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This 245 message thread spans 9 pages: 245 ( [1] 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 > >     
The return of competitors hurting your backlink profile?

 11:09 pm on Mar 27, 2012 (gmt 0)

Those who have been around over the past 5-10 years, will likely remember when it was possible for a competitor to harm your rankings, by bombing your website, with masses of links. Just as you could rank a website by stuffing it with keywords.

To counter this, Google employed a kind of "links can do no harm" philosophy. So questionable links were simply discounted.

Over the years, it's become accepted that competitors cannot harm your rankings with links. This had always been my experience too. For years my website has been victim of various malicious campaigns. Links to our website and several other competitors appeared on hacked Wordpress websites along with viagra/pharmaceutical type websites.

But despite the efforts, our rankings remained unaffected, which is the way it should be. A competitor should not be able to harm you. A competitor should not be able to undo your hard work.

Unfortunately, in recent months, post Panda, more and more webmasters have received messages from Google, alerting them of unnatural linking practices, followed by drops in SERPS and traffic.

Google have made a complete u-turn and now rather than discrediting links it deems unnatural, it instead penalises the websites receiving them.

Since Panda, all of the talk and focus has been on on-site factors, such as ad placement, thin content etc and most websites have failed to bounce back. I'm wondering whether that's because, it's got nothing to do with their website, but their link profile?

A couple of months ago, I did a test on a page, of a website I wasn't too concerned about. I chose a page, that had a first page rank for over a year, for it's target term.

I purchased 150 links, using 3 variations of anchor text, to see if it would harm the rankings. Within a week, the rankings were gone. They remained AWOL for 6 weeks. I eventually managed to get the links removed, and the rankings recently returned.

This was a little too easy, for my liking. Actually it's disturbing and a huge step backwards.

Google needs to seriously reconsider the choice to penalise websites, with questionable links pointing to them.

But I am not reading much discussion about the subject and hoping we can generate some interest and awareness of the problem here. Google needs to address this problem.

I believe my main website, has been victim, WebmasterWorld supporters can read more about it in the Google SEO forum. I haven't received a message to inform me of an unnatural link profile, but looking at my inbound links, there are some questionable links there. And after 6 years or so of success, on January 21st, my traffic has dropped significantly.

What are your thoughts on this?



 1:22 am on Mar 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

The possibility of competitors sabotaging a link profile is currently getting a lot of buzz. In my experience, the best defense is a strong, natural link profile. Saboteurs cannot take down a strong site. But if the site is already wobbly, has been using edgy link building tactics, etc - then I think it may be more vulnerable today.

If you cannot remove those questionable backlinks, and you are 100% certain that no one authorized to work on your site has placed them, you can reply to the Google message with full details of your discovery. I do know of cases where this kind of problem was reversed.

Also note - the link profile area is not part of Panda - so don't get into calling everything "Panda" - it just isn't the case.

[edited by: tedster at 1:34 am (utc) on Mar 28, 2012]


 1:32 am on Mar 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

My website that I'm discussing in the supporters area atm, was what I'd consider an authority in it's niche. Almost 30,000 unique visitors a day, ranked number 1 thousands of terms, content was indexed almost as soon as it was posted etc. Several years old, solid PR5 for many years etc.

I consider it a strong website, especially for the niche it's in, one of the few that has original artists. I don't know for certain that the problem is link profile, but there is NOTHING on-site, and never has been, that is against Googles TOS. I am extremely strict.

I haven't seen many threads on sabotage, everything I read, is about on-site optimisations to recover from Panda, yet so few ever recover.

I'm really not so sure, that only "wobbly" websites are at risk.

Edit: Ah you added some extra bits, while I was posting.

I didn't personally get a message, from Google about unnatural link profile.

I realise that not everything is Panda, but at the same time, almost all drops in traffic, are put down to Panda. So webmasters are focused on fixing their website, that may not be broken, it maybe a damaged link profile.

I guess knowing how to distinguish between the two, would be helpful. Fixing something that isn't broken, isn't going to get results.

[edited by: realmaverick at 1:42 am (utc) on Mar 28, 2012]


 1:33 am on Mar 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

If you cannot remove those questionable backlinks, and you are 100% certain that no one authorized to work on your site has placed them, you can reply to the Google message with full details of your discovery. I do know of cases where this kind of problem was reversed.
With all the brain power in the plex and the things they want to do going forward, you should not have to. They should be able to discount the links anyway.

Why suddenly can they not do it and now it's open season on other sites if you so choose?

This is HUGE step backwards for Google in they way the evalute links.

In my opinion, it is a decision they made to get more people to sign up and use their webmaster tools so they can better track you.


 1:41 am on Mar 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

It's a big fat mess and a I believe it's a much bigger problem than we're currently seeing.

We don't truly know, just how sensitive the algo is, and how few links it could take, to have a solid website, badly hurt.


 1:59 am on Mar 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

Could it be possible that the malicious link efforts by competitors were perhaps not being discounted by Google & actually helping you all these years?

Then Google dialed back something regarding links in Jan which impacted you.....

Just speculating :)


 2:15 am on Mar 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

Gyppo, definitely not. The ones that were discovered, i.e the links from hacked WP websites, we clearly spam.

I totally see where you're coming from, but the number and quality of the links that have occurred naturally, far outweigh the rubbish that has been thrown a the site. I can't really see much spam at all TBH, but I know my competitor does build spammy links towards us. One link in particular, was on a page with reasonable authority, and was reviewing SE Nuke X! haha

The "experiment" that I did, albeit a small one, shows how an influx of spammy links, kills a ranking.


 2:21 am on Mar 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

I've done plenty of link tests over the last 6 months, depending on the sources I've seen a few observations:

- Ranking stick
- You trip some sort of threshold (assuming anchor text) that makes your keywords bounce in & out by hundreds of positions at a time.
- You trip a further threshold which buries the keywords down hundreds of positions.

Maybe use OSE to run an anchor text report to look at the diversity of anchor text on your affected pages - that might show some extra data points.


 2:30 am on Mar 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

I very rarely get a link, that is anything but my bloody domain name haha. But I will do that, and see if I can spot problems.


 4:44 am on Mar 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

Over the years, it's become accepted that competitors cannot harm your rankings with links.

With who?

Mr Prospector

 5:00 am on Mar 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

A couple of years ago I had access to many high PR websites that weren't owned by me. I used them several years ago to place links to my sites. The links were on quality content, high PR, on topic pages. The other day I got the un-natural linking to manipulate PR email from Google. It definitely appears to me that you can damage somebody else's site by linking to it excessively.


 7:42 am on Mar 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

In my experience this is not new either; it just seems to be getting more attention lately - perhaps because Google are notifying some people.

I cannot fathom their behaviour:

1) Allow malicious SEO to work... duh.
2) Then actually tell people that it works... double duh.
3) Then confirm exactly the type of links you need to harm a site's ranking... triple duh.


 8:40 pm on Mar 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

I think that the private-blog-network-mageddon that's underway has not only added fuel to this concept of negative SEO, but is starting to show more evidence of it.

I can say that I've seen some indication of a sort of algorithmic penalty associated with these junk links. It is worth noting that I'm in a space that is hyper-competitive and filled with dubious link profiles. Perhaps these are close enough to the edge to be effected, but there are definite major ranking shifts coincident with the recent PBN shakedown.


 1:05 pm on Mar 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

For a company whose credo is "do no evil", it is unconscionable that google would knowingly implement a system where webmasters could easily harm their competitors.


 2:52 pm on Mar 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

I think it's more likely that they didn't anticipate the scale at which people would cheerfully try to trash their competitors, and now they're scurrying to catch up.


 3:06 pm on Mar 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

Here's revolutionary idea; ignore dodgy links!

1) Sites with nothing but dodgy links won't rank, so there's no need to apply penalties.
2) Kills negative SEO
3) Google WMT/spam team can focus on something more important.
4) Google don't give away secrets about their algorithm.


Andy Langton

 3:23 pm on Mar 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

I don't think this is new, but it certainly deserves discussion.

There is a "con" of simply discounting or ignoring bad links, and for Google it is a serious one.

They simply cannot identify bad links very well, so if all questionable links were simply discounted, it would be a free for all.

The people currently jumping from link network to link network would simply just keep buying and buying - it would cause an explosion in paid links and the types of links Google wish were simply not there. The extent to which Google can genuinely and accurately give credit for links would be revealed, and I don't think it would be pretty.

Sites buying the most links would rapidly rise to the top, and sites acquiring links "naturally" would never be able to keep up.

I believe the reason this issue is rising to prominence again is that Google have dialled it too far. I launched a site fairly recently which happens to have obtained quite a few links quite quickly, and Google have dropped it entirely for certain keywords, including the site name (which is obviously most frequently used in anchor text).

In this particular instance, I know that I can just wait it out and Google will put it back - but others might not have time on their side, or might panic and start messing with a perfectly healthy link profile because Google is, frankly, getting it wrong.

Similarly, I know exactly how to get Google to put the site mentioned back - by changing external anchor text. But it would be a crazy situation for me to have to start manipulating external links in this way!


 5:38 pm on Mar 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

There are now services for this type of thing. The funniest part is you can find them on google; just look up negative seo.

Having had a site sabotaged and seeing traffic drop by a factor of 80%, I can say this is very, very real.

Thanks Google! You can't distinguish spam to discount it, so now you allow legal, competitive sabotage. :S


 6:34 pm on Mar 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

I know that negative SEO is a fact, that it exists.

However, human nature being what it is, I wonder how many of the cries of negative seo are actually false claims. The jails are full of "innocent" people. Hit and run perpetrators routinely claim their cars were stolen. How many "victims" of negative seo are actually victims of poor judgement?


 7:05 pm on Mar 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

Interesting post above

Is the point of the thread to discuss the reallity that links distrusted by Google are now resulting in Google penalties


A series off false claims of , Strict/devout obedience to the Book of Google, given to the webmasters of www, for their regular education, guidance, an chastisement when referred to by adepts of the great book

I don't see any claiming to be a pure wearer o the Google white hat, merely they say that Google has changed its behaviour


 7:13 pm on Mar 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

My issue with this - this is a Google created mess, why should I clean it up? The content on other sites shouldn't be my business one way or the other and I shouldn't have to waste time and resources if the content is not mine to begin with. If anything my issue is with Google for my being unfairly ranked poorly, if/when it happens.

So the question is: What is google going to do about this? If it's not happening then all is well, if it IS happening I'd expect Google to fix it... not send me messages to fix what's not on my site, ya know?


 7:28 pm on Mar 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

This was a little too easy, for my liking.

I didn't read the thread so no idea what others have posted but you didn't plant yourself as a competitor you planted yourself as the website owner... huge difference... how did you advised Google that you where "a competitor" and not the "webpage owner"?

Let's assume you accessed any number of Google accounts associated with the website/webpage... does a competitor have access to those? ...the owner does... wouldn't that demonstrate to Google an owner signal? It is really very easy for Google to determine ownership especially if you use Google products and services and since you were testing a Google product - Google knew you weren't a competitor.

Repeat the same process this time on an actual competitor (your worse enemy) and see if you can get them to be removed from results.

I'm a betting man and I bet if you spend your revenue on your competitor they will (at worse) climb in results and then fall back to where they were if the link manipulation is detected and (at best) climb in results until the competitive landscape overtakes them again... but they will not disappear.

The problem with "A TEST" the output can also be a fluke... so how do you determine if your test was valid?

[edited by: fathom at 7:55 pm (utc) on Mar 29, 2012]


 7:33 pm on Mar 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

Negative seo'ers like to build spammy link wheels directed at the lowest quality pages on your site, perhaps aiming at profiles is the low rung on the totem?

The theory being that if your site gets to page one for a profile it's very likely to receive a quick trip to the back of the line upon human review and may take some of your site with it.

The solution - don't have ANY low quality pages.


 7:40 pm on Mar 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

I know that negative SEO is a fact, that it exists.

I know people claim to do it ... but if it had proven facts a thousand SEO blogs would spout off about the example.

Proving you caused a negative without any access to any internal data is usually BS.


 7:52 pm on Mar 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

The solution - don't have ANY low quality pages.

Highly suggestive. What is a low quality page?

Thin content? ...Google's homepage falls into that category. In fact, most of Google's sub-domain product homepages are very thin in content as well... illustrating a linking scheme of thin content.

Google could be the exception to the rule but IMHO your definition is extremely vague.

Andy Langton

 7:53 pm on Mar 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

I know people claim to do it ... but if it had proven facts a thousand SEO blogs would spout off about the example.

To be blunt, this isn't really an argument at all. If a million SEO blogs said it was true, that wouldn't make it so, and of course, if no-one had ever mentioned it, that wouldn't make it false.

Clearly, no-one is going to post real world data here. But I'm more than happy to echo Martinibuster and say that I also believe that negative SEO - harming competitors is a real world, and effective activity.

One of the reasons that this is an "underground" activity is that, if you ask me, it's legally questionable. The other problem is that, as Martinibuster has suggested, it's difficult to diagnose, and it's an unfortunate aspect of human nature to apportion blame to someone else when things go wrong for you. And it's not that easy. You might just as easily help a competitor as harm them.

But it's really not open to question that links can harm a site's rankings. I think there is enough of a consensus about that (or at least, I really hope there is!). So unless we believe Google has some sort of voodoo where it knows who wrote the cheque to one link network or other, I don't see how there can be any doubt that links can be used to harm a site - whether that's yours or anyone else's.


 8:36 pm on Mar 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

Google's homepage falls into that category

Of course it does, so does almost every page Google publishes.

But they never have, nor ever will penalise their own pages. Never, never, never have they applied their own rules to their own pages.

So be quite clear, don't think the rules they apply to their pages might apply to how they treat other pages. It's not fair, it's just life.


 8:48 pm on Mar 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

fathom wrote:
I didn't read the thread so no idea what others have posted but you didn't plant yourself as a competitor you planted yourself as the website owner... huge difference... how did you advised Google that you where "a competitor" and not the "webpage owner"?

He purchased the links. He didn't simply place them on other, unrelated sites under his control. There's nothing connecting those purchased links to the person doing the purchasing, so no way for Google to know if the links were the result of a site owner with poor judgement, a third party with poor judgement, or a third party engaging in some attempted sabotage.



 9:12 pm on Mar 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

So to conclusively prove this true at some point you need to buy links for a competitor otherwise you only proved that buying links can harm you and the competitor philosophy isn't a factor.

Having a theory is great.

Never testing the exact premise of your theory (on a real competitor) is proof your theory can not stand up to scrutiny.


 9:34 pm on Mar 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

A big reason why this idea of negative SEO has gained so much traction in recent times is the absolute FLOOD of messages about unnatural backlinks sent out through Webmaster Tools. That's where Google's big error is, IMO - in those indiscriminate, automated messages.

I seldom see a link profile that doesn't have that kind of spammy junk, and in at least some cases I know that the website itself did not have anything to do with placing those spam links. In other cases, after a little poking and prodding, I do find that in fact they DID have responsibility, but never thought much about it because there were no immediate repercussions, so they forgot all about it. (Oh yes, one of our workers did run xrumer a few times, but nothing recently.)

My feeling right now is that Google sent out that barrage of messages without much forethought, and indeed, may have sent them to any webmaster whose profile shows bad links beyond a certain level - without much thought given to how legitimate the criticism is in each case.

In some cases, it seems like ignoring the message has so far caused no problem. In other cases, rankings did take a dive within a week to ten days.

The biggest problem for me is that Webmaster Tools data has been notoriously undependable. That makes it very difficult for me to buy into these warnings.

Does negative SEO exist? In some markets, yes... it's like a gang war! And that's nothing new at all. The funny thing about those markets is that the businesses involved also use all kinds of black hat ranking tactics anyway.

If these recent messages from Google are an attempt to clean up the "sewer" that Eric Schmidt complained about, they are a dud and a public relations nightmare.

This 245 message thread spans 9 pages: 245 ( [1] 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 > >
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