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Negative SEO attack on our site with the worst links. What to do?

     
11:54 pm on Jan 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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-- Edit... I realize I have written a lot about the neg.SEO attack on our site, so I will post cliffs right at the end of the post, please skip to the end of the post if you only want the summary --

Hey there,

I'd love to be starting my first post with something of value, but I'm afraid I am here to post out of desperation (and anger, but mostly desperation as I need your help).

For a couple of months we have been getting lots of links from Eastern European blog networks. They reek of blog networks when you visit them and they have our website linked in the sidebar or footer among other websites. We have absolutely no clue what this is/was nor have we ever bought blog network services.

At first it was only a couple of websites linking to us from Ukraine, Russia etc and we thought it was the usual scraper or spammer who links to good sites in an effort to look legitimate with his spam blog. However, the number of websites has been increasing rapidly, to the point where we are legitimately concerned, angry and my partner has become depressed. Our traffic has been decreasing some 3 weeks after the blog network links appeared, despite our traffic has always been increasing ever since the site went live and we have links from top national newspapers from different countries, TV channels, industry magazines etc and we got all these good links because we have created "unique and enticing" content, you know, the one that Google tries to convince us webmasters to create and forget about links, right?

Anyway, we are 100% this is a negative SEO attack. Incidentally all links point to one single page in particular on the site, not to the homepage or any other pages; it's just one page in particular. We've discovered these links because WMT notified us, as these links don't appear on other backlink tools.

This angers us and we really are fearing getting the dreadful WNT message of unnatural incoming links. Our traffic is dropping already, and it doesn't help that we have thousands of links from the usual internet garbage like m.biz and those stupid auto-generated excerpt-content spam sites. Other than that, we have some really strong backlinks which I am guessing is what is keeping us from avoiding a penalty... YET.

Now, here's the thing. I've been reading for days now about how to fix this issue, and it boils down to using the disavow tool or not. No I cannot contact the site owners as they're all spammers with fake WHOIS or are SEO agencies (LOL). I've thought of contacting their hosts but they're mostly OVH customers so I doubt OVH will give a damn about this (although if anyone has experience removing negative SEO links by contacting the actual webhosts, please share).

WRT the disavow tool, I am not sure whether to use it or not. Most I've read is of using it when there's a penalty already and not when you suspect of incoming links, although I recall Matt Cutts briefly saying in a video that any bad links that a webmaster gets to his/her sites can be disavowed. However, I had to actually search around for where on earth the disavow tool was as there's no direct link to it from the WMT panel, which sort of tells me what kind of use it should be given (as in the last option of all and well researched).

Guys, please, help us. We have spent a lot of time building a site that gets links from just having genuinely good content. We've spent a good amount of time (months on end) and real hard work just solely dedicating it to creating great content and a good overall site. Our competitors are mostly spammers and scrapers, and we know there are many guys who would like us to go down. We have never done anything to anyone and have always played fair and competed by concentrating on building our site.

I've read plenty of stories of people going down (penalized) because of bad links and PBN links. In our case, when it was only a couple bad links we found I thought that our site would be able to handle it on its own and it would look completely out of place to Google, but we're now talking of 20 times that and from the worst type of negative SEO: actual blog networks that make an effort to try to not look like a PBN but any trained eye can easily tell it's a PBN.

I would sincerely appreciate if you can tell us how to proceed. Should I use the disavow tool? Should I hope that Google can tell that sidebar links from a Ukranian blog about a completely random niche isn't something we as webmasters would be wanting? Bu what if it's 60, 80, 100 links or more?

I've read that using the disavow tool can possibly garner too much attention and get your site under a manual review. In the case that the current bad links would not be doing anything to us, a manual review wold detect those bad links and believe them to be done on purpose (so a penalty follows). I've read multiple cases of this happening.

I've also read that using the disavow tool even if before any manual penalties is a sign of admitting that you know of those links. By only disavowing those bad links from Eastern European blog networks in particular and not any other bad links, we could be sending a message that the rest of bad links we do approve. In the end and to avoid massive paranoia, we'd have to disavow just about all links we have, and that's what Matt Cutts has warned against: to not go on a rampage with the disavow tool. But then how on this beautiful earth do I know what links to tell Google to reject because someone is trying to hurt me?

I have to apologize for the long post but I am sure many of you can relate to the desperation and confusion that getting bad links from others leads to. I just wish for those links to go away and let us continue with what we've been doing till now.

I would so thankful if any of you could please help with how to proceed. Use the disavow tool? forget about the blog network links and continue with life and if I get a manual penalty explain it all in the disavow tool? This is the first time I'll be using the disavow tool and the first time I have been attacked.

Thanks so much!

Cliffs:

- We have a good site under a Negative SEO attack
- The links are all from Easter European networks. They're sidebar/footer/menu links
- All bad links point to one single page in our site. It's a premeditated and blatant attack
- Our site has natural solid links from newspapers/magazines/tv stations etc but we also have 000s links from those annoying m.biz and excerpt-linking sites
- Some 3 weeks after the Neg.SEO attack started (a couple of months back), our site began to go down in traffic and has been going down ever since.
- Blog network links are increasing fast in numbers on our WMT panel They're all live, none have dropped over the course of the attack.
- How do we proceed? Ignore them and continue with our business or use the disavow tool?

Thanks again
5:05 am on Jan 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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No follow No index the page the links point to and remove all links from that page to the rest of your site.
Duplicate the content on a new page and re-do your navigation to point to the new page.
Do not redirect to the new page.
Disavow domains pointing to the problem page, not individual pages with links to the page.

Continue with the work you should be doing.
9:49 am on Jan 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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My advice would be similar to the above - except I'd just let the page that's being targeted 404 and move the content to a new URL, then adjust your site navigation.

(And cross your fingers they don't target your home page next time). If they do - then that's what the disavow tool is for.

Good luck!
1:29 pm on Jan 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I know you say you are positive that it's a negative SEO attack, but honestly, I get these kinds of links all the time across multiple sites, and it hasn't made a difference in my rankings (just my Google alerts, ork ork) or my traffic. So make sure that you are not being distracted by the links to some other issue(s) with your site that could be causing your traffic to drop. Maybe it is the links. But maybe it's not.
8:41 pm on Jan 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Thanks so much for the advice so far guys!

So I take it that by doing a 404 on that page that has all those spam links pointed to it, I would be cancelling any negative SEO effect from the spam links? It's kind of amazingly coincidental but John Mueller said the following just two days ago in a reply to this question on Twitter.

Question:

Hi I wanted to know if a 404 or 410 will be passing juice to other pages that are being linked from the 404/410?

John Mueller:

We ignore everything on pages that return 404/410 when we crawl them - make them work for your users.

--

So can I take it then from what John Mueller said that any incoming external links would not spread their juice elsewhere on the site as the page is simply ignored due to its 404 status?

In this case, the 404 we would use would be one of those custom 404 pages, so there'd be internal links (menu/suggested pages) to other pages of the site in that custom 404. Would I be right assuming that, because the HTTP response of the page is a (custom) 404, these internal links on the page would not be followed by the Googlebot and thus any incoming external links to that 404 page would not count at all?

I would really appreciate if someone could post an answer to these questions above with regards to 404-ing the page that has been linked with all these spammy links. And whether simpy 404-ing the page would be enough or whether we should also disavow those spammy links/domains too (we've never use the disavow tool on this site).

FTR, I saw John Mueller's reply over at SEroundtable in an article titled "Google On 404/410 Status Codes; We Ignore Everything Else On The Page", however it would not be the first time that John Mueller tells us a half-true statement and leaves some important tidbits out of his statement, and hence my questions on 404-ing the page being enough to cancel the negative SEO effect from those spammy links.
9:06 pm on Jan 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I know you say you are positive that it's a negative SEO attack, but honestly, I get these kinds of links all the time across multiple sites, and it hasn't made a difference in my rankings (just my Google alerts, ork ork) or my traffic. So make sure that you are not being distracted by the links to some other issue(s) with your site that could be causing your traffic to drop. Maybe it is the links. But maybe it's not.


Sorry, don't know how to quote. The above is a quote from user netmeg.

I know what you mean with that. We have had a couple of links from blog networks pointed at us randomly in the past. However, these links stem from the fact that spammers like to link out (with a followed link, no less) from their PBN to one or two authority sites to make the linking to their money site not so obvious. This way, according to them, Google would have to penalize not just them (spammers) but also innocent sites. I've actually been reading black hat forums to understand what they do and be prepared and expect nasty competition.

In the case of these eastern european links in my OP, I am 100% the above isn't the case. The links follow the same kayout [sidebar/menu/footer, never contextual] and the same pattern (either russian/ukrainian content and looks spun), likewise the links are from actual blog networks that Google is after. A couple of links are from penalized blogs too *sigh* I bit the bullet and in my desperation asked an experienced SEO (through referral, she's legit) if she could tell us more about the spammy links and she confirmed that they were from well known blog networks that Google will be penalizing any time now [and have already penalized some]. These blog networks [according to her] are being used exclusively for negative SEO. She even told me a method to get a site penalized in less than 2 weeks which is scary and sad.

She did also say she was against using the disavow tool unless penalized, so here I am getting mixed replies as I've read from many people to not touch the disavow tool as it could be interpreted as you having second thoughts about the links you built and trying to cancel their effect. Then I recall Cutts saying that a webmaster could use the disavow tool to disavow links from auto generated content like the garbage from m.biz and the likes. But what about using the disavow tool on links coming from blatant blog networks that have nothing to do with us?

So much confusion and anger. I would not wish a SEO neg. attack on my worst enemy.

BTW I was digging last nite through all the links in WMT and I noticed some Vietnamese links following the same exact format of the links from these eastern european blog networks...

LOL we spend money on a mobile theme, give up our free time to create lots of useful content, spend money on graphics and images, spend money on a high end server... and some idiot comes along and can destroy it for whatever it's costing him pay for those crap links (what, 100 bucks?).
1:29 am on Jan 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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LOL we spend money on a mobile theme, give up our free time to create lots of useful content, spend money on graphics and images, spend money on a high end server... and some idiot comes along and can destroy it for whatever it's costing him pay for those crap links (what, 100 bucks?).

Spam is spam and some people will do whatever it takes to rank their websites. Instead of buying links to their sites, they target yours and probably others in your niche. There are a lot of people that say negative seo does not work, but it appears to have upset you quite a bit and wasted a lot of your time. Even if nothing else happens with your ranks, after deleting the page or changing the URL, it's mission accomplished for the perp. In the current environment we all find ourselves competing in, a successful negative seo campaign can be measured in many different ways. Forcing you to reallocate your efforts away from improving your site and adding content is just one of the ways these perps find success. Best wishes to your recovery.
7:04 am on Jan 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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You can 404 the targeted page if you want. I prefer to remove all links, nofollow and noindex instead. Effectively the same result, no link juice (good or bad) is going to flow from the targeted page to the rest of your site.
If the linking sites run a link checker, the 404 will show, so I prefer the orphan page approach, they can link to it all they want.

Disavow is automatic, it's the same as if those links were nofollow. I use it on foreign language links and obvious junk links. Virtually always domain level.

If you 404 or orphan the target page and you don't see improvement within a week or two, then re-read Netmeg's post.
3:52 pm on Mar 25, 2015 (gmt 0)

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While I am no Negative SEO expert I have 15 years of link scheme experience with SEOing for Google. Google took out 4 of my networks starting is 2009, then 2010, then March & April 2011 which is when I changed tactics and have never been hit by PENGUIN and like you I buy expired domains for network developments.

That was more than a million dollars in domain loses but I'm still doing it because it is very lucrative and with every loss I have learned a lot.

My 2010 hit was reported publicly at [productforums.google.com...] (be mindful there is some very colorful language in that thread) and while Matt Cutts disclosed they learned a lot (so did I) that was more than $500,000 in expired domains including a PR9, 2x PR8, 6x PR7, many PR6s, a ton of PR5s and the rest PR4s.

I only point this out because you have disclosed in another thread that you to purchased expired domains that you have never developed their link profiles inhouse for yourself and thus cannot fully appreciate these link profiles in advance.

Any chance these have a paralleling history to the affected domain?
6:28 pm on Mar 25, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Nah, the site that got hit is white hat. It actually has awesome content from UGC but from people "in the know". All content is moderated by experts so it's good, so good we have natural backlinks from places people pay thousands of bucks for.

I've seen you've bumped this thread after the post on another similar one, so I will update this as it's been 2 months now. Basically, we got the links removed as we spotted who it was. We got a nice email from the spammer telling us to pay him to remove those links. Unfortunately the idiot left footprints and we contacted the local police for extortion (it's not USA or UK and we have contacts in the local police department). The spammer is someone we know and from an agency (where my partner has physical presence) that... well let's say people get very angry when you tell them you don't want to work with them for X or Y valid reasons. When we showed him the police report on email telling him of the footprints and that we knew who he was, the spam links disappeared.

This idiot (i.e. spammer) also has links in the niche of the site that got spammed. We have recovered the rankings and continue good and solid. So yeah, don't neg. SEO people as it may backfire on you.
7:31 pm on Mar 25, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Something happened to about four posts in middle of the thread that where not visible until now.
1:39 pm on Mar 31, 2015 (gmt 0)

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No one mentioned panda? @Kratos, have you been hit by Panda? Google should have some allowance. I get loads of links from China but I don't bother with them.
6:09 pm on Apr 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@Kratos, I am new here but wanted to just say one thing in response that i just found out. If you know it is spam, you can actually research who the hosting provider is and report them. It is not in the best interest of Webhosts to host spam sites because they themselves can get penalized in different ways, such as all their IP's to get put on email blacklists etc.

They will research the site, and if found to be a spam site, they will actually send a warning letter to the sites owner to fix or remove the site (or it will be removed for them).
2:52 pm on Apr 4, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Thanks but the links were put in spam networks where they use the sites to post links to websites you want to tank. UNfortunatly these spam networks exist to spam your competitors. I've been surprised to find all the garbage I've unveiled since this attack. Truly awful.
10:13 am on Apr 17, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Kratos, all you can do is use the Google disavow tool if you believe you have been hit. Dont bother listing by URL but list on a domain level. Google *may* then gather the IP's and blanket ignore any new links from other domains on the same class C.

Correction to my post above; any drops will be noticeable under the Penguin update (not Panda).
12:52 pm on Apr 17, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@Johan007 Thanks for your reply. I really don't want to mention what has happened during these months with the site that got hit because I don't want to "give" ideas. But let us say that "smart" neg.SEO is alive and well...

Cheers