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17th May 2012
By Iain

Negative SEO. Not a new concept, but one that‘s raised its ugly head again recently. This is partly down to Google’s Penguin update reminding lazy SEOs of the fact that pointing dodgy links at a site can severely impede its ability to rank.

So what counts as negative SEO?

SEOMoz’s ever-helpful Rand Fishkin responded to the increase in chatter around the murky practice with a great whiteboard Friday video on the main types of negative SEO:

1. Hacks and ‘injections’

Essentially exploiting a weak spot in a site’s security to injecting spam or changing code. Editing the robots.txt file to block the Googlebot for example.

2. Spam reporting

SEOs reporting competitors for spam in the hope that they’ll incur a penalty. Of course, this isn’t a disreputable practice in itself, but it’s certainly negative when used by lazy SEOs as a way of trying to get ahead of the competition when there’s no evidence of spam.

3. Pointing ‘dirty’ links at a site

Probably the easiest to do, and the most common form of negative SEO.

Setting up bad links to a competitor’s website. By bad links, I mean ones from link farms, ‘bad neighbourhood’ domains etc. The usual.

So what does it mean for us?

It’s important online marketers and SEOs are aware of the practice, and the fact that it can work.

During a recent analysis of a client’s link profile, we discovered a number of less than high-quality links (hundreds from one domain) and had no idea why they’d been added. On approaching the site responsible, we were told it would cost $15 to remove each link!

In cases like this where links can’t be immediately removed for some reason, it’s a good idea to notify Google of the situation and request that the offending links be ignored until they’re taken down.

Taking precautions against negative SEO

  • Pay close attention to the link profiles of any clients that have a habit of attracting irrational grudges, or those that have suffered negative press off-line.
  • Frequently check the ‘Links to Your Site’ section in Webmaster Tools for anything out of the ordinary (and ‘Malware’ one).
  • Use link profile analysis tools for a more detailed breakdown of the domains linking to your site.
  • If you do find you’ve been the victim of negative SEO, you can submit a reconsideration request to Google, highlighting the links you want discounted.

Let’s hope Penguin doesn’t prompt the growth of a market in which SEOs who specialise in sabotage prosper. I don’t think it will. Ultimately, we have to assume Google is clever enough to recognise these practices for what they are, and ignore any links that are flagged up as malicious.

Perhaps Google will develop a mechanism in Webmaster Tools to make it easier for SEOs to flag any links they don’t want ‘counted’ as part of their profile, taking some of the pressure off the slightly clunky system of reconsideration requests.

There, a nice positive note to finish on.