Negative SEO: Does It Really Work?

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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

Moosa Hemani

Moosa Hemani

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Moosa Hemani is a strategist and a blogger at We also help our client get better online visibility using all inbound marketing channels.
Moosa Hemani
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  • No doubt negative SEO is a big issue and very difficult to protect yourself against. And i disagree with Alessio Madeyski who says “Negative SEO is such a stupid thing to do”, if a black hatted SEO knows how to remove competitors from the SERP results this can be very beneficial to the business and wouldn’t be a stupid thing to do… just an evil thing.

    Hopefully Google sorts out the algorithm to ignore spam links rather than penalise websites, but that’s just like my opinion man.

    • Glad you commented!

      This is the real beauty of the whole discussion not all the people will agree or disagree but opinions are the one step towards betterment and research.

      In my personal opinion that has a lot to do with logic is that when good link gives you benefit bad links logically should hurt you like Julie said! And as far as the Google’s take on this issue is concern we all hope something good regarding this from the BIG G!

      • Hi Moosa Hemani..

        I like your comment ….But @Red King what he explained this is also a valid point in my opinion ..

        Anyway all opinion is very valuable. I enjoyed a lot here ..

        Thanks a lot

    • totally agree with you! It might not be a good thing to do but it sure as hell works and works very well for that matter. To add onto that, if something ends up happening to your site from such a “stupid thing” and you are completely unfamiliar with this field, then who the &*(#@ is going to save your ass huh? Love your comment man! …… Just to give my 2 cents on the post too, really enjoyed it, but people also need to remember that “negative SEO” is not all just about links and link profiles, there are multiple ways of doing negative SEO and no matter how bad it is, it is also very good to just educate yourself on “Negative SEO” so that you can identify where the limits are and get an even better understanding of what search engines DONT WANT, this could help your “positive SEO” so much!

  • I don’t understand why we are still debating about negative SEO. It wouldn’t be that hard for someone to prove whether it works. Sure, they tried it with SEOMoz, but how about trying it against a less authoritative site? SEOMoz has so many valid and good links that it would be really difficult to launch a major negative SEO campaign against them.

    Why not create a site in a non competitive niche and get it ranking with a few good backlinks….or better yet, take an established domain that isn’t being productive anymore. Then, pay a bunch of spammers on fiverr to throw a bunch of anchor texted links at the site and see if you can take it down.

    • Thank you Marie for coming up with this one! I highly agree with the fact that SEOmoz is a high authority domain so its hard to get hit by Negative SEO.

      I am actually working on this at the moment so lets see if i come up with anything at the end of the experiment.

      • What experience do you want to hit SEOmoz with negative SEO ha 🙂

    • This definitely works as I have managed to stupidly destroy some of my own websites by getting these cheap spammy links from Fiverr. If your website doesn’t have very many authoritative links, and you only build money term anchor text, you will get slammed. It seems to work best with crappy directories and blog comments.

  • I believe it works as long as site owners do not do anything to prevent it. As long as you have good links, small amount of bad links won’t hurt (probably). But if you have spammy comments, your site have some sort of exploits, host in the shared hosting and someone else has an opportunity to spam the same IP , etc. then you might get in trouble.

  • There are many SEO’s that advertise negative SEO services because they work.

    Its been proven time and time again.

    This link is one example

    These are the stats from my Google Webmaster Tools
    Pages linked from Total links Total linked pages

    Search engine traffic has dropped over 95% since this happens

    Links went from 600 to 3000 in one month

    They can build thousands of low grade links very quickly

  • Negative SEO really exsits! But its bad effect viries from different sites. Building neighbor with bad links hurts website value. Building bad links to competitors? I think only low-quality links are not enough, and peanlized links or somehting like link farm maybe bad enough. It may work sometimes, and I never vote for negative SEO.

  • Ingo Scheuermann

    I also don’t understand why this is still being discussed, when it has been proven time and time over again. There are plenty other very prominent examples out there for everyone to see. Just check google for som “negative seo ecamples” for instance. 😉

  • Hi Moosa !
    Thanks for this post…………….I agree with your views for related to (Negative SEO: Does It Really Work?). This information is very useful for me and other S.E.O guys. I think Negative SEO is such a stupid thing to do, that put a dark shadow in the whole SEO industry.

  • “SEOmoz recently received an unnatural link warning from Google, but according to them, neither their traffic nor their rankings were affected.”

    That statement is incorrect, you only have to look at Alexa for SEOMoz to see that traffic has hit a pretty big decline in recent months which coincides with the link warning from Google –

    While they are still getting traffic for their branded search terms I think they have seen drop offs elsewhere.

    Since Rand publically challenged people to negative SEO SEOMoz they are yet to provide a response as to why their traffic has dropped.

  • Also a lot of the people you have asked for their ‘opinion’ on negative SEO is exactly that. Why not speak to people that actually do it?

  • I’ve heard rumours that Google maybe bringing out a link disavow tool similar to Bing which will help to prevent negative SEO from gaining momentum. Following the Penguin updates which makes negative SEO a much more real threat than ever I think something like this will be necessary and the sooner the better.

    • I think many like me are waiting for the link disavow feature in Google Webmaster tool like Big. To be honest i am a fan of Bing Webmaster tool and this link disavow feature by them is just simply remarkable.

  • Flavio R

    Negative SEO exists, I just follow the logic and there are good chanches to work.

    1) If a site is new, has around 20 backlinks, build x 80-90 % more backlinks with the same anchor (the anchor you want to attack), make the target anchor be around 80% – 90% or more for that site.
    2) Build daily backlinks, as many as you can, but more than 10-20 daily with the same anchor, no variations, only dofollow, we assume the site is not receiving more than 1-2 natural link daily, so building links over and over again with the same anchor will penalize the website.
    3) Same for medium or big sites, make the anchor be 80-90% of all backlinks, using dofollow backlinks and build dofollow backlinks with the same anchor, daily, 100% same anchor.

    For the next Penguin updates, build backlinks on foreign sites, chinese, spanish, everything else but not german, if the site is german, for example. And only dofollow. No farma keywords, use the real keyword you want to attack.

    Negative SEO is all about unnatural patterns.

    P.S. I don’t practice negative SEO, I just follow the logic and there are good chanches to work.

    • Interesting very interesting actually!

      I agree to your point that Negative SEO is more about unnatural link building pattern… and I think this can be one of the reason why SEOmoz does not get a huge impact because most of the time SEOmoz get lot of links pointing to them from verity of keywords.

      The ratio of building natural linking is high at SEOmoz and may be attackers build less links with exact match anchor text as compare to natural links that has been pointing to the site, and that is why SEOmoz is safe but I think with most of the business website this is not the case and their link building ratio per day is not high as SEOmoz so, yes Negative SEO can work for most of the websites…


  • ” I can’t imagine that conducting a negative SEO campaign would be easy for anyone. Why waste the time?”

    That’s exactly how I feel about it. If you’re going to spend that much time building links, why not build quality ones to your own site? It’s much more valuable in the long run and a much better use of your time.

    • Avinash R

      Hi nick , you are right saying but some (agency or freelancers) use these negative seo .. think if you r in 2nd postion in google on “buy dog food” . and you r getting 30 clicks on 2nd position. your competitor who r in no 1 and getting 60 clicks a days. instead of up your ranking easy thing is to downgrade your competitor ranking on that keyword. 2nd position site will automatically will come in no: 1 . i completely agree with you these things has to be stopped and search engines has to be introduced some solutions of it..

    • Ingo Scheuermann

      What do you mean by wasting time? Building 10k dofollow spam links with exact anchor matches from non authority site domains is a matter of a few minutes and even fewer buttons pressed for some people.

      If you think that spam links are built carefully and manually, you are very much mistaken.

      Even if you are not able to do it yourself, financing and leading a campaign like that is easier than stealing lollipos from little children (RRRRR FIVE… u know what i mean).

      Attacking high authority sites with this kind of SEO campaign might be a waste of time, agreed. But when it comes down to niches (let’s face it: this is where most of the freelancing SEOs out there make their money), NEGATIVE SEO IS ON!

      Can’t wait for that disavow links button.

  • If Penguin has some basis in a site’s link profile, then yes, negative SEO is possible.

    Until there is a Penguin refresh; however, it is difficult to determine the the effectiveness of such tactics with the current algorithm.

  • Negative SEO definitely works, I tried it to one of my test sites using a 301 and it knocked it out of the serps. I don’t think it will work much at all on authority sites though. That sucks for the little man though, that a competitor can perform negative SEO on you. I could never do that to someone else and would have my conscience get in the way. Maybe Google will get it right one day and stop punishing webmasters or giving shady companies the ability to, but I doubt it.

  • Good points here. I agree with Red above Google would be best sorting out there algorithm to ignore such links. This could only have a positive effect on SEO in general.

  • On another note, imagine the big boys started to turn there attention to negative SEO. Imagine Bing verses Google or Apple versus Samsung. That may be fun to watch lol 🙂 I bet they would be pushed to sort this out then.

  • If your website has got a natural link profile negative SEO will be something you do not need to worride about, but if your link pattern does not look that natural (e.g. the mayority of your links are coming from profiles or article directories) you may have a problem.

    Work on your link profile and get your backlink from as many different resources as you can and don’t overdo the keyword anchors. Use your company name of website url to keep it within the limits.

  • In case you value the view of an ex Googler (:

    While negative SEO is possible in theory, it will seldom be used effectively. Simply because a reputable site — one that is already referenced and used by others — will be recognized by Google as such and protected from attacks. This is true even if you get GWT warnings about suspicious incoming links.

    – Miguel

    • Ingo Scheuermann

      So you are saying if I’m new to a niche and a start-up, i get punished by google for that? Good job. Can’t imagine a market with higher entrance barriers than what you guys have made out of organic search: All power to the big old brands that are spending millions of dollars in AdWords. Devaluate all uprising competitors.

      • No need to read in my words what’s not there. No need for negativity either: there’s plenty of opportunity out there if you look in the right places. If you tried to get into the petrol business in the offline world and you’d have similar challenges.

      • Ingo Scheuermann

        Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to sound negative. But I think it is kind of obvious that the system google is trying to sell here is flawed on purpose. I don’t blame Google for trying to make money, I blame them for communicating it the wrong way around. When explaining the last major updates Google should have said something like this: “We are trying to support our biggest cash cows out there with these updates that make it insanely hard for small businesses to compete and almost impossible to enter a competetive market. Go somewhere else.” At least that would be honest. Just my opinion.

  • But I believe the recent ‘penguin and panda updates’ can be taken as great examples to prove negative SEO works. Rather than building cheap links to your competitors from bad neighborhood, you can make their rankings drop simply by sending backlinks from hundreds of pages from only a few domains but with stuffed keywords and exact anchored backlinks. And we know that’s the exact thing the recent algorithmic updates targeted primarily. So its safe to presume that negative SEO works, particularly for low and medium competitive niches.

    And regarding the warning to SEOmoz, I think they are not gonna be affected in any way since they have a lot of legit and relevant backlinks from credible sources. In fact, they need a few spam links or bad ones to make their profile look natural after all. 🙂 (the same reason and are not yet punished for attracting links from bad neighborhood)

    Thanks for the article !

    • Actually the Penguin and Panda updates were not meant to counter negative SEO in any way. They were meant to target low quality content and manipulative SEO tactics on your own sites.

      As you concluded regarding Facebook, BBC and SEOmoz, you can’t easily attack a site that is ranking well… simply because it’s very likely that this site will be a reputable one already, and Google knows that. Not only these sites have lots of good backlinks, but they also have long history of appearing in search results and being visited by users.

  • Great article, love the comments all very informative and opinionated. In regards to negative SEO for big brands and authorative sites I feel they have no worries, however in my niche (local search) many of my clients can really be affected by negative SEO and I have seen this first hand among local businesses competing for that extra dollar in this economy. Disavow tools are great for local business websites and I cannot wait for Google’s tool. I think with the integration of social signals, citations and click metrics major search engines are on a monumental path in battling this black-hat technique.

    • It’s always the small fish that gets eaten, isn’t it? 🙂
      But if a business is small, wouldn’t it better to invest their limited resources in strategies that will benefit them forever (regardless of whom they’re competing with)?

      • I agree, most small businesses do as they know each-other in the small city of Bullhead however I have clients in Las Vegas as well where the competition is competitive and they may start a new business and looking to break into the market and try these black-hat techniques as businesses undercut each-other. This is why I do Link Audits right away. I have also noticed some clients that have hired link builders that had no Idea what they were doing and linking to everything on the web with no Correlation, Authority or Anchor Text Variation. This is where I feel the disavow tool will come in handy and used to clean up a local clients web presents and not used necessarily as a tool for (telling) on websites as you don’t want to hurt what may be a legitimate website.