There has been a lot of debate over negative SEO lately. This has been especially true since all of the changes to Google’s algorithm have taken place. The Penguin and the Panda updates have changed SEO forever, and nearly all of our previously accepted white hat SEO tactics can now actually penalize your site or even get it blacklisted.
What is Negative SEO?
Although most search engine optimizers are familiar with the term “negative SEO” and know exactly what it entails, there are many confused newcomers to SEO that haven’t quite grasped the concept. Where it gets confusing is that many newbies are under the false impression that backlinks are beneficial to the ranking of their site in the SERPs (search engine results pages). These same newcomers are thinking in terms of “quantity” rather than “quality”. With this being the case, it is hard for them to comprehend that thousands of backlinks delivered to their site will harm them rather than help them gain rank. Lesson number 1 is that Google cares about “quality”, not “quantity”.
So, Negative SEO refers to optimizers and webmasters that choose to take what can be considered by many webmasters as a rather questionable and unethical approach to getting ahead of their competition. Essentially, the term can be defined as the process of building low quality links to competing sites with intent of bringing the competitor sites down in site rankings for the soul purpose of overtaking the position. In other terms, company A builds bad links to their competitor’s site (company B). Company B then takes a hit and drops in page rank (PR) and is replaced by company A in the rankings.
Google is aware of this scheme and does have tools in place for webmasters to take action. The disavow tool is one of the ways that webmasters can protect themselves from attacks. Unfortunately. The disavow tool does not come with any guarantees that Google will reinstate a site’s rank simply because a webmaster reports the unethical activity. It is simply a means of communication between the webmaster and Google. It allows the webmaster to report bad links to Google, but it does not mean that Google will reinstate the webmasters site.
Is Negative SEO Real?
A lot of companies are quickly taking advantage of the hype and wanting you to hire them to destroy your competition by juicing them up with “low quality” or “spammy” backlinks. Just a simple search for the keyword phrase “Negative SEO” will prove this very quickly. All of these companies are making claims that your competitors will “go down”. The logic that these companies are trying to preach is quite simple. They claim that your competitor will be taken down and that you will take their place.
For anyone using these techniques to get ahead of the competition or even considering this, there are a few things to be aware of. First of all, you must remember that if your competition has good PR for specific keywords that are tough to rank for in the SERPs, then it is very likely that they are a trusted site. Although no website is immune to Google’s algorithm updates, authority sites are definitely more immune than new sites, or sites that have not made enough of an impression to be trusted. I am not saying that every somewhat trusted site is an authority, but I am saying that a highly trusted site is most likely an authority. If you bombard a new site with thousands of bad backlinks then there is no doubt in my mind that it will fall. However, if you bombard a trusted site with those same backlinks, don’t be surprised to see that it gets a lot of juice and goes up even higher in the SERPs. Can you imagine paying some company to help your competitor climb up even higher and leaving you in the dust? Because that may very well be the route that you are heading for if you engage in unethical ranking schemes. This type of behavior has a name. That name is “black hat SEO”.
How Does Google Measure PageRank?
According to Google, a site’s PageRank is a measure of that page’s importance. How exactly is PageRank or the importance of a web page measured by Google? It is measured by links that are coming in from other websites. This is where “quality” and “quantity” come into play. The web master’s ultimate goal is to leave a lasting impression on Google. Google’s opinion of a site is what earns it importance which is translated into PageRank.
As Google states, Page Rank is one of approximately 200 signals that is used to determine a site’s relevancy. Nonetheless, it is a very important signal and should be treated as such. A general rule of thumb is that each link a website receives from another site can be compared to a “vote”. It is a vote telling Google that the other website values the content on your website. With that being said, keep in mind that Google’s opinion of the site that links to your site has an effect on your site. Google clearly states that they work hard to ensure that the actions taking place on 3rd party sites do not have an adverse or negative affect on a webmasters site, but there are circumstances that can cause incoming links to create a poor opinion of your site in Google’s eyes. This is not a good thing and Google provides some examples of actions that can cause a website to lose credibility.
Don’t Make a Bad Impression on Google
One example Google offers is that of the webmaster or someone that the webmaster hires such as a search engine optimizer or SEO that have proceeded to build bad links to the webmasters website. Common ways of building bad links include the purchase of paid links or similar link schemes. These link schemes will most certainly have a negative effect on your site as they clearly violate the Google quality guidelines. The way Google see it, ultimately, it is the webmasters responsibility and duty to make sure that they follow the quality guidelines. There is no excuse!
When to Use the Disavow Tool
First, Google recommends that the webmasters remove as many poor quality (spammy) links from their website as they possibly can. Not only should webmasters attempt to remove these low-quality links from their own site, but it is also encouraged that webmasters report low-quality links on other websites if discovered.
The webmaster should do everything in his or her power to remove as many poor quality links from his or her website as possible before attempting to use the disavow tool and involving Google. Once the webmaster reaches the point where further progress is no longer an option, employing the disavow tool is acceptable. In other terms, after the webmaster does everything in his or her power to remove bad links from his or her site, he or she will then disavow the remaining links from the web. What exactly does it mean to disavow links? It means that the webmaster is essentially asking Google to not take the remaining low-quality links into account when assessing the site.
What Can You Do If You Are The Victim of Negative SEO?
Earlier, I mentioned the disavow tool. Now, I will go into more detail about this tool and how to use it if you need to remove bad links from your site. Disavowing bad backlinks consists of 2 steps. The very first thing that a webmaster should do is download a list of all the links that are linking to his or her site. This first step will prepare you for the 2nd step which simply involves creating a file that will contain the links to be disavowed. In other words, the webmaster should go through the main list of links and choose only the links that should be disavowed for the 2nd list.
For example, if the webmaster has contacted the owners of the sites that have bad links to his or her site, and cannot get confirmation that these links will be removed, he or she would then move these links from the primary to the secondary list of links. These are the links to be disavowed. If a webmaster is the victim of negative SEO, then chances are that the site owner being contacted may not be responsive and remove the bad backlinks as requested.
Step 1: Download a list of all links to your site
Step 2: Create a secondary list containing only the links to be disavowed
How to Download a List of All the Links to Your Site?
This process consists of 4 steps.
- Go to the Webmaster Tools home page and locate the website in question.
- Go to the Dashboard and click on the term “Search Traffic”. From here you will click on “Links to Your Site”.
- Look for “Who Links the Most”, and under this click on “More”.
- Finally, you will click on “Download more sample links” (to view dates you can click on “Download latest links”.
There are a few things that webmasters can do to expedite the process. It is important to note that the “www” and the “non-www” versions of a domain in the Webmaster Tools account are treated as separate entities by Google. In other terms, Google looks at these as 2 completely different websites. Bearing this information in mind, the webmaster should closely examine the data for both of these entities to verify that all of the bad links will be removed.
After downloading a file that contains all pages that are linking in to the site, the webmaster should create a text document (.txt) which contains the links to be disavowed. It is important to list each link on a separate line. Webmasters can also choose to have Google ignore every link coming from a specific domain by simply adding the domain to the list. The domain should be added just as if it were a bad link (on its own line). However, the term “domain:” should be placed in front of it. For example, “domain:baddomain.com”.
The more information that the webmaster shares with Google the better the chances of Google honoring the disavow request. Webmasters can leave additional feedback or comments by simply starting the line with the # character. This character will let Google know that the line contains comments. Although comments and extra information is not a necessity, taking the time to provide Google with as much information as possible may seriously increase your chances of Google disavowing the links.
Will Removing Bad Links Restore My PageRank (PR)?
Removing “spammy” or poor links from your site will almost guarantee that your sites ranking will be restored, or any penalty removed. However, it is important to keep in mind that good PageRank could have been the direct short-term result of the low-quality backlinks in the first place. These poor links tend to have that effect on a site. Sure, they will help a site reach new lengths. Unfortunately, cheating never pays and while these bad links may seem like they are helping at first, ultimately, Google will catch up and severely penalize those that are caught cheating. It is not a matter of “if”, but “when”.