Negative SEO – have you heard this term before? To be perfectly frank, it’s new to me as of this week. “Google bombing ” has been around for years, a kind of hack using links and anchor text to manipulate the search results  as a prank – the famous example being a biography of George W. Bush returned as the first result for the query “miserable failure.”
But negative SEO is a slightly different animal. It’s the practice of trying to destroy your competitors’ rankings in the SERPs – for example by purchasing large amounts of spammy links to the site, damaging their link profile. (You may recall that some people suspected JCPenney was the victim of just such a scam .)
Is this possible? Are nefarious SEO tricksters pulling it off? Yes, according to a case study featured in the forum TrafficPlanet . Poster “Jammy” writes: “Pixelgrinder and I conducted a little experiment on whether negative seo was possible in the current climate - we felt it was important to know whether it was possible for a site to be negatively affected completely by outside influences.”
The targets were seofaststart.com (run by “self proclaimed ‘seo guru’ Dan Thies,” targeted because he’s “a suck-up-brown-noser, smugly bad mouthing everyone … we don't like him”) and (ironically) negativeseo.me, a site “selling services for negative seo under the tagline ‘destroy your competitors’.”
He then posts a timeline of the case study:
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"
24th March - negativeseo.com - 1 million scrapebox blast started - 100% anchor text "destroy your competitors"
26th March - Dan Thies posts in Twitter that he has received an unnatural links  message.
Note: 18th March - seofaststart blog posts started. This was NOT US. We had previously decided that it would be risky to 'out' the blogs that links were getting placed on and agreed not to include blog posts in our experiment. We don't know who did this, how many links they built or what network/s they used. We discovered these links in ahrefs and have estimated that about 5000 links where built, probably with ALN between the 18th-23rd March.
As well as the results after a month:
dan thies - number 1 (still number 1)
seo - not in top 1000 (down from number 11)
seo service - not in top 1000 (down from number 34)
seo book - number 34 (down from number 3)
negative seo - number 6 (down from number 2)
destroy your competitiors - number 13 (down from number 1)
And follows that up with a “personal message” to both Matt Cutts (“Negative SEO is possible. Sort it out!”) and Dan Thies (“Next time you want to smugly throw your holier than thou 2 cents into the ring, think before you speak.”) Ahem. These are some guys you don’t want to piss off.
But did it really work? At a post on Hobo Web, Dan claims the results are inconclusive . In fact, he thinks the additional links may have helped him slightly.
Aaron Wall Speaks Out Against Outing and Negative SEO
We talked a little about the practice of “outing” a few weeks ago as it relates to the ethics of SEO . Aaron Wall clearly falls on the same side of the line as Joe Hall, who said SEO outing is immoral. Here’s Aaron  (we can assume the blanks stand in for something he is too polite to say):
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 _______.
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.
Building things up is typically far more profitable than tearing things down & if SEOs go after each other then the only winner is Google.
Some interesting questions are raised in the comments. For example, “Kokopoko” asks, “How can you protect your site from a negative SEO campaign? Is it impossible?”
How would it be possible? Can there be any definitive way to determine if a bad link profile came from inside our outside your company? When JC Penney was outed for bad links, they claimed to know nothing about it. Of course, that’s what you’d expect them to say in a PR cover-up if they were responsible. But maybe it was a case of negative SEO? Maybe they really didn’t have any clue what was going on?
What do you think? Should Google address negative SEO, and if so, how?
More Web Marketing Highlights
At Search News Central, Mike Wilton says Pinterest is a search engine, not a place where people “socialize or catch up with old friends.” What’s more, “21% of Pinterest users have purchased an item they found on the site.” So start optimizing your site for Pinterest search .
Facebook advertising rates are apparently skyrocketing . In other ad news, Tumblr is getting ads soon , though the CEO said “We’re pretty opposed to advertising” in 2010.
Looking to beef up your blog reading? Unbounce offers 75 great marketing blogs  “to make your RSS reader fat”!
And just for giggles: Read about a physicist who used his nerd power for good  (to get out of a traffic ticket).
Also: the Web Economy Bullshit Generator  (thanks to Larry for that one!).
Have a good weekend (and stay positive).