Has war been declared against Google?
Discussions have been pretty crazy lately regarding the possibility of negative SEO and the implications of it, if it just got easier. If you look at twitter or various well known SEO blogs you will see that this is a hugely important current topic in the industry. It’s not something we’d ever do at SEO Derby as we believe in ethical guaranteed SEO. We’d hate to think of guaranteeing SEO results by taking down competitors.
So, what is negative SEO?
Negative SEO is the process of improving your rankings by taking down your competitors above you rather than working hard to improve your own rankings.
Surely negative SEO isn’t or shouldn’t be possible?
It was always the received wisdom that it wasn’t possible, but Google’s statements regarding this have changed and weakened over the last few years. As reported on Hobo Web the exact statements from Google have changed like this:
1) There’s nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index
2) There’s ALMOST nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index
3) Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index.
So clearly this is a tacit admission from Google that negative SEO must be possible, even though at one time it likely wasn’t. It’s gone from impossible to almost impossible, to we’ll do our best to stop it – honest! Clearly this is a huge change in their perspective! This also has huge implications for link building which I’ll discuss further later.
So what started all this discussion?
A post was made on the forum Traffic Planet of a case study where they showed that they had successfully taken down the rankings of a well known SEO website using negative SEO. The target was chosen because he posted a tweet to Matt Cutts (the head of the web spam team at Google) which they found to be distasteful. The tweet is below.
So this website by Dan Thies was, according to the forum thread, number 11 for the (incredibly difficult to rank for) keyword, SEO. The website is still now not even in the top 1000 results for that keyword.
Clearly if you can take out somebody else’s website relatively easily it opens up a whole new can of worms of aggressive black hat negative SEO practices. Rather than reducing spam on the internet this is going to massively increase it. If building a million or more links to somebody else’s website can get them a ranking penalty, it’s pretty obvious that many people will try it. Building backlinks in these sorts of quantities may sound difficult, but with the right tools and a bit of experience it’s not too tough!
SEO is all about testing
Eventually the forum thread about the case study got so much attention on twitter that as of today the thread has over 40,000 views. A lot of prominent well known SEO’s joined the forum to contribute including Rand Fishkin, who could be considered to be the most well known SEO in the world. He seemed very interested in the results and wanted to know himself if negative SEO is in fact now actually possible. He even offered up his website SEO Moz as a test subject as reported at Web Pro News.
Personally I think his website could be too difficult to take down as it’s so hugely trusted. Also the whole point of a test is that nobody should know the test subject, and thus allow Google to make sure the test is not successful, before it’s done. Another option discussed was to try and take down the Wikipedia page about SEO (I personally refuse to link to Wikipedia). Whilst I understand how useful it would be to test taking down high profile target websites to prove for 100% that negative SEO is a new reality, the point is that these tactics in the real world would be used on much less high profile sites. I have no doubt that more tests will be carried out, and if negative SEO is possible then we will have all the evidence we need very soon.
The implications of negative SEO
If it really is that easy to take down anyone’s website with a few tools and some blackhat spamming skills then eventually many people are bound to start doing it. This is going to mean a huge increase in spam on the web which is something that Google and everybody wants to reduce not increase.
It also means that the results for various ‘money keywords’ that are important to people financially could well be turned upside down. The problem is that the sites at the highest positions get massive amounts of clicks compared to the sites below them. If you’re making £1,500 per month and you’re in position 3 and you know that position 2 is worth £4,000 a month and position 1 is worth £8,000 a month, that’s a hell of an incentive to do negative SEO on those above you.
If you have a business that is based on your online rankings and your income and the income of your staff is based upon this, then the risk of a competitor doing this to you is something you’d never want to even think about. In my opinion Google has a responsibility to make 100% sure that negative tactics like this could never work. The world will be much better without negative SEO.
The (formerly) symbiotic relationship between Google and Webmasters
There is clearly a symbiotic relationship between Google and webmasters. They both need each other and as things stand in the UK with Google’s 90% market share, ranking in Google is vitally important. However Google, the company that could do no wrong in the past, has been constantly upsetting website owners. There have been so many updates to the algorithm lately that results in most verticals have been in absolute turmoil. How can a business survive if its rankings keep changing on a constant basis? Clearly constant updates help nobody except for Google. They help Google by destroying businesses and forcing them to pay to advertise in Google by using adwords.
The possibility of negative SEO may well be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Google may well have upset too many people, as it’s felt by many that they are now abusing their dominant market position.
So what’s going to happen now?
It’s certainly going to be interesting. SEO’s are clearly going to keep testing and may well prove conclusively that negative SEO can be done. If this is the case, one must ask, surely Google will have to close this gaping hole in their algorithm. I believe that nobody wants to live in world of negative SEO. Hopefully if the case is proven, then Google will stop this happening and make a clear statement to everybody that negative SEO does not work and will never work.
The difficult line Google must tread
The biggest problem is that IF Google make a change making negative SEO impossible then it opens up a whole new can of worms. If it really is impossible to harm ranking then that means that spammers can use any techniques they like knowing full well that what they do will cause no harm if they are unsuccessful. This is also a problem, and it’s a very difficult one. I don’t know what the answer is if I’m honest. I believe that if you use any black hat or grey hat SEO techniques on your website then you must be guilty as only you can make changes to your own website (unless you get hacked). Anything to do with backlinks on other peoples websites is out of your control and you shouldn’t be punished for it.
It really is going to be very interesting to see how this plays out. What I do think is that this is a monumental moment for Google and the web in general. The decisions that are made now are going to have massive effects to the web and e-commerce in general. I hope they do the right thing (whatever that is) and ‘do no evil’. Somehow, I’m not so sure they will.
Anyways that’s all she wrote. If you enjoyed this article please share it using the social media buttons below.
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