Crafting An Evil Empire: Looting The Competition with Negative SEO – A Story

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We have all been awakened to the hype. Negative SEO is real and it seems that the Panda and Penguin updates have potentially made it easier than ever to accomplish. Below, you will read a tale of greed, a tale that is all too possible in today’s digital world and a tale that should awaken your focus to your SEO surroundings. It is the tale of a man named Johan Bumbersnickle who felt enough pressure to make the first unethical decision of his professional life, and he was rewarded because of it.

Now the reason that this story is being told is because there is no doubt going to be some of this going on in whichever niche it may be that you reside. Marketers are always feeling the pressure to succeed, and some will make risky decisions in order to achieve their goals. It is my estimation that over the next couple of years we are going to be hearing a few stories of deception involving major brands attempting sneaky methods to bring each other down in the search rankings. Let the tale of Mr. Johan Bumbersnickle be a lesson to us all.

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It was a typical night in Johan’s small apartment building. The raindrops had become silent due to familiarity of the sound, and the lights flashing ten stories below carried on their role of being his trusty night light. Johan Bumbersnickle always stayed up late, and tonight was no exception. As a digital marketer working for a major software brand, he was constantly driven by his ability to brainstorm and craft creative tactics to gain his employer visibility online. In his budding career he had already increased traffic to the brands primary domain by 70%  and managed three annual social media promotions that had increased his brands social reach by over 300%.

He had only been working in digital for three years and already he had been promoted four times and given four pay raises. Slowly he was becoming a thought leader and a recognizable face in the industry he had worked so hard to please. Recently though, he had begun to feel a slight amount of pressure from his boss, who had been expressing concern over the rise of a major competitor in the software space.

Due Diligence

Johan had been doing his due diligence. His research revealed a number of red flags that his competition was using black hat tactics to gain search engine rankings, and they were doing a good job of it. There were blog networks that seemed impossible to track, forum signature links in irrelevant spaces, and what seemed to be a well managed campaign producing five star reviews on various software products every three to four days.

It was frustrating to Mr. Bumbersnickle that he had done everything in such an ethical manner and was being threatened by tactics widely regarded to be manipulative and deceitful. It was also frustrating to Mr. Bumbersnickle that he was about to partake in these methods for the first time in his career, with the goal of knocking his competitor backwards and away from the spot that he had worked so hard to make his. The spot was the number one ranking in Google, and the tactic was negative SEO.

In crafting the plan Johan had compared the situation to a riot in the streets. Having a view from above the city he had been imagining what role he would play in a full scale riot and how he could apply that to his first-time negative SEO campaign.

The first thing that came to mind was fear, a fear that would lead him to inform the authorities of what was going on. By comparing these visions to search engine optimization he had created his firs tactic. He was going to troll the Google Webmaster forums and let the world know just what his competition was doing. He was going to contact Google in every way possible and make sure that the powers that be were aware of what was going on.

After a moment of thinking, Johan realized that eventually the riot may become too powerful, and his building would be overtaken by the time the authorities were able to take any action. Now he had to devise ways to survive among the turmoil. In order to survive he decided, he was going to need some resources. In order to get said resources, he was going to have to break in to a place that had resources available. His next tactic had been decided.

Johan needed to learn how to break a lock, and when if the lock was on his competitor’s door he knew exactly how he would do it. In order to compromise the site, he would hire a hacker to install a small bug on his competitor’s site which would infect visitors with spyware and create deep pages on the web server as quietly as possible. Johan had used his riot theory to plan the next step of his negative SEO campaign and he knew that he was making progress. But what would happen he thought, if the lock was impenetrable and he had to come up with another method to infiltrate his competition? If he planted a bug, there is a good chance the competition would pick up on the tactic very quickly and any lasting affect would be quite temporary. He had to figure out a way to break a window.

Unethical?

This was the thought that had him start to think about scale. He knew that he had to metaphorically get in to the building, so the only question was, “How can I make a backup plan that is more effective than the last?” Although his mind began to really crack down and tell him he was beginning to make unethical decisions, he knew the next place he had to hit was links. There had been a lot going on in the industry as of late and finding a way to attack his competitor’s links would surely be a strong way bring the sites rankings down. So links it was, he ordered up hundreds of profane and inappropriate articles, added a spam heavy piece of anchor text (think pay day loans and prescriptions here), submitted them to a blog network he knew was unaffected by the recent Penguin update, and let the link storm begin.

He knew that at this point he had easily crossed the line, but he had become infatuated with creating one final tactic to being down his rival. In the scope of things, he wanted one last tactic to blow up the building if he had to, something that would make a lasting impact and take some time to repair. He had long been aware of the power afforded by online tools like Fiverr and Mechanical Turk, and had done a bit of worrying himself about just how they might be used to perform negative acts. This time, what was being put in place was an act of revenge. Mr. Bumbersnickle had been made aware of his rivals foray in to posting fake online reviews, and he knew the only thing that made them successful was the well thought out timing.

The final tactic would be a massive product review bomb in to Google reviews. By ordering hundred of five star reviews at once for his competitor, Johan would be sending a strong signal of system manipulation directly to Google itself. In reaction to this kind of corruption, Google nearly always removes the capability for a product to be reviewed, which was the backbone of his competition’s online strength. While the demon inside of Johan chucked with glee, his conscious wept and pleaded for him to not follow through. It was too late; the negative SEO campaign was in place and was approved by upper management.

A month later, Johan was called in to his superior’s office for an impromptu meeting. Johan’s mind was racing, there was no doubt that the website they had targeted was now aware of the negative SEO campaign, and there was no doubt they were upset by it. His boss however, was ecstatic. For over two weeks there had been no sight of the competition on SERP’s for any of their top keywords. Johan was once again being given a raise. He had worked the system in a negative way, and was being lauded as a successful professional who just launched an innovative marketing campaign aimed at erasing a competitor from existence.

*****

So now that the story has been told, it is kind of freaky is it not?

The world of negative SEO is something that is gaining awareness, and therefore is gaining in probability as well.

Now, in the interest of having some constructive discussion I need to ask you all a couple of questions:

  1. If you were told by your employer to conduct a malicious SEO campaign would you do it and why?
  2. What do you think the legal implications would be for Johan and the company that he worked for?
  3. Do you foresee the competitor reacting by conducting a similar attack, and how do we prevent these kinds of situations from turning in to a fully fledged war?

I am looking forward to hearing all of your answers, and talking about this on a little bit deeper level. Remember to follow me on Twitter and don’t be afraid to hit me up with any comments, questions, or whatever else you may have on your mind!

Jeff Bedford

Jeff Bedford

Analytics & Optimization Specialist at The New Group
Jeff Bedford is an Optimization & Analytics Specialist at The New Group, an integrated digital marketing agency in Portland, Oregon. A graduate of Indiana University,... Read Full Bio
Jeff Bedford
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