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How might Google be handling link sabotage?

     
2:55 pm on Feb 8, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Some webmasters are worried about their competition sabotaging them with poisonous backlinks. I'm talking about send over super spammy backlinks that will push links metrics way out of the normal range. Imagine throwing 50k blog spam links with identical anchor text to a website that has 5k natural links.

Thankfully link sabotage is not common IMHO. Most sites that have approached me suspecting link sabotage turned out to be victims of self inflicted mistakes. It can be easier to blame an outside force than to accept our mistakes. Still link sabotage is a scary risk and if you make good money online you want to understand this concept.

Google can choose to ignore spammy looking backlinks - award no benefit or penalty. This would protect less educated webmasters but it would also help spammers. Spammers could simply throw every link at their site and if Google ignores 90% of it, they will still have more than enough backlinks to outrank the rule abiding webmasters.

Google could penalize sites that receive spammy backlinks but that again helps spammers instead of working hard to develop real links they could simply drive spam links to the sites above them. So Google would want some safeguard to avoid widespread link sabotage.

A third approach would be if Google waited a few months before taking action on spammy backlinks. To be honest spammers aren't known for their patience so any delay will likely decrease the amount of sabotage attempts. Waiting a few months to apply a penalty would make it hard for any patient spammer to know if they sent over poison links to their competition. It would also give a webmaster a reasonable time period to defuse the poison link bomb before Google applied a penalty. By still enforcing link penalties and not ignoring links, Google is able to control spammy websites.

Many of you have worked on websites that lost rankings due to spammy backlink problems. Most of these situations are self inflicted mistakes. We can learn from these self inflicted mistakes to better understand how Google would address link sabotage. Start by asking yourself what positive or negative change happened to those websites with manipulated links and on what timeframe.

Google's long term solution is to add ranking signals that are harder to spam which Google has been doing. Right now, there is still benefit if you understand how Google tries to address link sabotage & simultaneously stopping websites spamming their way to the top.
1:56 am on Feb 9, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Are you referring to backlinks that are auto-generated by computer programs? There's a lot of misunderstanding about the purpose (or motive) for those types of backlinks. Some spammers try to make their own sites look more legitimate by outlinking to truely legitimate sites. Since they're continually creating new sites, they have to keep creating new links for them. It can add up to lots of links. But if you just ignore them, they'll usually disappear fairly quickly. I'm not claiming that it works, but only that spammers think it works.
3:20 am on Feb 9, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I'm less concerned with auto-generated links and links from scraper bots republishing content and more referring to competitors buying ROS paid links and other spammy links that Google does not like in an effort to create a link penalty.
11:03 am on Feb 9, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I think that these things do exist and it's not always a shot in the foot.

My site has some very bad and off topic links pointing to it that I had nothing to do with (honest Guv!). I suspect a competitor added them - probably hired someone from Fiverr. Fortunately for me (unfortunately for the competitor) you get what you pay for. All of the links were gone within a few weeks with me having to do nothing. The sites that the links were on were even gone. Not a trace of any of them as far as I can tell.

I assumed that the links were sold on a crabby PBN that was due for the scrapheap and as soon the competitors back was turned and his cheque was cashed, the links were taken down.

It was a pretty half-arsed attempt that hopefully discouraged whoever set them from bothering again.
11:38 am on Feb 9, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Well my point is that sometimes people see these auto-generated links pointing to their site and mistakenly think that it's an attempt at sabotage, when in fact the links were created for an entirely different purpose, as I explained.
11:48 am on Feb 9, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@Aristotle, I see. That does make sense but why would they disappear? And all in one go (or so it seemed)? It's far nicer to think that they weren't there to cause damage, but I suppose I will never know for sure.

If I were more hot headed, I suppose I could have struck back with a similar scheme to that suspected competitor. Glad I didn't - especially if you are correct ! :)
1:44 pm on Feb 9, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Jez123 -- Actually i was responding to goodroi, not to you. I wanted to clarify what i tried to say in my first post.

But you're right in indicating that it isn't always clear why someone created a flood of backlinks to your site. It could be sabotage, or it could be what I suggested earlier about spammers trying to make their own sites look more legitimate. Or it might even some other reason.
5:08 pm on Feb 11, 2018 (gmt 0)

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While it can be fun to think about how a SE might handle 'super spammy' backlinks other than their stated behaviour of 'ignoring' aka dampen/devalue some or all values (a link is almost certainly not a singular input) I think it important to realise that often such links are NOT ignored but treated as legitimate. How much of this is simply statistics: false positives/negatives, only the SE can answer.

And while I agree that link sabotage is not 'common' neither is it unknown. Several years back an SEO company targeted me on behalf of a client. The effect was not site wide, only affecting specific pages, and many webdevs, without similar analytics experience, data history, and methods may well have misattributed the cause. Further, I was uncommonly fortunate in being able to bring sufficient pressure to bear to have the SE take a manual look and make appropriate changes.

That said the biggest problem that a SE has in regard to links is attribution. By that I mean that theoretically a site links out to another as a benefit to it's visitor and itself, the link as thoughtful truthful testimonial being, in essence, the very foundation for PageRank. While that still exists, the hype around PR and the value of links aka testament aka popularity, means that links as value are widely gamed. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to discern who is doing the gaming with what motives.

That crap with crap backlinks floats, even clings, to the top of query results is the other side of the coin from my anxious experience: the SE unable to differentiate senseless generated/mashed content from substantive, garbage backlinks from substantive. Statistics is a hard master: 99.99% success still means 10 million exceptions in a billion pages. Algorithms, even backed by machine learning, has no intelligence no insight and often misses even the truly egregious.

Thus, even with the best of intentions, if a spammer points 100,000 links at a site, at 99.99% accuracy 1,000 will be accepted as legitimate. Of course, if they were all from the same referrer or all from footers or all from other language sites or some other recognised flag I'd expect the algo to toss them all. That it apparently can not do such recognition on it's own, without human categorisation input, is surprising at this point (although it may only be a requirement for human checking and authorisation; if so it is some slow).

So, while I think, as I said up front, it is fun to think about how spam links might be handled the real problem is not what is done on identification but on how and to what degree the identification is correctly made. After that a simple ignore removes the need for considering attribution. Of course if attribution can be determined then future proactive behaviour may be possible... not that I'd like that to be determined by algo...

Note: the advent of the webdev generated disallow list was (1) a sign of how serious their failure in identification and (2) their need for outside 'clean' training data. The subsequent admonishments against broad 'scatter gun' disavowals showed that the uploaded data was not actually 'clean' enough for training. Rather amusing.
 

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