Negative SEO is Possible, Yet Difficult, Says Matt Cutts

Jul 4, 2007 • 9:18 am | comments (12) by twitter | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Two posts in DigitalPoint Forums and WebmasterWorld post point to a very interesting Forbes article on a lesser known practice of SEO known as "Google bowling" or "negative SEO." In this tactic, search engine optimizers force competitor websites down in the rankings so that the desired client's website has more visibility.

According to Brendon Scott, who sells this service to clients, this is indeed possible.

"I understand the rules of search," Scott says. "And once you understand the rules, you can use them not just constructively, but also destructively."

And Google's Webmaster Guidelines say "There's almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index," which leaves room for these deceptive practices to occur.

This is confirmed by Matt Cutts in the article:

Matt Cutts, a senior software engineer for Google, says that piling links onto a competitor's site to reduce its search rank isn't impossible, but it's extremely difficult. "We try to be mindful of when a technique can be abused and make our algorithm robust against it," he says. "I won't go out on a limb and say it's impossible. But Google bowling is much more inviting as an idea than it is in practice."

Interesting article, especially in light of our findings that competitors do try to trash rankings. DigitalPoint Forums members believe that it's definitely eye-opening:

Maybe this will put an end to all of the people who keep saying that if you got penalized you must have deserved it, and cut back on someone of the "Google knows everything" groupies.

Barry has written more on Search Engine Land. According to the article, there are 7 ways you can impact your competitors negatively:

  1. Google Bowling
  2. Tattling
  3. Google Insulation
  4. Copyright Takedown Notices
  5. Copied Content
  6. Denial of Service
  7. Click Fraud

Forum discussion continues at DigitalPoint Forums and WebmasterWorld.

This entry was written on July 2nd and scheduled to be posted on July 4th.

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Matt Cutts

07/04/2007 04:08 pm

For example, here are three examples of negative SEO that would work: - denial-of-service attack - hacking your competitor's website and putting spam on it - identity theft to take ownership of a competitor's domain. Note that all of these are illegal, but would work. That's why I avoid using the word "impossible." But we work hard to try to prevent a competitor from hurting your website.


07/04/2007 10:38 pm

Thanks Matt for the clarification.

Meble Biurowe

07/05/2007 06:30 am

Like Matt wrote I don't think those negatives seo practice are worth your time. Its better to develop your site in this time.

Chris Duncan

07/06/2007 01:57 pm

What comes around goes around. Someones time and effort would be far better spent marketing their website in a positive light rather then trying to negatively impact their competition.

SEO Ranter

07/10/2007 01:42 pm

I remember when this change to Google's ToS came out. It's pretty awful, isn't it? I've an idea that certain mass comment posters can achieve this effect, but all said and done, I really agree with Chris. It might be hard to conduct enough sustained negative SEO to really keep a competitor down for a long enough time to build repeat business, and a sustained campaign should be easy to detect, too.


10/15/2008 10:38 am

Negative SEO is possible but its wastage of time to hamper others work, develop yourself positively. Develop and promote your own site.

No Name

03/20/2009 07:33 am

aha! this is proof that Google is not as smart or godlike as groupies like to think. Think about it, if it was so easy to get banned or penalized by Google, I would simply repeat the same action with my competitors websites, and bring them down. However, this cannot happen! Google thinks they own the internet. They've done some good but there are huge flaws with trying to fit a chaotic environment into its own proprietary system.

No Name

10/12/2009 11:13 pm

The problem is that people think they "deserve" to be in the SERPS... Negative SEO is just another tool in the kit. Using illegal methods are not acceptable but other methods are just different way to obtain a similar result.

No Name

10/20/2009 03:05 pm

what about irrelivant link building, surely if google see irrelevant (ie black hat) links building techniques then they would drop the site postion on the SERP ?

adverse seo

05/10/2012 09:48 am

I agree this could be most damaging to small business websites. It should be interesting to see how this all plays out.


04/13/2013 12:56 am

Matt, could someone kill your website rankings buy submitting 100,000 back-links in a few days?

Jim Thornton

03/25/2014 09:04 am

the case studies of this happening are starting to pop up

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