A lot has been said in the past couple of years about negative SEO. Google denied for a long time that negative SEO was even possible. However, with the latest algorithm updates, they have backtracked on those claims a bit, and now acknowledge that it is possible but unlikely and that they now have a link disavowal tool (you can see Matt Cutts’ video here). The trouble with this is, with each update, Google is making it easier and easier to do negative SEO on competitors.
What is negative SEO?
In a nutshell, negative SEO is sending a vast quantity of low quality, or spam, links to a competitor’s website in order to get it penalized by Google. A few years back, if you wanted to rank very highly in Google’s search engine, you simply had to build a lot of links pointed to your site using the keyword that you are targeting as the anchor text.
Anchor text is the word or phrase on a website that links to another page. It is usually blue and underlined. Google figured that the anchor text would be a good description of what the page was about, so they heavily weighted that as a ranking factor. This led to a massive amount of abuse and Google started closing these loopholes in their algorithm. They look for sites that have too many low quality links pointing at them. They also look to make sure that a site does not have too many links with a certain keyword as anchor text. Get either one of these wrong and your site is looking at an instant drop in rankings from page 1 to at least page 5 or 6, and sometimes all the way out of the search engine rankings altogether.
Once people figured out that by pointing a lot of bad links at a site they could negatively impact a competitor’s website, a new industry was born – negative SEO. There is no legal precedent for it as yet (at least not in my searching for it), but I imagine that some lawsuits will be making their way through the courts pretty soon.
I talked to Kurt Abel of the Irvine Internet marketing company IrvineSEO.co, and he said, “I would never take part in negative SEO, but I do know that it happens. You will see job postings on sites like freelancer.com asking for 50,000 spam links to be built in a day, and there is only one reason that anyone would want that. They are looking to destroy a competitor’s site. I don’t like it because it is so hard and time consuming to recover from a Google penalty. Often, you are better off building a new site and starting over, and throwing years of work building the authority of a site away. Definitely not something that I want to be a part of.”
I talked to a couple of lawyers about the issue, and the consensus is that if you can prove that it happened and who did it, you would probably have a pretty strong case. They cited fraud, online impersonation, and defamation as possible avenues to take the case. All that to say, if you are thinking of doing negative SEO against a competitor, remember that it is probably illegal, and may not be worth it in the long run.