What Is Negative SEO? The Rise of Competitive Google Bombing


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).

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Larry Kim
Apr 20, 2012

I guess with this new Over Optimization Penalty thing - negative seo attacks will become more pervasive. Personally i would have preferred if google simply didn't count spammy links (therefore having 0 overall effect) rather than penalizing a site.

Apr 21, 2012

I totally agree, otherwise someone can "over optimize" your site with very little budget and thus get your site penalized.It is simply nonsense. I am extremely surprised in a bad way that Google's employees, which may be some of the brightest minds in the world, came up with such a bad idea...Why indeed simply not count those links. 0 effect. Everyone is happy INCLUDING Google and its precious users.

Victor Pan
Apr 20, 2012

If SEO's aggregate extensible networks, scale best-of-breed methodologies, harness web-enabled platforms, and then integrate back-end content I'm sure we'll all be fine ;)But in all seriousness, negative seo (or Google bowling as some of us like to call it) is a serious threat. By affirming that unnatural spammy links do penalize websites, Google practically told the black hat community that these tactics work. What's worse is it's scalable for black hatters.What does Google recommend? Contact those spammy sites who link to you to remove them. Yeah, good luck. Webmasters will be fighting war on a losing front. Google will have to start an index of spammy domain links to discount - I'm with Larry here - why not just discount all of them?

Elisa Gabbert
Apr 20, 2012

Why is it called Google bowling, by the way?

Victor Pan
Apr 20, 2012

I always assumed you were just taking out the pins (serps) one by one - but now that I think about it, it sounds more like sniping than bowling. It might just be that you're trying to strike a site off of Google with a big attack (1000's of spammy links). Actually, the second variant sounds more feasible, but usually it's a period of time not one day - since you are trying to make it look like that they're using questionable link-building tactics.

Tyler Herman
Apr 20, 2012

I don't know if this is a practical technique for large sites with an established rank and link profile but for local search and small niches this seems like the way to go now for SEO. It is both fast and incredibly cheap.
It takes what, one spam program and you can knock out your competition within a week. And it doesn't take much at all. Maybe as little as 200 unnatural links.Say you have a local pizza shop, most of your competition can't have more than 25 links total so if you give them a 200 link blast for "pizza" they'll for sure get a Google penalty for that term at best, and possibly get deindexed.
Small and new sites are ridiculously susceptible to this.

Apr 21, 2012

Negative SEO is today's reality.Look at the experiments guys are performing on trafficplanet forum and there is even a fiverr gig available - someone will destroy your competitor's business for $5 (can you go much lower than that?)What that means is that you can easily destroy someones online business by what Matt Cutt's is calling today "over optimization" - just do a bunch of "bad quality link" blasts - meaning, create like 5-10k of bad links in a very short timeframe, linking just same keyword over and over and this will raise a red flag in Google's algorythm and Off the ranks you go! Bye-bye your online business.Easy as that.Btw, is it just me, or lately Bing.com makes more sense in the way of result relevancy and overall user experience - meaning, less ads, better more relevant search results? Is this what Google is becoming? From the best search engine to a place that displays very odd results and is full of ads? In my opinion, it is not the best search engine anymore. Now, they did it finally!I dearly hope somone from Google (Giggle would be proper name for it today) reads this and does something about it."leveling playing field for other sites with great content" enables you to do "over optimization" to your competitors site thus creating Negative SEO effect and move competitors page off the position.I think I'm just venting a lot because all this is a little bit too frustrating.best regards and thanks for great post!Andy a.k.a. FatSteve 

Elisa Gabbert
Apr 23, 2012

Thanks for the comment, Andy! It's pretty bad news for smaller sites that haven't built up enough domain authority to resist these attacks.Personally I think Bing's results for more specific long-tail or low-volume queries are still kinda bad, but Google is definitely getting worse at those queries too.

Dec 06, 2012

"leveling playing field for other sites with great content" enables you to do "over optimization" to your competitors site thus creating Negative SEO effect and move competitors page off the position.What a great comment. So totally true. (If Im reading the first part right...)I am so glad I went the whitehat route in my website. In just a few months I rank very well in my area.My only concern is if my competitors could not like my results and attack my site. Is this really possible? Ive worked too hard on my site to just have it destroyed by a jealous competitor that is mad cause he took the high priced seo company route that waits for google to demote the site just to sell another overpriced package.Any suggestion on how to protect my site or how to monitor if somebody is attempting this?

Nick Stamoulis
Apr 23, 2012

It's unfortunate that people would even think to do this kind of stuff to their competitors.  It's part of the reason that SEO gets a bad name.  Unfortunately, it's difficult to determine who created the links once a site gets penalized. 

Apr 23, 2012

If linking to a competitors site cant harm them, yet unnatural links can, how can you have it both ways?

Negative SEO
Apr 26, 2012

I'm the guy on fiverr who had the nseo gigs that the blogosphere has been talking about. *braces for the haters* Those gigs were all rejected by fiverr, who understandably, frowns upon negative seo. I cannot blame them. However, while I have a new gig up for simply building over 6,000 backlinks, and another one for over 10,000 links, I feel any buyer could get a similar effect from using other gigs that are similar. I mean, a backlink profile is a backilnk profile. So, yes, this is a gap in the search algorithm, but what people fail to recognize is that it can be exploited for good reasons, such as when someone puts up a site like '(yourbrand)sucks.com' or if you have stuff on the first page that you don't want prospective employers to see.I've had people buy my gigs because they are losing business due to some joker who puts up a free blogger site that makes unfounded accusations, so I don't feel bad for providing a service that people can get anywhere...what I do not like, however, is the way some are using negative seo to extort businesses with 'Hey, if you like your current ranking, and want it to stay that way, pay us $x...if not, we'll blast you down to page 300.' Just thought I'd chime in after all this hullabaloo. 

Jun 25, 2012

it is amazing. a while ago people were struggling with seo to increase their rankings,,,now that google released penguin the folks are using deceiving techniques like this negative seo. google should come up with a better update. it is not normal what's happening

Dec 29, 2012

Is this still working? Buy alot of badly spamming links for your competitor and have them sandboxed?

Feb 12, 2013

What a load of rubbish. bad links are ignored for this exact reason. The experiments above are not conclusive and are likely coincidence. The fact that people are selling this service gives even more weight to the fact it is rubbish. It s just another SEO scam but this time at least it's trying to get money out of people who themselves are morally questionable. With the amount of money Google spends on refining search, do you really think they would miss something so obvious? Over optimisation refers to onsite optimisation going back to the days of keyword density not "bad link neighbourhoods". Also with the event of domain popularity some years back over link popularity, these links would be ignored anyway. As with any SEO apply logic rather than blind faith in the usual SEO smoke and mirrors being served up.

Dec 12, 2013

Not coincidence. Negative SEO thrives in Google. Webmasters should start seriously promoting Bing.com. If it takes 500 spammy links posted by competitors for Googl eto give a manual penalty then Google is not worth users' attention.

Jan 09, 2016

Help... someone is destroying my web, there are so many spam referer from russian site to my web, he put my web backlink to porn site, How do I do? This negative SEO driving me mad. I only get money for food only from my web. I know someone hates he is my competitor and threat me before on social media. Please.. how to counter this bad SEO.

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