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I really had another post topic in mind today that had nothing to do with Google, but I’ll wait on that. Seems the ‘hot topic’ is Negative SEO at the moment and I’m getting a lot of alarmed questions coming my way about it. So, let’s talk about it.
First off, what IS “negative SEO”?
Negative SEO basically means that someone else goes out and creates a mass of cr@ppy and spammy links to your site and/or web page with the intention of dropping your ranking.
In “real world” lingo – it’s like someone starting a bunch of nasty rumors about you in effort to destroy your good reputation (and/or to make THEM look good).
Got it? Ok, good – let’s move on….
Is Negative SEO Possible?
Is it possible to knock a competing site down in the rankings with bad links?
Of course it is!
Heck, if we can accidentally screw up our own rankings with back links, why couldn’t we do that TO another site? Right? Well, it wasn’t always that way.
I had always held on to my previous belief of some degree of ‘fairness’ when it comes to ranking in Google and held tight to how they used to handle ‘bad links’ – but that has changed.
I totally believed in the ability to decrease our own rankings (or the rankings of another web page) via an over-optimization type penalty. Basically, what I call an “AIA” issue.
AIA means “All In Anchor” and it’s a way to check if you are too “top-heavy” with the exact anchor text you used to build your links. I wrote about this back in January 2011 – if you want to understand more about that, you can read that post here: Building Links But Sinking in Google?
Ever since Google started using the words that linked to your page as a ranking signal (anchor text), over-doing that has been possible (or at least shortly there-after when it became an abused practice to manipulate rankings).
The solution or “fix” to an AIA issue was simply to dilute your back link anchor text.
The other “nasty” links were simply ignored by Google and did nothing to either help, or hurt, your rankings (unless that’s ALL your back link profile consisted of).
Now, Google is changing the game up yet again.
Now, WHERE your links come from and the detection of unnatural creation of those links is causing big issues when it comes to ranking.
To put that in ‘real-world lingo’ – once upon a time, those that had a bad reputation would be ignored when they talked about you. Now, you’re being accused of getting those “bad rep” folks to talk about you in attempt to falsely boost your rep. Like a fake testimonial, in a way.
When there is a pattern, or ‘footprint’, of low rep sites linking to you, Google is coming down on you – whether YOU got those low rep sites to do it or not.
Imagine interviewing someone for a job. They might have one or two references that seem a bit fake or “scripted”, but the others feel genuine to you. You just might ignore the “scripted” ones and get a good feel for that person from the genuine ones, right?
Now, say that same person gave you a long list of references and every single one of them was fake…they all said the same thing that felt “scripted” to you. Would you hire that person? I don’t think so.
Google works in a similar way.
Are YOU Vulnerable to a Negative SEO Attack?
If your ranking is artificially created, you are all kinds of vulnerable to Negative SEO. I can get in there and artificially create a BAD rep for you with Google – especially if a) you have a very light back link profile and b) I’m better at artificial rankings than you are.
In other words, you managed to skate thru your job interview with fake references and got the job. I can get you fired by creating a bunch of BAD fake references. You didn’t earn a reputation to defend yourself – it was all manipulated.
When it comes to Google, links are your reputation.
Based on all that, if you are ranking awesome in Google based on an artificial reputation – and you’re making money – you might want to watch your back.
Either Google will nail you on their own, or someone who really wants your ranking position might try to bring you down the same way you got up – artificially.
Now on the other hand, if you earned your top ranking with an organic link reputation built by real people who genuinely are giving you a “good reference”, you are much less vulnerable.
If other real people are continually linking to you as a good reference, you are even less vulnerable. Your good real “references” will continue to outweigh the massive amounts of artificial fake references being created.
Your link reputation (good AND bad) as well as what you offer on your site are what counts now. What people say ABOUT you as well as what you DO on your site.
Just like that job – what people say about you as well as how you perform on the job.
If people are saying great things about you and you do a great job, you’ll probably survive an attack of bad rumors – or at least recover quickly due to real people getting involved.
Has THIS Site Ever Been Attacked?
I left a comment today over at WebProNews on Chris Crum’s article about Negative SEO. In that comment I told of how a year or two ago, someone attacked this very site with really nasty back links. Someone had gone out and built a massive amount of p0rn forum profile links to PotPieGirl.com.
I was shocked, to say the least.
I was also concerned because I made up the term ‘potpiegirl’ – Google never heard of it before me. (big hint on branding there, folks)
I had one HECK of a time getting Google to understand that No, “I” wasn’t a typo and NO, the word ‘potpiegirl’ did NOT mean some other very weird and questionable phrase they were associating me with that I feared wasn’t what I wanted to be associated with (you can read about THAT experience in this post of mine from back in 2008).
But even back then, when this site didn’t have the link reputation it has today, it didn’t do a thing to my site. Part of that is probably because Google just ignored those links at the time, and the other part, hopefully, was because I had a decent link reputation that was not artificially created…and it was still growing. Those nasty links didn’t determine – or hurt – my reputation.
Negative SEO Case Studies
Over at Traffic Planet, Rand Fishkin is offering his SEOMoz.org site as a “guinea pig” to test Negative SEO on. Those involved in that thread want to know if Google has really opened the door and made Negative SEO possible – even on a site with a very, very strong reputation.
I really don’t think they can. Also, it’s not a clean test if it’s public like that.
Know WHY it’s not clean? Look back above – I just linked to SEOMoz and clouded any results they may claim to have or not have.
Testing things on Google is really, really tricky. It’s hard to get everything to remain static while you attempt to test the results of ONE action. If anyone else knows your test space, odds are good that your results are skewed and inaccurate.
However, I am FAR from a statistical or a technological genius so that’s just my thoughts on all that.
How Can You Protect Yourself From Negative SEO?
You just might hate this answer, but here it is. Break up with Google and focus all your energy on your readers and the PEOPLE in your niche. They are the ones that will help you survive and/or recover from an attack.
Virtually every site in it’s infancy is vulnerable – it’s easy to ruin a site that doesn’t even have a reputation yet – so protect your new baby.
Sneak in to your niche by “back-dooring” with longtail phrases…. do what you can to get people to your site and easy does it with the artificial reputation building.
A reputation built artificially is like a pretty sand castle… one good wave and it’s gone. So don’t build your ranking or Google reputation with sand. Build your foundation deep, like sky-scrapers do, and by the time anyone takes notice of you and gets a wild hair to try and take you down…your foundation is solid to withstand most attacks.
And that is what I spent my weekend doing and what I wanted to talk about today. I started a new site in a totally new niche not riding off this brand in any way. In other words, started from scratch – but this time – with NO thought about Google. I only thought about the PEOPLE in that niche.
It was fun 🙂
But we’ll talk about that later.
Thoughts, questions, comments on Negative SEO? Comments are open!