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Negative SEO: Does It Really Work?

Similar like the normal world, both good and evil exist in SEO society, as well.

“Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.” Plato

Good people, a.k.a. ethical SEOs, use white hat tactics to increase the credibility of the website and make it rank in search engines for the desired key phrases. On the other hand, the evil doers, or the unethical/negative SEOs, try the reverse process. Instead of striving to rank high in search engines, they devour most of their time in cheap and low-level link building for the competitor’s website to drop its ranking.

Negative SEO sounds dangerous, but the million-dollar question is, does negative SEO work? SEOmoz recently received an unnatural link warning from Google, but according to them, neither their traffic nor their rankings were affected. Thus, the answer to this question has been a blurry one, and no one is sure about it, not even me!

So, as I didn’t have any particular clear answer to that, I thought to talk to other great professionals and see what they think about negative SEO.

Peter Attia (@PeterAttia)

In regards to negative SEO, I haven’t done any direct experimenting, so I’m not sure how much help I could be. The only case I’ve heard about is affecting rankings by only a few positions, not major movements.

In my opinion, if you have an authoritative site with natural links, you really don’t have anything to worry about. Of course, cleaning up bad links definitely wouldn’t hurt.

Julie Joyce (@JulieJoyce)

From what I have personally seen, negative SEO isn’t usually done on such a scale (or using links on sites with authority) that it can affect rankings. However, I have seen people in forums talking about this being what they think is the source of falling rankings/traffic. Logically, if good links can help you, bad links should be able to hurt you, but with the recent statements and warnings issued by Google, I really don’t know what to think right now.

Considering how amazingly difficult it is to build good links on good sites, I can’t imagine that conducting a negative SEO campaign would be easy for anyone. Why waste the time? If you’re able to quickly build links to attempt to hurt another site, you cannot be putting those links on sites that are worth anything, since links on good sites don’t just happen in a flash; they happen with serious hard work.

If a site is the victim of a negative link campaign and rankings or traffic do start to fall, I would make sure those bad links are indeed the reason for this, because maybe there’s something else … links aren’t always the problem. If you did determine that those links were the problem, I would get a list of them using whatever tool you like for grabbing your backlinks. If you have not done anything wrong and your profile is clean, you will need that list when you submit a reconsideration request to Google if it comes to that.

I would definitely look at the links, too, and not just verify that they are bad links based on the metrics you see in the tool that you use. If you’ve done some shady stuff yourself, you should clean up the mess YOU have created before you talk to Google, though.

Sorry to ramble so much, but in regards to whether you should clean up negative links, I’d say that it may not be worth your time if those links are ignored, but if your site keeps declining in performance online, you may have to try it.

Alessio Madeyski (@madeale)

Negative SEO exists. No doubt about this, but I’m thinking more from a user perspective: If I’m seeing some bad links in my favorite wine forum pointing to an e-shop selling shoes (for an action of the so-called negative SEO), I’m going to be pissed with that e-commerce dropping links with no sense.

So it clearly exists, but rather than spending money and time removing all the bad links, why don’t we focus on creating a stronger brand awareness or doing something cool for the user? I mean, if the user trusts you, there is no bad link that can keep the user away from your site because they trust you. Bad thing is that, all the people who put lot of efforts removing all the bad links to me are in a way guilty because they know they’re not doing a great job with their clients or with their sites.

Negative SEO is such a stupid thing to do, that put a dark shadow in the whole SEO industry, even the most pure and right one, but don’t spend time on it. Create something cool, actionable, useful for the users, and you can f*ck the negative SEO off.

Jason Acidre (@jasonacidre)

In my experience, I’ve seen it work for some of our previous clients (even back when I was still a freelance consultant). There were also some who have been attacked and were publicized, which really means that negative SEO is a force to reckon with.

There are so many solutions to negative SEO (I’ve even written a post about that), and cleaning up the crap links out of the profile is certainly one of those. However, the best one is still making an effort to exemplify the site as a strong brand through its core marketing campaigns, so that these unwanted links wouldn’t be able to hurt the site in terms of search rankings and even as a brand on the Web.

Jon Cooper (@PointBlankSEO)

As long as a site can get penalized in Google, then yes, negative SEO can work. I don’t know to what extreme a negative SEO attack can be, so I can’t truthfully answer this question. For questions like this, though, it’s mostly speculation.

I would only make link removal an option if the client’s site is small enough. For example, if I had a relatively well-established brand with few missteps in the past with a solid link profile, and then know, I wouldn’t bother with removing those links. On the other hand, if it was a small business website with few links pointing to it beforehand, and if the bad links made up a large portion of the link profile, then yes, link removal would definitely be an option. It’s all relative to the trust and authority your site has built up prior to the attack.

Bottom line: Nobody exactly knows how dangerous negative SEO is, but from my personal experience and the thoughts from the pro desk, it is clear that negative SEO does exist and it can hurt your website to an extent. However, there are ways to minimize the impact of negative SEO, and one of the many ways is to create amazing content and gain link from most trusted sources on the Web.

Do you have an opinion about negative SEO and does it really work? Please share your experience in the comment section.

Image Credit: Shutterstock / dragon_fang and Thinglass

Category SEO
Moosa Hemani Inbound Governor at

Moosa Hemani is a strategist and a blogger at We also help our client get better online visibility using ...

Negative SEO: Does It Really Work?

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