Google: "Probably Possible" 3rd Party Bad Links Can Hurt You

Aug 4, 2010 • 8:49 am | comments (19) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Time after time, Google has said spam links can't hurt you. Google said it a bunch of times, competitors can't hurt you, but most SEOs do not believe that.

I spotted a new thread at Google Webmaster Help where Google is somewhat changing their tune to this claim.

JohnMu of Google said "theoretically, it's probably possible" that competitors can use links to hurt your rankings. Of course, John said it is extremely unlikely, adding:

But in practice, we have a lot of safeguards that help our algorithms to evaluate sites in useful ways. Our algorithms are pretty complex, it takes more than a handful of bad links to sway their opinion of a website. Even if Webmaster Tools shows a million links, then that's not going to change things if those links are all ignored for ranking purposes.

But this is one of the first times I have seen a Googler say, it is "probably possibile" for a competitor to use links to hurt a site. Of course, SEOs believe it was possible, right?

Take my poll, do you think a competitor can hurt your site in Google by using spam links?

This post is timely because someone tried this to my corporate site Sunday night. You can read that story at RustyBrick's blog. Personally, I am not worried about my site taking a dive in Google from this spam attack - but maybe I am naive.

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.

Previous story: Tim Mayer Leaves Yahoo, Kinda Like Matt Cutts Leaving Google


Rich Hill

08/04/2010 01:33 pm

I "probably doubt that". Google says crap like this from time to time just to make you worry about these little details. If this were true we would all start spamming the hell out of the competition. Here is what I think. No link can hurt you. They may not give a crappy link any value but there is no way they could separate the good, the bad, and the ugly.


08/04/2010 03:30 pm

Yes. I've spammed competitors and watched them drop off the first page in a matter of days.


08/04/2010 04:35 pm

I don't think there is any way that I can hurt competitors. If there was, that would seem like a great way to raise my rankings. knocking others down, will raise your rankings. A lot easier to get spammy, porn links or forum links for competitors than getting a couple of quality ones for yourself.


08/04/2010 05:24 pm

I really wonder about stuff like this - this doesn't really seem to clear anything up - I suppose as usually we really just need to trust our own testing and findings during SEO campaigns

Michael Martinez

08/04/2010 05:27 pm

I HAVE seen a site suffer from 1,000,000 bad backlinks that were put up by a third party. The rankings were restored after Google was made aware of the situation. This is really not an issue people need to agonize over.


08/04/2010 05:33 pm

It's totally possible to drop a site w/ spammy links, but it won't always work...depends upon the site (e.g. #/quality of existing inbounds, age, current link profile, etc.). For example, I'd be very surprised if your corporate blog was negatively impacted since it's 12 years old, has over 50,000 links, and has an established history. However, if your blog was 2mos old, with 50 links...different story. Morale of story: find and whack your new competitors quickly. :p


08/04/2010 07:48 pm

I don't agree because Google says that you can't (for the most part) control who links to your sites. Though there isn't any manual review on how the links spread to spam sites I believe Google has the technology to decide the possibility of the link being found on the other pages because sometimes blogs/websites connects to informative/source links when describing a topic and as that link carry weight/vote to the source link means Google understands the quality whether it is good or bad. So when a good sites automatically have links pointing from other good sites if Google find the same link on another bad/spam site, I don't think it will hurt you in Google's eyes.


08/04/2010 08:04 pm

I'm not so sure if that's true cause you can embed robot protocol sequences in your html to code to ward off attempts to test out this theory. I just found the google help page that lists the sequence,it's on Google's 'Web Robots Pages'. Well if anyone finds a google info page, not a forum, that says this is true drop me a line so i'll know too.

No Name

08/05/2010 04:26 am

Speculations are really hard, you cant work well with out a little piece of mind. I think its better to be prepared than sorry. Thanks for the helpful post.

No Name

08/05/2010 07:21 am

Didn't realise bad links could hurt your site - thanks for the post - V. informative

Nick D

08/05/2010 08:52 am

Get a bunch of links posted to a site in quick succession with the same anchor text - that hits the Big G spam alert.


08/05/2010 09:02 am

That's a good blog post. I guess you can know if it works or no only from experience. I've never tried it and unless a competitor does it to one of my sites, I'm not worried.

Terry Van Horne

08/05/2010 12:02 pm

Matt Cutt's admitted as much in the post announcing changes to the Webmaster Guidelines for paid links post on the WebmasterCentral blog. Although he also chimed in with "we review this carefully" or some other statement along those lines. IMO, if ya don't buy links the chances of Negative SEO working on your site are near zero.


08/07/2010 01:14 am

I am a victim right now of 100s of inbound links for a single keyword that die after a few days.

Frank Marcel

08/07/2010 12:28 pm

After all, what's the difference between buy bad links for your own site or for the competitors site? How would Google differ who bought/got spam links? There's only one information: " hey, this site got bad, spam links" - no info on who "asked" for them.


08/07/2010 02:13 pm

I think most of the links are just ignored in the rankings if they are from spammy sources. I know people who have spammed a lot of links trying to hurt competitors but actually ended up helping them in rankings so who really knows.


08/10/2010 09:40 am

It doesn't seem reasonable to me at all that Google may consider 3rd party bad links. The only cases possible would be the links from the authority sites like DMOZ or Yahoo Directory. As it's not possible for everyone to go to those sites and write something against a site and damage its reputation, Google counts on their links. Rahman Mehraby Site Booster Blog

SEO Professionals

08/23/2011 11:50 pm

One mistake many people do is fall for a 2-way link exchange, where one site would point to the other and the other points back. This is a useless trade, unless one person is aware of the other ones flaw and uses one of the above black hat techniques. Google disregarded such link exchanges, as this was a popular technique in the past when SEO got popular and too many people were doing it. Now, you are limited to one-way backlinks and/or 3-way, 4-way exchanges.

Jessica Erickson

05/31/2014 06:34 pm

One would think that bad publicity is better than no publicity. Oh wait, that's celebrities.

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