Negative SEO: A real threat?

Author: Mike Hagley 5/7/2012

Google SEO Criminal


Since Google Penguin has highlighted the fact that websites with unnatural links profiles will be penalised quite easily, some dodgy folks are now using this for their own gain. Blackhat SEOs are now offering negative SEO services that promise they will “destroy your competitors” and “blast your competitors out of the SERPs”.

After reading a nice recap of the challenges we face in SEO in 2012, I stumbled upon a negative SEO case study that proves negative SEO to be a viable tactic to damage your competitors’ website rankings on Google.

Negative SEO Case Study

A couple of members of TrafficPlanet carried out some negative SEO tests on two different websites. The first website chosen was clearly for personal reasons – an attack against self-proclaimed industry guru Dan Thies, of The second site chosen was, for obvious reasons.

The tests

  • seofaststart: An estimated “30,000 blog network links built in 3 days” on keywords “seo”, “seo service” and “seo book”; and 1 million scrapebox blast on “Dan Thies”
    • Note: TrafficPlanet members claim they did not carry out the blog links. It seems Dan Thies was the target of a negative SEO attack from two different groups at the same time
  • 1 million scrapebox blast on “destroy your competitors”

The results: seofaststart

1. The brand keyword “Dan Thies” didn’t move from the #1 spot. This could be for a number of reasons…

  • The scrapbox blast wasn’t strong enough
  • The link building campaign wasn’t carried out for long enough to do any real damage
  • It’s a brand keyword and unlikely to be hurt by Pengiun

2. Keywords “seo” and “seo service” dropped out of sight and did not appear in the top 1000 results (originally ranked #11 and #34 respectively)

3. Keyword “seo book” declined to rank #34 (originally ranked #3).

The results:

1. The keyword “negative seo” declined from #2 to #6 on Google.

2. The keyword “destroy your competitors” dropped from #1 to #13

Things to note here: “destroy your competitors” declined heavily compared to “negative seo” most likely because this was the exact keyword used in the test, whereas the small decline for “negative seo” was merely a side effect from the test.  This shows that spam link building will not only affect the exact match keyword used in anchor text, but it will affect complimentary keyword rankings also.

These results clearly show that negative SEO is a real threat, and it is possible.  But what is the likelihood of your competitors being so evil?  We hope it’s very slim.

Detecting & combating negative SEO

1. Ensure you use Webmaster Tools (Bing has one too).

Google has been known to contact webmasters via messages through Webmaster Tools, such as the “unnatural links” messages which many sites hit by Penguin found in their inbox.

2. Keep an eye on your link profile

Using backlink tools such as Open Site Explorer, AHREFS and Majestic SEO, you are able to monitor your link profile. If you see any unexpected, sudden increases in link volume, I suggest carrying out a deeper analysis on the data to find out where these links are coming from.

3. Monitor your web analytics and keyword rankings

If someone wants to hurt you, they will need to target your most popular, high volume keywords to do the most damage to your SEO traffic. If you’ve been affected, you should notice a substantial decline in SEO traffic. And of course, you should notice a drop in rankings too.

If you haven’t played with SEOMoz Pro, I highly recommend it for SEO monitoring, tools and advice – and this will also give you access to Open Site Explorer, which can be used to manage your link profile.

4. Get in touch with Google slash Matt Cutts

While Penguin is an algorithmic-based change and a reconsideration request is futile, there is a Penguin feedback form for those who feel have been wronged by the Penguin algorithm.

Otherwise Matt Cutts might be able to help. Here’s a spoof video of him, just for kicks.

5. Avoiding negative SEO

Before you get hit though, the sure-fire way to avoid negative SEO is to have a solid external link profile in place. If you’re already using any spam or paid linking techniques, you will be more susceptible to a negative SEO attack.

SEOMoz on Negative SEO

Here’s Rand with an excellent in depth explanation of negative SEO. It’s long, but worth it. Whiteboard Friday: Negative SEO.

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