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Common thread 1: if someone were to ask about paying an SEO company $19.95 for submission to 5000 free directories - many would warn them that the sudden influx of rubbish links will hurt their rankings. Great, I'll just give them my competitors URl.
Common thread 2: "I'm linking all 10 of my sites together, could that cause a problem?" - most would answer, yes. So, what if I were to buy 10 throwaway domains, put nonsense on them and crosslink all 10 to each other AND my competitors website?
Common thread 3: "I've been offered 250 one-way links across 5 (Indian) IPs for just $50 a month. Is that a good deal?" This is offered by so many companies and many would often respond that such could get you flagged.
Common thread 4: Links from bad places. Would a sudden influx of links from a pharma site get me penalised? How about inbounds from gambling sites? Adult dating websites? How about all three!
Common thread 5: Paid links. Buy paid links to my competitor (cheap ones!) - report it.
Probably best to stop there and I suggest that no more examples are added to the thread.
Now what if I did ALL OF THE ABOVE to my own site? I'm sure if I started a thread saying I planned to do all these people would be forcasting doom and destruction.
Why, then, if I were to say that I'm going to do this to a competitor's site does it sound unlikely to work? Either these things are highly likely to cause ranking drops or they are not - no matter who's site you do them to.
The above examples are the kind of thing that used to be effective for entry level "google bowling" but I haven't see them working recently. Nor do they help, either. The one possible exception might be buying cheap paid links to your competition - but even that tactic seems to be under better protection these days.
[edited by: tedster at 4:37 pm (utc) on Sep. 26, 2009]
I think that it is really a 'combination' of factors that increases the effectiveness of that type of campaign.
All the more reason why webmasters should be able to 'claim' link responsibility in Webmaster tools as other posted have previously suggested.
Has anyone ever setup a controlled test for this on one of their own domains?
First, we're probably talking about a hand penalty of some sort. That's what I'd be worried about.
Secondly, I suspect Google's pretty good at determining whether the stuff you're doing is done by you or someone else. You create a network, google can probably tell they're 'your' sites and not someone elses.
Running Google analytics? Running a google toolbar? Then Google just hits a button and says 'give me the IP of everyone who's been at your main site + the 10 in the network.'. This is not difficult right? Oh look, that's YOUR IP address. Boom, done.
Now throw in a good check of your backlink profile. If you're full of solid 'good' links and they check, then maybe they're less concerned about the bad links. If all you've got is crap links clearly designed to rank, then maybe you should be worried. So as I think others have pointed out, it kinda makes sense that a solid backlink profile can guard against what you're concerned about.
I suspect Google's pretty good at determining whether the stuff you're doing is done by you or someone else.
How? All the stuff I mentioned above has no trail Google could follow (other than the crosslinking where whois info would not match). Those methods are all external and if a webmaster did those and got penalised for it - their reinclusion request would say "it wasn't me, someone else did this to me" ;)
I think one of my tests is in order - any volunteers to be the test subject?
Please note, the list above is not even a tenth of the items I have noted down here on my desk ... yes, I still use pen and paper most of the time even though I can type much faster ...
As to google being sensible: Hmmm. Even if they are, there is a LOT that can hurt you that they can't detect within a reasonable time. They can't even keep malware gangs out of serps, and many of those use well-known IPs and hosting services that should be easy to block.
Google has in-built site-destruction methods within its policy and practice. It ain't gonna change that now. All they can do is try to be craftier than the baddies, but to do that you probably have to have a baddy mind-set. Hmmm again: perhaps they could fix it after all! :)
As to how Google can know, I already described one way that Google can tell - by matching your IP's across various sites. That'd take about 3 minutes for a programmer to write the code to query their database to retrieve that info. There are others I'm sure. Certainly I can see networks easily in some cases. And if I put all my blogs together and pointed them at one site, google would know because of other similiar factors (ownership, dns, hosting company, theme, they're all on wordpress, etc). See a network, find the owner of even one site and you've got the whole shebang.
Personally I'm not too concerned, for most of the reasons I've stated. My main site has enough top quality backlinks that if someone pulled this and I went crying to Google, I think it'd be pretty obvious what's happened. You don't go from 'good' link building to that dark overnight.
If your SEO consists of more automated techniques and low to mid quality links are what you've got, and you get hammered (despite the fact that I think it's tougher than it seems to do this to someone), then that's a risk you took with your link building techniques.
Personally I'm with tedster on this one. Do that kind of stuff on a site and suffer a penalty which can be recovered from or alternatively it doesn't help you rank. That's why you don't do this stuff yourself. If it's done to you either it's recoverable, or it's worth a cry out to Google.
If your basic premise is that whatever Google action is triggered by what the OP stated will most likely be a hand penalty, this implies the targeted site somehow showed up on their radar. How? It probably advanced in serps -all under the hood-. Or it showed an anomaly in its own distribution curve, say it was off from its normal behaviour. The only other option could be as a result of a review by an engineer due to a spam report.
My naivety tells me that if your (or mine) infant site has solid content useful to users as opposed to solid backlinks, it may not be associated to the bad backlinks that somehow affected the site and triggered the review or got the site flagged. Thus, it will neither help nor hurt. So by doing this to a competitor you may only bring it up to Google's closer inspection. Then, solid content will protect you more than anything else. Just like anything statistics, add a 5% +/- error to that picture. So
1) a small number of sites may get a little boost (Google decides the site is independent from the newly gained backlinks which are not that bad and gives the green light)
2) while a small number of sites may get dropped (Google decides you did this to yourself and hands out a penalty).
3) but mosts sites will not be affected (Google decides this could be a tactic to harm someone else)
Humans are not perfect, but the world is :)
As for Google knowing which are your sites, they might have been able to know this for ages. Heck, they could even ask for a handout of your IPs from this forum and associate all your sites and searches to your comments and make a nice, little profile. All what would be left is your sweet smiling face on 2 x 2 passport pic and you are ready for party!