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John Mueller on Negative SEO and Ranking Problems

Google's John Mueller explains negative SEO and ranking issues

Google negative SEO

In a Google Webmaster hangout, a publisher related how sites attacked by negative SEO suffered ranking drops. Google’s John Mueller was asked, considering that anecdote, if he still insisted that negative SEO does not exist.

Negative SEO

Negative SEO is an idea that there are people who pay to send low quality links to their competitors. Many times these low quality links are adult in nature.

Anecdote About Negative SEO

The publisher related an anecdote about negative SEO. They said sites suffer ranking drops, they disavow but the rankings either never return to where they used to be or they bounce around.

“We’ve seen some sites being targeted by black hat SEO. They have consistent bad links pointed at them daily and they’ve also seen some big drops.

We’re constantly having to block bad links. Do you still maintain that bad links don’t matter?”

The above is a fairly common situation with sites that lose rankings. They find spammy links, disavow them and the rankings never come back.

At a certain point, an SEO should stop and consider that if disavowing negative SEO links hasn’t fixed the problem, then maybe the negative SEO links aren’t the problem.

Google’s John Mueller answered:

“So this is certainly something that our systems work really hard on to make sure that any kind of negative SEO or any kind of irrelevant back links, unnatural backlinks that as much as possible we’re able to ignore them completely.”

Mueller then relates that there are cases where bad links did have a negative effect.

He says in those cases, the links were not negative SEO. The spammy links were actually the work of an SEO that the publisher had hired.

There is a situation right now that’s endemic in Local Search SEO, particularly in legal and home improvement niches.

There seem to be unscrupulous search marketers who buy links for clients without understanding what the negative effects are.

Here’s what Mueller said:

“Usually the cases where I see that something around negative SEO is happening are kind of the cases where you would look at them manually, you would say, well this looks like maybe someone has built these links up over the past.

And it’s not really a competitor but maybe an SEO that’s been working for the company.

So that’s something where our web spam team, if they look at that and they see this kind of situation where it’s really kind of improbable that a competitor has built up links for a website over the course of the last decade, then that might be something where the web spam team would say, well maybe you should clean those links up.”

Related: Too Many Links: Strategies for Disavow & Cleanup

Negative SEO Victims

In my  experience of helping clients for almost twenty years, there are two kinds of negative SEO victims.

The first kind, they’re doing great until an update happens and the traffic goes away. They check their backlinks and see that for the past six months or longer they’ve been accumulating some really nasty backlinks.

So they start filing the disavows with Google.

The second kind of negative SEO victim is the one who is under constant attack. Month after month they file their disavows with Google. Month after month more negative links accrue.

The rankings never come back. No matter how many awful links are disavowed, the rankings never come back.

Both of those negative SEO victims are like hamsters on a hamster wheel running furiously to get back to their rankings. But you know, the hamster never gets far on a hamster wheel.

There are the rare anecdotes where rankings return not longer after filing a disavow. But those are rare and are literally coincidences.

When a broad core update happens, it’s always not about penalizing sites for random spammy links. It’s about realistic things like whether a site is relevant for a query or not.

John Mueller recently underlined that point via Twitter:


I have had  publishers come to me for help with Google update traffic losses who had first tried disavowing links but that didn’t help. The reason it didn’t help is because Google broad core updates are never about penalizing sites for irrelevant spam links.

Spammy negative SEO type links look like the obvious suspects. But what’s obvious isn’t necessarily the actual reason for a ranking decline.

There are a great many reasons why a site can lose rankings. Negative SEO is the least probable reason.

Watch John Mueller discuss negative SEO:

More Resources

Category News SEO
SEJ STAFF Roger Montti Owner - at

I have 25 years hands-on experience in SEO and have kept on  top of the evolution of search every step ...

John Mueller on Negative SEO and Ranking Problems

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