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It is easy for competitors to hurt established sites (negative SEO)
Selen




msg:4629516
 4:27 am on Dec 11, 2013 (gmt 0)

I'm an 'part-time' webmaster helping some non-profit sites exist on the Internet. I'm not a good programmer, but I've been interested in Internet marketing and SEO for over a decade now.

About a week ago I was shocked to find out how easy it is for an established website to get a 'manual penalty' and be basically removed by competitors from Google search index. Here is some background:

1. The site that was removed from Google has been online since 2004. It (still) has over 5,000 pages indexed in Google. Never penalized until a week ago.

2. Now it shows up in Google results only if you search for the site's domain (including domain extension). For example, example.com (but it won't show up when searching for: example).

3. Before the penalty, the domain hadn't been set up with Google Webmaster Tools and didn't have Adsense or any advertising (besides some nofollow links to external websites); it is purely informational website. After I signed up with Webmaster Tools (I noticed less visitors in Cpanel stats), I noticed a message about 'unnatural linking pointing to the affected website.' There were around 10 domains (mostly with .ru extensions) that appeared to be linking to the affected site. For example, a few sites linked to the same page from hundreds of pages. It surely didn't seem natural; most likely the links were put in the footer, site-wide. However, it's even hard to find the links - on most of them the page source doesn't even show the outgoing links! Maybe they put it randomly (OR maybe they only show it to Google bots to fake the results, who knows). And some of the dishonest websites had Google Adsense on them.

-------------------------------

That's all there is. It took several low-quality foreign domains and some questionable links for a 9-year old website to be severely penalized by Google. I never believed it would be possible, but it apparently still is.

I hope Google spam team will look into it and our website will fully recover (I used the Disavow tool to disable the linking domains and submitted request to review the site). In my view, Google should either not count these links or penalize the sites that link to it. It's not fair to penalize the victim.. Google should find better ways to address such situations because it is very stressful, confusing, and time-consuming for the affected parties. What am I supposed to tell the owners - that some spammy sites linked to their website and that was enough to kill their Google rankings? I doubt they're going to believe me :(

[edited by: aakk9999 at 3:42 pm (utc) on Dec 11, 2013]
[edit reason] Replaced exampledomain . com with example.com as exampledomain . com is a real domain [/edit]

 

Selen




msg:4630220
 10:56 pm on Dec 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

In my opinion Google should not count these low quality links.

That would be the most reasonable option. I think Bing doesn't count such links..

In addition, will be great for each webmaster to discount links from WMT (i am talking about negative seo, and spam robots).

.. or give webmaster an option in Google Webmaster Tools. For example a webmaster could decide if he wants all back links to be counted automatically (default) OR have a chance to REVIEW them before they take Google algo calculation effect. That would be the most efficient way (less work for Google and much less work for webmasters).

Google will have a really hard time determining who created the links.

After not sleeping for almost 2 days, I'm not able to determine it either. The bad sites that linked to the site I manage have no apparent relation, they are hosted all over the world, have different themes. Some links appear only for a short period of time and then disappear. Some appear in footer/header only (suggesting someone has access to a "Master key" where he can add/remove bad links at any time).

I could meet somebody in a dark alley at midnight and slip a $100 bill into their pocket in return for a link to my site. How is Google going to know who paid for it, or if anyone even paid for it at all?

I've just read two articles mentioning you can get 500-1000 'back links' for even $10. To do the damage, you can claim you are the owner of your.. competitor website (even though I doubt rogue people would even ask if you own the site as long as you pay them).

They may take a closer look if there is a reconsideration request. Eventually, taking a closer look over many websites over the time may perhaps result in some adjustments to the metric as they *will* learn something from the write-ups of webmasters' many reconsideration requests.

That makes sense and that's my hope, but how much time can it take.. Now I'm thinking it might not be a good idea to request to reinstate the website because the decision may be negative AND those who are patient and wait (ie. do nothing) may be rewarded automatically (ie. Google will automatically lift their 'penalty'). And those who still have 'manual penalty' in their account for the same thing may not recover? I hope Matt Cutts or someone from Google reads it and take it into consideration when working on the fix.

aakk9999




msg:4630228
 11:51 pm on Dec 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

.. or give webmaster an option in Google Webmaster Tools. For example a webmaster could decide if he wants all back links to be counted automatically (default) OR have a chance to REVIEW them before they take Google algo calculation effect. That would be the most efficient way (less work for Google and much less work for webmasters).

This is what disavow file is for - which is what you have used. I hope you will get a positive reply after your site is reviewed.

viral




msg:4630245
 1:42 am on Dec 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

@aakk9999 so are you saying neg seo exists or doesn't? Reading what you said it could go either way.

Google looks for patterns I agree. Who puts those patterns in place is what Google can't workout.

Now we have disavow tool. Which is great for people like us SEO's. Nearly every request I have had lately has been about help with the disavow tool. About 8 out of every 10!

But this is awful for webmasters who have no idea about SEO.
They have to now become amateur SEOs or hire an SEO to try and work out what backlinks are bad etc.

Most people on this site will work it out but the people I feel sorry for are those who don't even know sites like this exist.

Selen




msg:4630255
 2:09 am on Dec 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

This is what disavow file is for - which is what you have used. I hope you will get a positive reply after your site is reviewed.

Yes, I hope so too.. Thank you. I also meant that perhaps it would be even better that webmaster has an option to approve/deny new incoming links before the damage is done. In other words, currently the Disavow tool requires users to check it every day to spot a possible disaster. But it would be nice to have an option like:

(*) Count and process all back links automatically (default)

( ) Wait until webmaster manually approves all new back links (before possible back link sabotage is done)

(unless there's already such an option, I'm not an expert in this tool..)

aakk9999




msg:4630271
 3:09 am on Dec 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

@aakk9999 so are you saying neg seo exists or doesn't? Reading what you said it could go either way.

We know negative SEO is possible. Although some sites are more immune to attempts than others.

My reply further above was to aristotle. He was talking about (hypothetically) buying one link for $100 and how would Google know if he paid for it or not.

Unless the site has a history of link buying and the other site history of link selling, then this one link would most likely not be flagged as "unnatural" even though it was bought. But repeat this X times and you develop a pattern that raises a red flag - and you get caught.

What I wanted to say is that in the same way as Google sees natural links as bought, the opposite is also true - there are links webmasters bought, but Google treats them as natural.

@Selen
There is no such option in Webmaster Tools.

vickid




msg:4630296
 3:55 am on Dec 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

A legitimate inspirational gift store that has relevant content and product and has been leading in the rankings since 2010 gets canned from Google this Oct 4th, 2013. This small business is sick and tired of wasting all of its time and money trying to please Google only to get kicked off by some bad back link and in this case duplication of HTML content from our affiliate program. Point is we cleaned up the mistake and cannot even submit a reconsideration letter that we spent hours composing because apparently that is not possible anymore. Something like this happened about 2 years ago and then last Sept 2012 and it always takes tons of time to resolve but in the past we have. At this point and this time, we just may focus on building our business using pinterest, apparently all you have to do is create a board with keyword names, slap some relevant content and bam you are on the front page! Does not seem like the best search results to me for googles customers. Hum, an entire inspirational gift store with wonderful product or a board on pinterest with this and that.

glitterball




msg:4630303
 4:42 am on Dec 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

The attack on one of my sites involved a third party site being hacked and over 8000 pages being created that used content from my site mixed with random song lyric snippets. These pages all linked back to my site.
My site suddenly disappeared from Google for my main search term - which drew my attention to the attack.

I got these pages taken down via a DMCA notice many months ago, however the site never recovered.

Shai




msg:4630365
 9:34 am on Dec 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

Going back on subject, I agree with Shpherd. This has all the hallarks of a hacked site or a site that is used as a second/third tier link building. Use of fetch as google to find out what google is actually seeing. Specifically, look at the pages those spammy links are pointing at. Good luck, Shai.

np2003




msg:4630387
 12:46 pm on Dec 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

Anyone who thinks negative SEO is a myth is an idiot.

I talked to a bloke who switched from doing SEO to negative SEO. Depends on how big the site is but for a price, the site can be nuked (penalized) within 3 months.

One of the price list I obtained was:

Small site - $795
Medium site - $1600
Big site - $4500
Corporation site - Doesn't do them, too hard

He showed me a list of sites he had nuked and sure enough, they were ranking on page 1-2 before being nuked to oblivion). He was bragging about how he was making over $100k/year doing negative SEO...

He says some sites recover but it will take them anywhere from 3-12 months and hundreds/thousands of dollars of spending (if they hire someone todo it) before they figure out what's going on. e.g. Submit numerous re-inclusion requests, pay for services like ahref, seomoz and then finally getting those links disavowed...

These guys are like "web" hitmen. For a price they will knock out a website... lol

Google is waging a war against the SEO industry/pagerank optimizers.. They are willing to accept collateral damage. If you are the victim, its a "oh well, bad luck".

aakk9999




msg:4630433
 2:14 pm on Dec 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

Interesting!

What do you mean by "Corporation site" ? Do you mean nuking a brand for their own brand name or a brand for the type of products they are known about ?

Selen




msg:4630459
 3:53 pm on Dec 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

This is scary.. here is what I've just noticed. I've been reviewing the URLs that I downloaded from GWT (Latest External Backlinks). They are supposed to list all the latest URLs where the link to my site showed up. After viewing the source code of some of the pages, I didn't find link to my site any more. BUT I found links to a competing website that is apparently being sabotaged in exactly the same way (ie. they link to my competitor using their website keywords). There are about 100 organizations/companies in this business niche. It appears after successful sabotage of our website, they just move on to kill the rest of the competition. All they have to do is to change the URLs in their scripts.

Probably the biggest incentive for the rogue SEOs is the fact that the victims - EVEN IF their manual penalty was revoked - appear to never fully recover. If the bad people know they can easily kill a 10-year old business or organization by investing a few hundred dollars in a script, it is definitely worth it.

Here are my other suggestions to Google:

- If there is an indication that a website was a victim of sabotage, please let it fully (and quickly) recover. Please don't give the attackers a great incentive to continue their wrongdoings.

- Domains that linked to the victim's websites (taken from the Disavow tool) should receive the penalty (possibly unrecoverable) instead. The rogue SEOs should get a clear message that by hurting others they can permanently destroy their own 'business' (ie. the domains = the guns that were used to commit the crime).

EditorialGuy




msg:4630461
 4:02 pm on Dec 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

Domains that linked to the victim's websites (taken from the Disavow tool) should receive the penalty (possibly unrecoverable) instead.


Wouldn't that encourage "negative SEO" from the Disavow tool?

And mightn't an innocent site owner become collateral damage if he linked legitimately to johndoe dot com and John Doe was so paranoid about inbound links that he disavowed any domain he hadn't heard of?

brotherhood of LAN




msg:4630463
 4:10 pm on Dec 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

Here are my other suggestions to Google:


While I don't have much issue with your first suggestion, it's worth remembering (as pointed out in the thread already), that some sites are unknowingly hacked and can be linking out, it'd seem unfair to permanently blacklist a domain.

Plenty would agree there is a 'fault' with the way Google is dealing with some cases, but perhaps they have to turn the dial so high as to avoid all the undesirable results that'd rank otherwise. If there was no such thing as links with negative impact then there'd only be neutral and 'links that work', and there are plenty permutations and strategies of link building that could/are churned out to expose what will rank.

If anything, I'd suggest they offer an 'avow' list. There's plenty country specific small businesses that'd benefit from avowing their local TLD and forgetting the rest.

IMHO it's easy to underestimate the challenge Google has given the competitive pressures they face from people looking to rank their sites.

Selen




msg:4630479
 4:55 pm on Dec 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

My hope is Google can partner with the victims like us who are willing to spend their time and resources to help Google and even my legitimate competitors to neutralize the bad people. When a website has been getting several natural links a month in the past few years and all of a sudden 500-1000 of random websites link to it during a period of 2-3 months (and some of the anchor text is adult related) then there is clear sabotage. Especially that most of the links are now gone, suggesting that the attackers have just waited for Google bot to index the bad links and penalize the site.

bumpski




msg:4630488
 6:02 pm on Dec 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

It would be much easier to rank a site based solely upon its content.

EditorialGuy




msg:4630532
 8:35 pm on Dec 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

It would be much easier to rank a site based solely upon its content.


I doubt that, but in any case, links are just one piece of the puzzle. Google has plenty of other ranking factors in its algorithm (ranging from things like domain age and authority to on-page signals), so it could remove links from the equation without relying solely on page content for rankings.

Or Google could just remove some types of inbound or outbound links from the equation, or it could use links for types of searches (e.g., informational) where they're typically used as "citations" but ignore them for other types of searches (e.g., transactional) where they're more likely to be the result of link-building campaigns. There's a range of possibilities between "Use all links as a ranking factor in all searches" and "Don't use links as a ranking factor, period."

netmeg




msg:4630538
 9:11 pm on Dec 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

Google cares about Google, Advertisers and Users.

Google does not care about Webmasters or (much) Publishers.

EditorialGuy




msg:4630540
 9:27 pm on Dec 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

Google cares about Google, Advertisers and Users.

Google does not care about Webmasters or (much) Publishers.


Sure, but Google also cares about not letting third parties manipulate its search results.

Robert Charlton




msg:4630648
 1:53 pm on Dec 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

Sorry, not pointing but used adult keywords (anchor text) to link to the site.

As I was reading this, my reaction was the same as Shepherd's and Shai's... this has all the symptoms of a hacked site... or sites. While I see a lot of editorializing on this thread about what Google ought to do, there's very little discussion about what the webmaster of a hacked site should be doing, and what Google has been trying to do, and how webmasters can prevent this kind of stuff from happening.

Here's a thread that is probably as good as any as a place to start...

Understanding hacked sites that rank in Google
http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4561487.htm [webmasterworld.com]

Note my comments in the discussion, and check out Matt's blog on the topic and the Google resources he refers to. My emphasis added on the last sentence...
Definitely read this Matt Cutts blog post on the problem....

Example email to a hacked site
April 27, 2012
http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/example-email-to-a-hacked-site/ [mattcutts.com]

As Matt notes in the blog post, Google can't install everybody's security patches for them. He does provide a list of resources Google has created to help.

Also, it's very likely that hackers have cloaked their changes to your site so that they're invisible to you, but they are served up to Googlebot. View your site as Googlebot would see it, using a tool provided in WMT. As Matt explains...

If you visit a page like http://www.example.com/deep-url-path/ and donít see the pill links, that means the hackers are being extra-sneaky and only showing the spammy pill links to Google. We provide a free tool for that situation as well. Itís called "Fetch as Googlebot" and it lets you send Google to your website and will show you exactly what we see.

The usual victims of these hacks correspond pretty much to what the OP is describing here. I've posted in several threads on the topic. I describe the following in opengoogle, in Supporters [webmasterworld.com...] and I'll take the unusual step of quoting some of that in the public forum here...

Unfortunately, state and local government and non-profit organization sites generally aren't well-funded and are among the most naive about this, so site maintenance and security get neglected. Generally, the sites are hacked to sell pills or to provide a temporary infusion of link juice to sites that do.

I'm very curious whether this does turn out to be a hacked site. I can't promise that it will, but I think it's likely.

Selen




msg:4630676
 5:16 pm on Dec 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

The site was not hacked, it's 100% sure. There was actually only two adult keywords used, but the volume made it significant. Imagine the attackers have a few guestbooks with a few hundreds posts and each post allows:

Name:
URL:

Now someone who manages the guestbooks changes the name to: {adult_keyword} and URL to: {victim_url}. That's all there is to it. It is so simple and again - the site was not hacked.

Awarn




msg:4630677
 5:21 pm on Dec 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

I have read most of the information. My question how do you get rid of this stuff. I have seen Russian #*$! sites as referrers. I see a continued search for a term Betac which is some form of drug. I see one IP address that kicks out a bunch of news sites that link to an anchor text that is not used by us much. I have disavowed these domains but I don't see much improvement. Who is an expert in this stuff?

lucy24




msg:4630710
 8:24 pm on Dec 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

Also, it's very likely that hackers have cloaked their changes to your site so that they're invisible to you, but they are served up to Googlebot.

Can you explain how this is done, physically? That is: I could easily throw together a set of RewriteRules that shows different content depending on UA or IP or referer or other variable of your choice. But the rule would disappear within a few days when I next modify the htaccess file. So wouldn't they have to keep hacking into the site forever?

Shepherd




msg:4630716
 8:54 pm on Dec 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

Lucy,

OP said:
I'm not a good programmer


So how often is the OP's htaccess file updated. I doubt very often and hackers count on that. At any rate, if a hacker can get a page crawled with their link on it it's a win for them no matter how long the htaccess file goes unchanged. Even better if you're talking about:
some non-profit sites

like the OP stated they were talking about. A good, reputable non-profit type site would be a prime target for this type of hack.

But... the OP says it not possible in this case so...

Selen




msg:4630717
 8:58 pm on Dec 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

Shepherd, with 99.5% certainty, it's not a possible scenario that the site was hacked. I watch the site every day and login to FTP almost everyday. I'm not an excellent programmer compared to the experts, but I work with PHP/HTML/JS/CSS every day.

aakk9999




msg:4630725
 10:12 pm on Dec 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

@Selen,

have you done the analysis to check when these spammy links were added to point to your site? And to see what else was happening with the way your site was attracting links in the last year or so?

Shepherd




msg:4630745
 11:46 pm on Dec 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

I have no reason not to believe you Selen, you know your sites, we don't. I think all myself and a couple of others are saying is that your situation sounds like a typical hack.

I watch the site every day


And I trust that you've used the "fetch as googlebot" tool to see that google is seeing what you're seeing, or at least checked your htaccess file on occasion while you're logged in via FTP to make sure there have been no changes to it, so it is what it is, someone attempting to knock a not for profit, informational site out of the serps using negative seo.

Selen




msg:4630770
 1:00 am on Dec 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

And I trust that you've used the "fetch as googlebot" tool to see that google is seeing what you're seeing

I didn't watch Google every day because the website was added to GWM recently only.. but I watched .htaccess and latest edit/update date of files to make sure nothing strange is going on.

Having said that, today I had a pair of fresh (and professional) eyes looked at the site. Their findings and conclusions were helpful enough that they gave me new hope and motivation to fight the challenge. Here are my latest thoughts on the subject:

- The site is still being attacked with new spammy back links (which confirms the attack).

- I think I know the exact reason why the site was manually 'examined' by Google. It was directly related to the actions of the attackers, but for now I don't want to reveal the procedure in public so that the rogue people don't take advantage of that.

- Due to some coincidence (resulting from a fix of a script a couple of years ago) when Google employee examined the site in very detail, he/she might have found this 'coincidence' and might have assumed a small percentage of the links could have been 'justified' (but their volume qualified for unnatural link behavior). The coincidence was small enough that it would not trigger automatic penalty.

- When the data from the Disavow tool is used correctly and constantly by Google (I'm sure it will be), the negative SEO attacks can be fixed by algorithms. Till now, I personally added over 500 of spammy domains and over 1500 of spammy URLs (by 'spammy' I mean those that maliciously and/or temporarily placed links to our website). If we multiply it by thousands of other webmasters, the data is large enough to be successful. Bad SEOs will eventually have their spammy domains disabled (ie. links from these domains will be neutralized / not counted) and they will know it's a waste of time to attack other sites this way.

- Again, my biggest hope is that the sabotaged websites will recover quickly and fully after the attacks. As I wrote before, the bad guys hope the attacked websites will be permanently or long-term wounded and that's their greatest incentive. When the negative SEO attackers notice they waste time, effort, and risk their own domain linking values to hurt the attacked website for a short period of time only, they will stop doing it.

-------

Finally, a message to these bad SEOs. After a few days of adding your URLs and domains to my disavow.txt list, I'm starting to actually enjoy it. You link from 60 new domains a day? No problem - I use the tools to find you within a few seconds. I know my effort will not be in vain and it will help Google and other legitimate webmasters produce a permanent fix to your wrongdoings.


-------

I should update this thread in the near future once the things are resolved. Thank you all for your help so far.

turbocharged




msg:4630831
 12:12 pm on Dec 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

Finally, a message to these bad SEOs. After a few days of adding your URLs and domains to my disavow.txt list, I'm starting to actually enjoy it. You link from 60 new domains a day? No problem - I use the tools to find you within a few seconds. I know my effort will not be in vain and it will help Google and other legitimate webmasters produce a permanent fix to your wrongdoings.

It sounds like you are dealing with a low level attack. Try sifting through thousands of links each day and your enjoyment will turn to frustration. Tools also can take months to identify new links, including GWT, which means despite your best efforts you probably won't find all of them.

Google's policy on links does more than spread fear and allow innocent sites to be damaged, it is a significant waste of time to many webmasters. There's absolutely too much collateral damage going on in an effort to get the "bad guys." Additionally, such a link policy reinforces my opinion that Google's algorithm is incapable of determining editorial links from those that are not with any type of accuracy, which is why they need to build an army of uncompensated manual reviewers. The other theory is that disavowing links is just another hoop that small businesses must allocate already scarce resources to jump through.

Google's deficiencies have cost shifted the burden of links onto the backs of the small guys and gals while at the same time they accept money for Fiverr link blast ads that are displayed in Google search via Adwords.

Martin Ice Web




msg:4630835
 1:03 pm on Dec 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

@awarn, i go every day through my referals and try to recognize bots. This bots are emmidiatly blocked in robots.txt. most of them turn out not to careabout robots.txt. i block their domain name. If you are fast u can block most of this spammy backlinks.

netmeg




msg:4630845
 2:02 pm on Dec 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

Is this a WordPress site?

Have you done a site:yourdomain.com in Google to see if your titles and meta descriptions all look okay?

diberry




msg:4630865
 3:50 pm on Dec 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

Sure, but Google also cares about not letting third parties manipulate its search results.

Yes, but to what extent? If they're only concerned to the extent that it doesn't wreck their results, having one site get screwed over is not likely to harm their advertisers or visitors.

Google must realize that everyone and his dog knows how to manipulate links by now, but they've only come up with new and more disastrous ways to count them in the algo. They may be "concerned", but if they were REALLY concerned, they'd remove links or just "not count" the bad ones, as we've all discussed.

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