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'Legal' Definition of Negative SEO?

     
10:02 am on Aug 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Hi All,

We have been researching the legality (UK and US) of negative SEO and possible implications to the relevant parties. What we have found researching this with Internet lawyers is the complete lack of fixed definition or even agreement on what the term means. I.e some lawyers considered (wrongly in my view) negative reviews as Negative SEO while others struggled with the concept of achieving a negative effect on a site via methods which do not actually have any direct interaction with said site. i.e heavy anchor text link building rather than some sort of DDOS attack or hack.

My definition thus far is:

Negative SEO: The wilful and malicious act of sabotaging a competitor’s website with the express aim of either negatively affecting their rankings or their complete removal from the search engine index for a competitive gain.

Can you add anything to this? Do you agree/disagree? if so why?

Keep in mind that I want to keep it as simple and as short as possible.

[edited by: aakk9999 at 11:45 am (utc) on Aug 18, 2015]

7:26 pm on Aug 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I think the best way to get the best answer to your question is to go in to the attorney, say [after pulling up their site in a browser], "This is your website, right? [search google and find it in the rankings] It ranks here, right? -- Now, I'm your competition and I'm going to get it penalized and removed from the top 10 in Google for the search we just did... What are you going to do about it?"

IMO if you give them a bit of personal perspective on what you're talking about they'll probably "get it", be inclined to ask questions about the ins-and-outs of how, and come up with a better answer than they will for someone who says, "this is my site, this is what someone did..."
9:29 pm on Aug 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I don't know if I agree. Do you know for sure that is why you are ranking lower? Can you prove it? Please explain the Google algorithm. What are the factors, all of them please. My point is in the US the party is innocent until proven guilty. Can you prove that is the reason for your lower rankings. Even if they hired somebody can you prove it? I think it is a tough case. What is NSEO? What is referrer spam? Is that NSEO or not? Are links good or bad? Do you have NSEO or is it a Google penalty, can you, prove it?

Trust me Google has made a mess. There are so many variables. Is it links, over-optimization, SSL, Server, bad code, strange links from foreign country you never deal with? Who really knows anymore because overall it makes NO sense. In the Google world cream sinks to the bottom.
9:43 pm on Aug 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Those are some good points about how tough it will probably be to actually prove or do anything about, here in the States for sure.
10:59 pm on Aug 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I was having some difficulty with a hosting company recently and moved everything from that server, or so I thought. It's a static site utilizing bootstrap and is mostly to provide contact information.

Right around June 27 the were some parasite folders added and thousands of Russian pr0n links started piling up pointed at those folders. Coincidence that the parasite folders just happened while beefing with the host?

I changed the nameservers and the site is newly hosted without the parasite folders. The bad links are starting to drop as it was mostly forum type spam, I'll point some quality links to somewhat offset the junk and just ride it out. Just a day in the life.
2:20 am on Aug 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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First you gotta prove that what happened is negative SEO (and not one of a million other things), and then you gotta prove who did it.

Good luck.
3:39 am on Aug 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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My point is in the US the party is innocent until proven guilty.

Uh, I don't think the OP was asking about bringing criminal charges, which would involve violation of some specific statute that already exists. In a civil case the standard is "preponderance of the evidence" i.e more likely than not. Ultimately it would depend very much on what kind of mood the judge is in.
6:09 am on Aug 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Just to clarify, my main purpose of the thread is for assistance with a watertight (as possible) definition of what Negative SEO is. I am not too concerned with the chances of bringing a successful civil case (as Lucy correctly pointed out) against the perpetrators or their agents. I just want to know if, in your opinion, the definition in the first post is correct and if you would add/remove or amend in any way.

Saying that, it will be worth remembering that the vast majority of NSEO campaigns are not as well thought out as some of you would make out or think. They tend to be a kneejerk reaction resulting in poor planning and/or researching. Often, the agency carrying out the NSEO attack are quite easy to spot and you will be amazed what information will be surrendered with a well written letter from a major law firm. This idea that NSEO is somehow un-provable is, in a large portion of cases, plainly incorrect and naïve.
6:43 am on Aug 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Is there a legal definition for SEO or do any of you know whether it is legal to do SEO...and if it is legal to do SEO, whether both whitehat and blackhat SEO is legal or just one of them? and when it comes to negative SEO as per the SEOs definition, is it illegal or legal in the legal world?

Ok, let me get real....when google algorithms to rank websites is supposed to be a blackbox and more so a propriety of Google, massive linking to an unrelated website to sabotage their ranking might not hold water before any court anywhere in the world unless it is a banana republic....simply because it is not the same as stealing your non factual content or injecting malware or carrying out any other direct harm to your site...
6:48 am on Aug 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Can anyone have a website that is publicly accessible and claim that no one can link to our site or so and so cannot link to our site or linking can be done only in a small way and not massively?

ponder over similar questions and you will get your answer ;)
7:10 am on Aug 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Since I'm the one who outlined a situation where "negative seo" is in play and I don't feel that I am either incorrect or naive, let's look a little deeper.

Parasite pages, or folders are added to a website either when someone finds a vulnerability or there is a built-in back door somewhere in a theme, plug-in or whatever. The parasite is looking for trust and authority which tempers the pretty much crap links that get pointed to those parasite pages. So, we have forum and user spam which points to the parasite pages/folders which points to their money pages or intermediate pages.

Most of what I see isn't designed to "hurt" a site, it's designed to help a different site, which isn't addressed anywhere in your attempted definitions.
10:06 am on Aug 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Rob, So, Parasite SEO in your opinion can be described as Negative SEO? We know that Parasite SEO can hurt the host site but do you not think the intent is an important factor? I.e the intent of the Parasite SEO perpetrator is to rank his injected page and even if we assume he is fully aware that his actions can damage the host site, we cannot say that his intent is to destroy the ranking of the host site.

The same goes for black hat SEO. Yes, there can be very serious legal repercussions if an agency is found to knowingly use methods that are outside Google guidelines which was not previously disclosed or agreed with the client but the actual intent is always to improve ranking of the site and not destroy it. Here is an example of such a lawsuit: [searchengineland.com...] But Im Still not convinced this can be classed as NSEO.
3:25 pm on Aug 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Another case that involved negative SEO is Sterling Currency Group v. Iraqidinar.org. You might find that one interesting. Google the case participants with filetype:pdf to get copies of legal docs. I think you are correct that Negative SEO is not actually a legal term. When a crime is new, the law doesn't have a formal definition. It's only after there are many cases that a new type of crime might be specifically addressed by various legislators and regulatory bodies who define the law. In the interim, more general laws apply. A good attorney helping a client with negative SEO will come up with a long list of legal infractions (interfering with commerce, copyright violation, mail order fraud, fraud, unfair competition, etc.) to make the complaint as intimidating as possible. The case I mention above asks for $20 million in damages. But no a judge will never say "I find the accused guilty of Negative SEO" because it's not something that is officially deemed to be illegal. Not an attorney, but pretty sure I'm correct on this. Good luck.
6:49 pm on Aug 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Er, what do you mean by "legal definition?" :)

I like your definition but only if it's meant primarily for legal action.

If not - especially if it's meant to provide functional understanding - I think it should be shorter and the whole orientation toward intention should either go or be de-emphasized and more emphasis added for the nature of the act, itself and the concrete effects.

Basically, I'd rethink "willful and malicious" and "sabotage" and "aim." You're using the notion of intent as a way of synthesizing diverse acts into something broadly conceptual so that you don't exclude specific acts not yet identified as negative SEO. That's fine, in theory. But ironically that sort of lingo restricts the coverage of the definition to the suspect's intentions. It's very useful if you want to sue someone, 'cause all you have to do is establish intent. But if you're trying to help people figure out what you're talking about, it dances around what's actually happening and merely provides a loophole for folks wanting to wiggle out of responsibility. I guess what I mean is that by excluding people who declare innocent intentions/relying on the advice of others/etc, your definition would miss the acts themselves. And it's not unreasonable to expect that eventually, as shady techniques get "out there," they WILL be used by people who have no idea what they're doing.

It's hard to come up with a broad definition that isolates the acts and their effects, themselves without restricting them too much. Would it be too broad to say negative SEO is simply "using acts of sabotage to negatively effect a change in a competitor website’s search engine rankings in order to gain competitive advantage?" (Using "acts of sabotage" locates the deliberation in the act itself rather than the saboteur. Then you can go ahead and define "acts of sabotage" however you want.)

But of course all this isn't relevant if you ARE looking for a true legal definition. For which I can't help you, 'cause I'm not a legal-type person.
4:21 am on Aug 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Shai,
I'd say anytime links are pointed at a site where the links are unlikely to advance the interests of the site owner there is "negative seo" at play. How effective depends on who is doing it and why they are doing it, intent isn't something I concern myself over.

I did actually spend a little over an hour today writing a page about Bambi and Thumper, then I added quite a bit of pleasant sounding fluff. Shortly after, I set up redirects so any undesired links will point to the Bambi page. It will be interesting to see how SEs handle that disconnect.
8:48 am on Aug 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@Lapizuli, @Rob_Banks Really appreciate your input it has made me think about the role Intent has to play in the definition but I find myself back at square one again i'm afraid.

So in short you would actually argue that in your opinion the intent should have little or no bearing on the definition? This would change the statement to something like:

Negative SEO: A service or set of actions that are outside a search engine's guidelines and may negatively affect a site's rankings or their complete removal from the search engine index of the particular site.

Its a little rough around the edges as I have not had my morning coffee yet but is that what you are roughly getting at?

If yes, then my next question is, what is the difference between your definition of NSEO and Black Hat SEO? Are you saying that NSEO is just BHSEO gone wrong? Am I alone in thinking that intent has a massive role in the definition of the term?
11:13 am on Aug 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Negative SEO: A service or set of actions that are outside a search engine's guidelines and may negatively affect a site's rankings or their complete removal from the search engine index of the particular site.


The issue with the above definition is that any incompetent or agressive SEOs will fall under this, even if they are trying to imporve the site. "Site you do not own" or "competitor's site" or "site you have no control over" should come somewhere in it to distinguish actions purposely done to tank the site from the actions done to improve the site, but are against the guidelines and got the site tanked.
11:26 am on Aug 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Rob, So, Parasite SEO in your opinion can be described as Negative SEO? We know that Parasite SEO can hurt the host site but do you not think the intent is an important factor? I.e the intent of the Parasite SEO perpetrator is to rank his injected page and even if we assume he is fully aware that his actions can damage the host site, we cannot say that his intent is to destroy the ranking of the host site.

The "parasitic SEO" as described ..( the unauthorised placing of content ..be it pages or or scripts etc, within the server space of a website that one is not the owner or administrator of.."intrusion" ) ..is known as "hacking" ( although the original use of the term "hacking, as related to computers did not mean this ) ..and as such is illegal ( a criminal offence ) in almost ( if not all juristictions ) ..In the UK it comes under an act governing "computer misuse" ? ..

Hacking ( as described above ) was never SEO..not even blackhat SEO..such actions pre-date search engines..

Parasitic SEO..( or to give it back it's true name "Website Hacking" ) is already illegal..
12:08 pm on Aug 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Parasite pages, or folders are added to a website either when someone finds a vulnerability or there is a built-in back door somewhere in a theme, plug-in or whatever.


Er, this is not a description of negative SEO. It's a description of hacking.
1:09 pm on Aug 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Ha, Leosghost, you beat me to the punch.
1:18 pm on Aug 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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:) To tell the truth, I had been waiting since the phrase "parasitic SEO" was first used in this thread for someone to point out the "double speak"*..
* kind of like the word "mispoke" being coined and used in an attempt to excuse what used to be called "lying" >:((
4:03 pm on Aug 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@Whoa - That's an incredibly helpful reply which I completely missed. Thanks for that. Will look into it further!

@aakk9999 If I add "Site you don't own" or "Competitor's website" then we are back to intent. Otherwise why would you carry out damaging work on a site if you are not intending on harming its rankings? From what you say, I take it that you agree that my original definition in the opening post was a more accurate one?
4:28 pm on Aug 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I think the intent is important in "Neg SEO" definition. Otherwise it could be incompetent SEO or it could be a Black Hat SEO or you could even have a "White Hat" SEO that suddenly falls into this definition the very moment Google further tightens what is within the guidelines and what not.
5:54 pm on Aug 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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In the future, I will attempt to use the more accurate:
"form of hacking(that is really cracking and illegal) that involves the placement of pages or folders on a site which has high volumes of low quality links pointed at those pages/folders and those pages/folders have outbound links to another site, often in a foreign country"

rather than:

"Parasite SEO"
:)
6:44 pm on Aug 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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"Cracking" is getting a "pay for" program to work that one has not paid for..
"Hacking" in the original meaning as it relates to programming was getting anything to work as one wanted it to..frequently meant getting even free software or programs to work.."Cracking" could be considered to be a "subset" of "old school" hacking..

Hacking is nowadays taken to mean "unauthorised intrusion to websites"..

Showing my age ;) ..
7:31 pm on Aug 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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And here I was trying to avoid the hacker vs cracker semantic debate. Now I'm trying to remember what this thread was about.
10:50 am on Aug 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Thanks aakk9999. That's very helpful.

Guys, I'm really keen to get some other opinions on this. Specifically I would like to hear if anyone else thinks that intent is an important ingredient in the definition of Negative SEO? Even if you just comment Agree or disagree to give me some idea of what the consensus is on this that would be great.

Just had an email from another quite well known internet lawyer from the US and his reply to my questions suggest that even he does not fully understand what exactly Negative SEO is. They all seem to think that its a form of libellous negative comments (i.e fake reviews and comments). I explained the basics and the forms it can take but they all seem to gravitate towards the reputation damaging definition which in my opinion is completely unsuitable and incorrect.
7:59 am on Aug 22, 2015 (gmt 0)

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In my understanding, a "legal definition" is a term that is defined in a law somewhere.

Since this is probably not the case for the term "negative SEO" (or even just "SEO"), the simple answer to your question would be: There is no legal definition.

In the discussion, you rather seem to ask: "what do you guys think is the definition of negative SEO?"
You may get 6 answers out of 5 people to that one. The executive summary will be "whatever someone else can do to harm my site", which has little practical benefit as a definition.

Now if you wanted to ask about the possible legal implications of specific practises out of the negative SEO arsenal, then it might get more interesting.
1:36 pm on Aug 22, 2015 (gmt 0)

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You'll need to ask yourself what you need the definition for. Then apply it and see if it includes everything you want included and excludes stuff you don't.
2:14 pm on Aug 22, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Does the G DISAVOW link, etc make any sense?

Negative SEO, what lame attempts there are, is pretty easy peasy to defeat in GWMT.

And no, there is no legal def of SEO or NSEO as they are constructs of industry, not tenets of public. Consult your attorney if you are really concerned as these are generally a "liable" problem
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