Before beginning our discussion, let’s try to understand how classical SEO’s interpret their actions and strategies in search engine optimization. Broadly speaking, the entire SEO industry can be divided into two major groups. The first group believes in the idea of numbers while the second group believes in the idea of value.
The second group, which believes in generating value, is a very elite group of people who stay away from black hat trickery to gain higher ranks. Their idea is simple: generate value. Links, goodwill, reputation, and revenue will follow on their own, without having to cadge for it every single day. That’s the best, and probably the only, way to sustain a website and ensure that it stands the test of time.
However, people who believe that this is a “numbers game,” use all sorts of false measures and tricks to gain higher rankings as quickly and as easily as possible. They buy links from partner sites, spam the forums, and use deceptive techniques to gain more PageRank, whether organically or inorganically. These methods continue to evolve and change as search engines change the nature of their algorithms, but the main idea has remained intact for more than a decade, which is increase PageRank by maneuvering links, irrespective of their organic or inorganic nature.
Google’s Penguin update changed all this.
“We’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. While we can’t divulge specific signals because we don’t want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics.”
The Curious Case of Negative SEO
Since Google’s recent algorithmic change is targeted at lowering the rankings of sites that use black hat techniques, some webmasters are worried. What if a competitor tries to reduce my website’s rankings by buying links on spam sites or porn sites that point to my domain. There is no way I can stop anyone from buying spam links for my site. It’s their money and their choice.
Since Google is considering link spam as one of the signals of a low quality site, what if my site is caught in a false positive? How can I tell Google that these links have nothing to do with my site and have been generated by a competing source who is jealous of the prosperity of my business? If there is not a way to minimize the effect of spam links or paid links that I haven’t generated, will Google disqualify and filter my entire website?
In my honest opinion, this is a very pessimistic feeling, but there are situations when you may be ambushed by competitors. For example, some folks have put up a service at negativeseo.me where you can pay a fee, and they will try to “destroy” your competitors’ rankings.
Preventing Link Spam and Negative SEO
So what should you really do to ensure your website is not being made a victim of an algorithmic change (the Penguin update) by competitors, who may use negative SEO to “behave like a competitor?”
1. Carefully monitor your Google Webmaster tools account.
Regularly check the “messages” section of your Google Webmaster tools account and also keep an eye on the “incoming links” section. Whenever Google crawls and finds new links that point to any page on your domain, it will be listed in this section only.
Do you see an unusually high number of links from a single source? Do you see random IP addresses linking to your website? Do you see a list of weird domain names linking to random pages on your site?
If the answer to these questions is yes, and there is high activity on the “incoming links” section, there is a chance that someone is trying to defame your online reputation and destroy the trust and credibility you’ve worked hard to build. That does not imply that he will be successful in this wild, evil venture. Before penalizing a website, Google takes into account a lot of factors, such as the following:
- Age of the Links: Were these links recently generated?
- Pattern: If someone is hitting your website, he must be following a definite pattern and/or a formula. Google algorithms are wise enough to detect the pattern, and they will disregard these links on their own. The result is that these auto-generated links will not be counted for evaluation.
- Sources: If the same source has a record of linking to hundreds of thousands of sites without any defined purpose, there is a high chance that the source is not legitimate and should not be counted upon. Algorithms will figure it out on their own and move on.
The only option you have at your disposal is to file a reconsideration request and inform Google about the changes you’ve observed. Google has its own way of figuring out link spam, and in most cases, you should not worry about it at all. But just in case you find an unusually large number of spam links emerging out of nowhere, do file a reconsideration request and point out the domain names that are generating suspicious backlinks to your domain.
2. Use Bing’s Disavow Links.
Microsoft’s search engine, Bing.com, recently introduced a new feature in Bing Webmaster Tools that allows you to disavow spam links you don’t trust.
Using the Disavow Links tool in Bing Webmaster Tools, you can tell Microsoft about the sources that are maliciously linking to your website without any purpose and that they should not be counted as original signals. The Disavow Links tool allows you to submit page, directory, or domain URLs that may contain links to your site that seem “unnatural” or appear to be from spam or low-quality sites.
While your efforts won’t have any direct, immediate impact on the rankings of your website, it will certainly help Bing engineers learn more about the malicious sources. There is a rumor that in the coming months Google will introduce a similar feature in Google Webmaster Tools.
3. Build a solid wall of positive signals.
The best way to fight web spam is to build credibility and trust that no search engine can ignore. If you get good press mentions, a lot of genuine backlinks, viral activity on Twitter and Facebook, or you are in a scenario where a lot of people are talking about you, referring to you, linking to you, and spreading the word about you, there is no way anyone can harm your site through negative SEO.
The algorithm has to judge the entire cosmos, and genuine links will act as a protective shield against all sorts of evil, foreign actions that you cannot control whatsoever. Try to make your service better and reward your readers with high-quality content, and you should be in pretty good shape.
As they say, “You don’t cover the entire earth with a red carpet. Just buy shoes and walk around anywhere you please.”