm people based on karma, but also based on excessive anchor text concentration.

If they ARE doing this

There is no IF. They are.

I would guess they expect they can use their massive resources to 'stay ahead of the game' They also may be relying on the fact that enough 'horror stories' about the Panda update will cause more and more businesses to be scared to utilize any services labeling themselves as SEO. There was an article I read a while back about your average person/business has a negative connotation association with "SEO" So if Google IS doing this it may be more about psychology than sound logic regarding the algo.

Well...Google constantly has to react. I mean, look at Panda. That wasn't "staying ahead of the game" but rather catching up from the fallout of funding eHow & similar enterprises. And someone mentioned that they had been working on that problem for a year before finding a solution. First the problem exists & then they try to solve it. I mean they are ahead of the game on some areas, but they can't be ahead of the game everywhere on all fronts. And if they were then this negative SEO stuff wouldn't be possible.

I agree on the concept that they are certainly using fear and framing to control the perception of SEO & I think that is working quite well for them so far as a tool of market regulation.

If someone has determined a way to consistently lower the rank of any website they choose (with exception of some of the larger properties like Amazon/Ebay, etc.), please PM me. I want to hire you! :)

Many have done exactly that & it is part of what makes our industry somewhat shitty.

If all the SEOs starting moving to a reverse strategy of sabotage/negative SEO, it should force Google to remove that part of the algo eventually. I think it is a case of a massive company with a lot of brainpower, money, and egos that can't accept the fact that their SERPS will always be able to be manipulated to a certain degree. Seems like it is all a game to me.

Lots of game theory certainly goes into their public relations and other efforts. Agree they are clever, but sometimes trying to prevent spam means they create some rather large problems, like the ability to do negative SEO.

I also agree that as it spreads eventually Google will have to change it at some point...just like almost everything else in search.

April 20, 2012 - 8:03am

If someone has determined a way to consistently lower the rank of any website they choose (with exception of some of the larger properties like Amazon/Ebay, etc.), please PM me. I want to hire you

I think Google can only have one shot at penalising links which they've now already used - that's if they want to avoid creating a mainstream negative SEO strategy (even industry). If links can STILL give "negative link juice", then negative SEO can exist since we now ALL know bad links are "valuable" (if they point to competitors). Before, a bad link was valueless, dead. Now it's potent. It just depends how Google plays it out - do they keep with this strategy (thus creating a negative SEO industry), or is it a "one shot" that no longer applies (negative SEO cannot occur, but Google penalised around a million sites in their one-off campaign).

April 21, 2012 - 3:49am

...there are also issues with anchor text profile filters and such.

So a link could still pass good karma, but send you over the limit of what is considered ordinary, in terms of anchor text distribution profile. Further, there can be issues with spikes in the rate of link acquisition which appear normal. At one point years ago Google even banned the official AdSense blog on accident & that was likely driven in part by the massive spike of inbound links while they were trying to clean up the huge mess of spam that was on blogspot at that point in time.

April 20, 2012 - 11:39am

I am very surprised, that it is happened so fast, 8 days to get penalized.

It seems, that the era of Google is gone, entering a phase of decadence. It is the same history, an empire cannot live forever. Google invented PR, the ranking by link popularity, making it with every update (nofollow, domain authority, Brand, etc.) more complex, introducing now, the negative link. The negative link has a history and there were signals in the past that this was coming to us, as a reset.

It seems a perversion of the original idea, how to find the best and relevant resources, for the user input of search. The concepts are not easy to separate, a vote of trust from a vote that was bought. So the new era of social signals, will be the new guide, to distinguish, if a site are offering the demand, for which people are searching.

If someone hires Negative SEO it is a criminal act. I am seeing the mafia going in this field, scams, and more, investing money. The online presence of a business is not a game, is real life with real peoples. It seems that we will need an online police that will watch out the rules and players, taking in prison some criminals, but as is happen in our contemporary societies, not always the justice will be there.

Take care,

April 21, 2012 - 3:57am

I am very surprised, that it is happened so fast, 8 days to get penalized.

yup...it can happen fast!

It seems, that the era of Google is gone, entering a phase of decadence. It is the same history, an empire cannot live forever. Google invented PR, the ranking by link popularity, making it with every update (nofollow, domain authority, Brand, etc.) more complex, introducing now, the negative link. The negative link has a history and there were signals in the past that this was coming to us, as a reset.

Google will be fine. But those who operate in Google's ecosystem have more things to think about, particularly if they lack the strong relevancy signals associated with a large global brand while operating in big money areas. Outside of perhaps some local businesses a lot of smaller businesses have been getting slowly squeezed out of the ecosystem for about a half-decade straight. This is just another layer of that trend.

It seems a perversion of the original idea, how to find the best and relevant resources, for the user input of search. The concepts are not easy to separate, a vote of trust from a vote that was bought. So the new era of social signals, will be the new guide, to distinguish, if a site are offering the demand, for which people are searching.

Some of the social signals are far easier to manipulate than regular SEO due to the viral nature of some messages on social networks. When Charlie Sheen was all over the news he was selling sponsored Tweets. Attention can be auctioned off in any format & it is far easier to do it quickly and efficiently in social than via search.

If someone hires Negative SEO it is a criminal act. I am seeing the mafia going in this field, scams, and more, investing money.

Certainly there will be people who say "pay me or I destroy your rankings."

The online presence of a business is not a game, is real life with real peoples.

The web was originally built with an over-representation of purists & idealists (like hobbyists vs large corporate players), somewhat sheltered from the harshness of the real world. But as the web becomes more like the real world, it takes on many more of its attributes & flaws.

April 21, 2012 - 10:40am

Thanks Aaron, for your comment, i am agree 100% with you. The negative link factor, will not resolve the problem of manipulation. The interpretaion what is part of the competition and what is manipulation, is a very difficult task. So let´s hope, that Google takes in count the feedback from our SEO branch.

April 20, 2012 - 12:07pm

The low hanging fruit that Google nuked is what have caused most ranking drops, the "private" blog networks that were infact very easy for Google to map out and kill. These links are the easiest links ever to develop and it costs virtually nothing. What I did when running link campaigns on a network was to include links to my competitors (using low value anchors but still "optimized") so that no one would be able to point the finger at me...guess what, those competitors have dropped in rankings at the same time I did.

There are also many, many networks still active and working as intented...boosting rankings. What would stop a negative SEO practitioner to go nuts on those networks and then just reply to an unnatural link notice they have saved up and ratting those networks out..POOF.

The question is what Google is going to do about other methods of link spam, the stuff that is even cheaper and easier to build crazy volumes of links with, the tools that exploit weaknesses in CMSes and un-moderated comment areas? Even if you don't own your own tools you can buy 200k blog comments for $30. If you own your own toolset it takes one hour to set-up a robust campaign and then let it run in infinity at no cost.

Also, what's funny to me is that the crackdown and penalizing sites for bad links is doing nothing to improve the quality of the SERPs for most high value niches. I mean, punishing for example insurance affiliates (since that's the popular niche to talk about these days I guess) that were using blog networks accomplishes ZERO improvement in SERP quality, it's just other sites with "dodgy" links that Google hasn't figured out how to combat yet that takes the available spots.

And you know what, that is OK since ALL those sites are offering exactly the same thing to the visitors and it happens to be WHAT the visitors want but it's useless to open up for destruction of innocents without improving something in any way.

April 21, 2012 - 4:12am

These links are the easiest links ever to develop and it costs virtually nothing.

No doubt. I saw some scammy/shady link network advertised via a spam email yesterday where they promised 30,000 links PER MONTH for $26.

Very few websites have anywhere near that many links...let alone getting that many in a month. Some sites that have sold for millions of Dollars don't even have that many inbound links.

What I did when running link campaigns on a network was to include links to my competitors (using low value anchors but still "optimized") so that no one would be able to point the finger at me...guess what, those competitors have dropped in rankings at the same time I did.

This is the core problem with Google's approach: whodunit.

There are also many, many networks still active and working as intented...boosting rankings. What would stop a negative SEO practitioner to go nuts on those networks and then just reply to an unnatural link notice they have saved up and ratting those networks out..POOF.

I think this is one of Google's goals from their approach.

The question is what Google is going to do about other methods of link spam, the stuff that is even cheaper and easier to build crazy volumes of links with, the tools that exploit weaknesses in CMSes and un-moderated comment areas? Even if you don't own your own tools you can buy 200k blog comments for $30. If you own your own toolset it takes one hour to set-up a robust campaign and then let it run in infinity at no cost.

The more widespread something is & the more heavily marketed it is the quicker Google will address it.

Part of the reason those other methods were not marketed as heavily (and thus not as widely spread) is that they were harder to attach a recurring charge to than running a network is.

Also, what's funny to me is that the crackdown and penalizing sites for bad links is doing nothing to improve the quality of the SERPs for most high value niches. I mean, punishing for example insurance affiliates (since that's the popular niche to talk about these days I guess) that were using blog networks accomplishes ZERO improvement in SERP quality, it's just other sites with "dodgy" links that Google hasn't figured out how to combat yet that takes the available spots.

And you know what, that is OK since ALL those sites are offering exactly the same thing to the visitors and it happens to be WHAT the visitors want but it's useless to open up for destruction of innocents without improving something in any way.

I think your last sentence here explains why/how some editorial policies can be a bit arbitrary yet not cause enough damage to make Google immediately care. For any area that is valuable, there will be many people chasing it & willing to go after it. Even if many of them get routinely clipped many will head back to the same area again.

I think one point that Google feels is beneficial about the churn is that at some point many people will get burned out on starting over & perhaps in the end that will drive some of them to increase quality and longevity. Of course in some cases when the editorial policies are too harsh it pushes some percent of people in the opposite direction...as perceived risk goes higher investment in quality & longevity can go down while people push harder at whatever is working well right now.

April 20, 2012 - 12:11pm

justgoodcars.com got "negatived" out...check SEMrush and TP has another thread then the Theis one about it.

April 21, 2012 - 4:19am

both SearchMetrics & SEM Rush show similar fall offs for JustGoodCars.com

April 21, 2012 - 1:20pm

I've read the whole story on Traffic Planet. Their negative seo experiment worked. Dan's site was one of two sites they experimented on. Both saw drops in the keywords they attached. And it seems pretty clear that with recent changes to Panda, negative seo works better than ever before.

There's been an underground industry for years for negative seo. But with Panda, this is going to become much more prevalent. And hopefully Google will figure this out quickly. They cannot pass negative juice with bad links, or they're CREATING this new industry.

I've seen Matt Cutt's comments in the past where he's stated that it's almost impossible to hurt another site's rankings. Either he lied, or it's no longer true.

April 21, 2012 - 6:25pm

Google is a complex system. Complex systems inevitably have unpredictable emergent properties. I believe that "nobody can hurt you" is a design goal that Google has in mind, but they can't possibly guarantee that it would never happen. I would call Matt "optimistic" about it, but not a liar.

April 22, 2012 - 7:12pm

Dan, your last comment would have been more relevant about a month ago. As it stands now (and with no comment from Matt Cutts or Google), we have to draw our own conclusions - external publishing (links) can hurt a site, particularly a "small" one (i.e. your average e-commerce site). A million penalty notices can't be wrong. If you can "self-harm" inadvertently, then someone can deliberately harm you.

April 23, 2012 - 4:24am

"This gun can be used to commit suicide, but not murder."

April 23, 2012 - 1:50pm

...but the court room is in pitch black when the evidence is considered.

April 23, 2012 - 1:15pm

I think the Google management has nothing else to do so to keep their job, to be in the news and to impress their bosses they keep doing one thing or the other in the name of keeping Google clean, in effect making the whole web (including Google) very dirty. Do you really see any different (read better) results now then it was a few months back?

Many of the sites that bought paid links were actually good and deserved the place they were in the SERPs. You just can’t kick them out of the system just because they bought a few links. Here is one simple logic – those who are really interested in a web business buy paid links to increase there rankings. But is that all- A HELL NO!!! If they are not giving value to their visitors they will never make a sale or may be out of business soon. They know this and keep improving their services, website etc to stay in business. Now all of a sudden those websites which were created half-heartedly are getting visitors they can’t service. Who losses?

One of my sites was doing ok. I did nothing but kept adding unique content. Since last one week it’s out of the Google SERPs altogether. No email in WMT – nothing. And yesterday I get an email in my WMT saying why don’t you try AdWords?

WTF Google – go piss in your pants but I won’t pay you a dime!!! Grrrrr….

Matt why don’t you come openly and say, “hey small webmasters the only way we will let you get into Google SERPs is when you pay us”. It’s a shame they are using back-door techniques and pressure tactics to force small webmasters pay you.

April 23, 2012 - 1:54pm

...moving parts.

Some of the net effects & side impacts that are convenient may have some of the associated damage ignored or minimized in perception, but I don't think getting smoked on the SEO front is a good lead in to pitch AdWords. Its just like the sites that got hit by Panda for "poor user experience" and then Google pounded those webmasters telling them to add more ads to their site.

IMHO that sort of behavior is more down to general corporate dysfunction & ignoring externalities, rather than being a combination of malice and spite.

April 24, 2012 - 6:15am

One could argue that all those unnatural links we supposedly have built are natural.

"Naturally, I promoted and marketed my business so it ranks well in Google. Naturally, my competition took notice and built spammy links to stop me" :)

Negative SEO
April 26, 2012 - 3:06am

I'm the guy on fiverr who had the nseo gigs that the blogosphere has been talking about. They were all rejected by fiverr, who understandably, frowns upon negative seo.

However, while I have a new gig up for simply building over 6,000 backlinks, and another one for over 10,000 links, (fiverr.com/negativeseoguy) I feel any buyer could get a similar effect from using any gig that is similar. So, yes, this is a gap in the search algorithm, which can be exploited for good reasons, such as when someone puts up a site like '(yourbrand)sucks.com' or if you have stuff on the first page that you don't want prospective employers to see. I've had people buy my gigs that are losing business because some joker puts up a free blogger site that makes unfounded accusations...yes, this could be actionable under the context of 'libel', but nothing is to stop the person from doing it again...also, some people are extorting businesses with 'Hey, if you like your current ranking, and want it to stay that way, pay us $x...if not, we'll blast you down to page 300.'

April 27, 2012 - 3:43am
April 27, 2012 - 9:26am

A petition to Google has begun on Change.org to reverse it's recent Penguin update. This change has forced out independent publishers and limited access to information. Additionally, it has destroyed the livelihood of several small-mid-sized publishers, and boosted the rankings of multi-million dollar publishing platforms like eHow, Amazon, WikiHow and Yahoo Answers.

Please protect independent publishers ability to be found in search. Do your part and sign this petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/google-please-kill-your-penguin-update-l

April 27, 2012 - 3:53pm

...into the launching and naming. Due to some false positives, they already backed off from the "webspam update" name to giving it the name of the Penguin update, but there is no way they completely reverse it. Stuff might get dialed down / loosen up over time, but they are not going to get rid of it all together anytime soon.

It is far easier to change our own strategies than to force change onto Google.

That's not to say they are always right or that all complaints are wrong, but if you want to force change onto Google you would need to do it via public relations and media exposure. That's not an easy game, especially since Google tilted their algorithms toward promoting the mainstream media with their universal search results news inclusion and then the dialing up of domain authority with the Panda update.

April 27, 2012 - 10:00am

No small publisher has a future under the current Google regime, so why isnt more being done to promote upcoming alternatives, DuckDuckGo being a case in point. Their results are good, and right now better than Googles on many queries. I just searched for some how to's. DDG returned short "thin" concise answers, Google returned a "rich" 600 piece of waffle with the relevant sentence buried at around word 450.

There seems to be zero marketing or promotion around DDG.
Three is zero engagement with site owners, the very people who both:

1) Want change
2) Can drive change

I am sure more people would get behind DDG with banner advertising, posts, other forms of promotion etc if they:

1) Knew about it
2) Were given the tools to do it
3) Were perhaps given additional incentives

If DDG were to off an affiliate program based on banner clicks that gave credits for "future PPC" or some other kind of "payback" further down the line should DDG become commercially successful they would feel more like stakeholders and less like a victim.

If DDG were to provide a robust "social contract", and commitment to a certain code of conduct regards website owners, that would also appeal to them. For example:

1) DDG will never try to steal your business (Google scraping answers / reviews from websites to deprive them of click throughs)
2) DDG will never seek to compete directly with your business (Google inserting its own JUNK credit card comparison above the advertisers who for years bank rolled Google)
3) DDG will never tell you HOW TO RUN YOUR WEBSITE
4) DDG will never PUNISH YOU for things outside your own website

On top of this we have the fact that Google are "profiling" us. I have unpleasant (bogus hair loss treatments) advertisements presented to me on YouTube. I never searched for those products, and assume those ads are targeted based on age / gender based data collected from my Gmail account.

So many people want change, yet no one seems to be driving it.

Someone in your position could reach out to DDG and help them with their marketing, make it part of a "Campaign for Fairer Search" or "Campaign for Ethical Search".

DDG know they need to "change the nature of competition", a quote from one of their backers, and these kinds of things are the way to do it.

With your leverage, expertise and connections you could really hellp drive this and make a difference that goes beyond the continual "expose's" of Googles dark under belly.

Startups like DDG OFFER SMALL PUBLISHERS A FUTURE. They will get behind it, but it needs opinion leaders like SEO book to get behind it.

I guess this is half plea, half pipe dream, but there is the groundswell for something like this to explode.

April 27, 2012 - 10:11am

@Dorpish, thats great, but do we really want a tweak from Google, or do we want to try and change the landscape?

If you look at my ramble above you will see my thoughts, which can be summarised thus:

> Small publishers have no future under Google.
> DuckDuckGo, Blekko have no future without mindshare, which small publishers can help deliver

Rather than petition the arrogant, who I would rather see sink than help correct their mistakes, get behind the alternatives. Promote the alternatives with banners, reviews, buzz, video, facebook, twitter.

So many readers of this blog and blogs like it have a powerful social and publishing presense It could be done.

If a community of SEO's and online marketers cannot COLLECTIVELY create some viral buzz then frankly, we deserve to go to the wall.

I guess its not fair to neglect Blekko, but DDG seems to offer a better alternative, ultimately all alternatives need to be promoted.

April 27, 2012 - 4:37pm

.... DuckDuckGo doesn't really have to threaten webmasters. They ride off of Bing's editorial and then add another editorial layer on top from there. Did you notice how during the holiday shopping season last year Bing toasted a lot of Black Friday and Cyber Monday affiliate websites timing it for maximum damage? I am also seeing Bing host health information on Bing.com that they rank in their own SERPs. In general Bing might not be as bad at discriminating against small businesses as Google is, but if they had Google's search marketshare I am sure they would be. They would probably be even worse, though they wouldn't paint the world in white & black and carry the "don't be evil" propaganda torch the way Google still tries to do.

Further, DuckDuckGo doesn't provide referral data to websites, so with analytics you are flying blind with them. & (just like Google & Bing) they try to pull some information directly into the SERPs from select sites so that a user never has to leave the SERP to reach their goal. That's great for search engines & sometimes good for users, but publishers basically give up all their value chain for a 0 in return on that stuff.

And Blekko has used being anti-spam heavily in their marketing, so again that is sort of similar. However they & DuckDuckGo are still new enough and small enough in search that they are not full-on trying to displace search results with their own nepotistic listings (like flight search, google places listings, youtube videos, product search, and so on).

The big thing that really needs to happen is a proper alignment of incentive structures. It hasn't though. It is hard for search engines to promote/feature paid content because the business model doesn't give much to the search engine & the user experience can be a bit rough if the path to monetization is too direct, overt & forced. It is hard to fund in-depth content creation when search engines fund thin rewrite sites that become more popular not based on being better, but because they are tied to a particular political slant people associate with. Further, so much of online advertising is based upon clicks driving revenues. If the content is really engaging then few people would click AdSense ads near the content. There really are lots of trade offs & whatever gets over-emphasized gets exploited, which is precisely why there is so many brutal changes.

The other area that is completely awful on the incentive structure front is when the search engines shag third party content, clone the business models of sites in their ecosystems & then preferentially rank themselves at the top. That is a case of the parasite eating the host. There are a number of sites covering that topic, like SearchNeutrality.org & FairSearch.org.

All the above said, I would prefer to have a more even market distribution in search, as it would force search engines to provide a better service & it would also lower the risk profile of online businesses, since getting hit in one search engine wouldn't mean the end of search as a business channel, whereas now a single Google hit can literally destroy businesses due to their concentrated marketshare.

April 27, 2012 - 6:25pm

We as webmasters, small business owners & seos need to unite.

Yes they may have slightly better results than the other search engines. But by far the blame for Google's success lies with us.

Since they are starting to destroy our livelyhoods, we should return the favor.

Stop promoting Google & their services to your clients. Block their crawlers & spiders and stop giving them access to your websites. Without the ability to crawl for data, their index will quickly become stale and rotten.

Yes it will sting short-term. But the long term benefits would be great (a few major players instead of Google being THE internet).

Not expecting to see much hands. But... Who's with me?

April 27, 2012 - 6:39pm

...blocking your site from indexing is that there will always be some other site (maybe even one of lower quality) that is willing to soak up the free traffic. And if you have great content that is not indexed there is a good chance that some folks will scrape it and put it in the index for you (thus stealing your work & defeating the whole noindex exercise). This is a big problem with a one to many market...the central player has a dominant control, but individuals in the ecosystem have limited influence & the central player can give privileges to whoever does their biding.

A better way to beat Google if you don't like what they are doing is to lean into whatever they are doing on the relevancy front. If they over-represent authority sites you create pages on those sites. Too much YouTube in the SERPs? Time to break out the video camera. Etc.

What is really needed is a search engine that acts as a strong counter-balance. But most of the current search services are philosophically quite similar, even if the package looks different on the label.

April 30, 2012 - 6:40am

Hi everyone...

Firstly thanks for the great post Aaron

Just letting you all know that I am a victim in all this I run a small site that was ranked very well, I do little to no link building and have over three years or so acquired 12,000 incoming links to the site according to Google Webmaster Tools.

I do however post to the site frequently and it has 360+ posts and pages.

My Problem started the day after the the last Google update, I received the un-natural link building notification which I thought was odd so I decided to investigate this further. I firstly logged on to see what links were showing in the Webmaster tools which to my surprise was 36,000.

A jump of 24,000 links in one day? Not that I monitor this so it may have happened earlier than that.

I then went about finding those links and what I found was very confusing there were three sites all with 100's of sub domains linking into my site every article had the same anchor text. As far as I can tell these articles were posted back in January 29th 2012 and has made my site disappear from the serps results since the Penguin Update.

There is no contact information or any pages on these sites that you can use to contact the owner so I placed a comment on each blog to ask them to remove the content, of course I was ignored.

So thinking I was doing the right thing in responding to the unnatural linking notification I also listed these sites which I believe were the problem however I think I have done more damage by doing this as I was then told that I am still violating their Guidlines. (In other words it is my responsibility to have them removed and we don't care)

To me this all looks like one big mess and if people can actually use negative SEO on a competitors site then this truely has become the wild west and I don't think anyone will be immune if the attacker is determine enough.

Writing this I feel that I have just wasted three years of my life maintaining a site that someone can wipe out in a very short period of time and with very little effort Google should be ashamed of themselves. (Not That I Believe They Even Care)

To me it looks like they have stopped filtering the incoming links from crappy sites like they have always done and are using the new algo to make site owners accountable for who links to them which will be virtually impossible to do.

I wander what would happen if I bult 100 or so auto blogs popluated them with auto generated content and used this to point links to Google with the anchor text being "Google" in every post thousands of times would they send themselves a notification about unnatural linking? I doubt it very much in fact they would probably de-index the sites linking to them so they had no impact.

It is a bit like the Adobe website being ranked #1 for "Click Here" when it appears nowhere on their page, now you would have to call that unnatural linking but there will be no penalty or notification there you could guarantee it.

April 30, 2012 - 1:14pm

...and your story/experience is becoming more commonplace in the current Google.

Most likely it will only get worse before it gets better, too. :(

Some people who get hit by this are going to start making some EXTREMELY high profile ranking problems until Google is forced to change this algorithmic hole.

April 30, 2012 - 5:30pm

Here is one in regards to rankings problems.

Hey let's look at this great example and then tell me Google has this "update" right.
This is nothing more than a strategy to end SE0 so we all have to pay for advertising...nothing more, nothing less.

1. The search results are in shambles.
TAKE THIS EXAMPLE.
[edit: took out the personal bad credit loan example]

Hidden footer text, keyword stuff....but damn that is a nice link profile...clean, clean , clean
It's all about the user right? Right....
I work with many sites who did not even do SEO and there sites were devastated.
We are talking lost jobs.

2. It is now possible to "nuke" your competitor now, no doubt.

This will be a bigger industry than SEO ever was.

That is fine with Google as profits can increase with this in mind.

3. The People who do SEO WELL, aren't these the same people who work at useful content, page load speeds, new media, great graphics and other elements of a great site?

I feel bad for the mom and pops who have never done SEO and are now closing up shop.

The FACT is people who have never done SE0 in their life are getting penalized...

Google should be treated the same as a public utility in the future...they are worse than Walmart at the moment. Ouch.

May 12, 2012 - 1:16pm

Not sure I care to have a government controlled search engine. But I wouldn't be surprised if it happens eventually. I would like to see Google loose tremendous market share, though. If they continue giving nonsense results for enough searches, they just might accomplish that.

I'm trying out DuckDuckGo and encouraging others to use it even though it doesn't pass search queries...mainly because it presents either no ads or a single ad on SERPs. That's just awesome. Google and Bing appear to have more ads than search results on any given SERP.

May 14, 2012 - 5:50pm

The article said, "And this is where outing a competitor makes one a total and complete _______ of a human being."

Was the missing word, "Winner"?

May 14, 2012 - 6:38pm

...was that you can fill in your own blank & see what you want to see.

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