The Negative SEO Debate Sparks Up Again

Apr 20, 2012 • 8:58 am | comments (41) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under SEO - Search Engine Optimization

sacrificial SEO lambThe topic of negative SEO is not new. It is the process of downgrading your competitor's rankings in order to help boost your own rankings.

But it is highly debated in SEO circles for a few reasons.

(1) The ethics behind hurting someone's income, livelihood by trashing their sites in Google.

(2) Does negative SEO really work and can someone prove it does work?

(3) If it does work, why can't Google prevent it from working?

Now this has sparked up again with the recent announcements by Google on sending out unnatural link warnings and the over optimization filter.

Where this gets interesting is that a forum thread at went after a well known SEO named Dan Thies to prove negative SEO can work. Why Dan, well he congratulated Google's Cutts for mass penalizing the blog networks and it upset some people, so they wanted to make an example out of him.

Thing is, while Dan's ranking may have dropped, Dan says it has nothing to do with these negative SEO efforts.

Rand Fishkin from SEOMoz is so confident that negative SEO can't work, he offered up his sites as sacrificial lambs for anyone who wants to prove him otherwise. He said:

I'd like to offer up Moz or my personal website, as targets for these efforts. I think it would be fascinating and revealing if external link manipulation could hurt either one.

Will people take Rand up on the offer? Maybe but some say that since this is public, Google can be aware of it and make sure it doesn't impact his sites.

The core issue, as Aaron Wall explains is not negative SEO, it is SEOs going after SEOs. There is little unity in the SEO space and that is a huge shame. Although I personally do not think it should be the SEO community versus Google, that was how it was back in the day. It wasn't SEO vs SEO, which is how it is today. I personally think this attitude was created when Google introduced the nofollow attribute back in 2005. I am too tired to explain why because that is it's own blog post and maybe I'll do it another day. FYI, I did elaborate more in my video blog post.

Either way, this is a very interesting debate being discussion at, HighRankings Forums and SEOBook.

Previous story: Filing A Patent On The SEO Process


Rob Woods

04/20/2012 04:25 pm

It's interesting that many of us feel that SEOs should be united against Google. While that was the case early on in the history of SEO and when relatively few sites actively practiced overt SEO I'm not sure that it's realistic to expect that in a more mature industry. I love that SEOs generally help each other out. It's one of the reasons I love working in this industry. When every site in a vertical has an SEO or SEO agency though, it's natural that they become rivals. Just like any other ad agency or professional is going to compete for the same clients and ad space. I don't believe, given human nature and the expansion of SEO (we don't all know each other any more) that some people are going to actively do anything and everything they can do to help their site/client/employer. SEO outing and negative SEO is here to stay. We need to hold Google's feet to the fire to solve negative SEO. The only way to solve outing, is don't make yourself vulnerable to it in the first place.

Dave Keys, real estate SEO

04/20/2012 04:48 pm

Any of us who have had a penalty on a client's website knows that negative SEO works. What kind of  a question is this? If negative SEO weren't possible then nobody would have a penalty on anything.


04/20/2012 06:00 pm

Check this out:


04/20/2012 06:26 pm

The issue will come into play when you have a brick and mortar business, with much less authority than the above mentioned sites starting to get targeted.  I've followed the thread on TF and it seems to have worked, at least in the short term.


04/20/2012 11:57 pm

why can't google simply provide a feature within the webmaster tool to allow flagging dubious inbound links/domains?

SEO Eight

04/21/2012 02:44 am

 Kurt is correct. Negative SEO is much more effective for less popular sites. Authority sites are difficult to hurt, but not impossible. To throw an authority site out of SERPs, thousands and thousands of bad links will be needed.

Venus Brown

04/21/2012 07:20 am

Once someone just removed thousands of links of my websites ( and I experienced a sudden fall in ranking of all my keywords..Isn't it negative SEO ? If no, then can someone share technical term for this? I rather agree with SEO eight that it could be difficult to deteriorate rank of  BIG sites via this technique, but its not impossible.

Justin Boeckman

04/21/2012 08:54 pm

It could be if someone contacted the people who placed those links and asked for them to be removed.  It's a combination of things: 1. Removing Existing links 2. Building a large quantity of spammy links. Enough to throw up signals that someone is using link spam to build rankings.


04/21/2012 09:28 pm

 If 'fairness' had anything to do with this, no penalties would be applied unless there was clear evidence that a site owner was responsible for buying links or violating webmaster quality guidelines. Regrettably it may not be possible to prove either way. If a school teacher is accused of some kind of sexual misconduct, after a while it makes no difference if they were innocent or guilty. There will always be a bias amongst the staff and student's parents. Now, a business owner having to defend themselves against being accused of sourcing links which they may not in any respect created or known about in the first place is kind of impossible; how do you prove  you're innocent? If a drug smuggler plants junk in your bags without your knowledge and you're caught, how are you meant to prove you're innocent? See Bangkok Hilton. Small business owners are most vulnerable, even when bad links are not created by competitors but but dodgy seo's. The whole system here is a complete mess, and is likely to create even worse search results. That's something Im already seeing, garbage sites getting to page one (no, not just in my industry)

Angel Carlson

04/21/2012 11:16 pm

Removing existing links are a hard work, I almost never do that. It is harder than building the links itself.

Roy Van Rivero

04/22/2012 08:40 am

I don't really believe that there are people who are eager to spend time and effort hurting other websites - what for? To outrank them on SERPs? We don't even know what exactly Google's search algorithm is.


04/22/2012 09:14 pm

Rand knows exactly what's going on here. He knows that "negative SEO" exists and he knows that enough bad links will lead to a drop in ranking, even if it is an authority site. He also knows it's great publicity to go against common knowledge. Rand's not a great SEO, he's too busy running a business to keep his ear down to the ground, but he is great at other things, like link baiting. If you define "negative SEO" as anything that has a negative impact on rankings, then the existence of penalties would in itself fulfil the definition.


04/23/2012 08:28 am

This is a huge problem and Google needs a rethink..


04/23/2012 01:44 pm

Google can avoid this issue altogether by just ignoring bad links rather than passing across negative value. This way competitors aren't busy wasting time trying to destroy each other and are instead focussed on improving their own SEO.


04/23/2012 04:22 pm

This is a mega mega big problem, i really hope Google can solve this. 

Uri Lederman

04/23/2012 05:09 pm

we have run some of our own tests at: which have shown to trigger the webmaster tools warning, but nothing else..

Clayburn Griffin

04/23/2012 05:51 pm

Lots of Rand-bashing going on.  

Clayburn Griffin

04/23/2012 05:52 pm

But this would encourage spamming.  Either you do nothing against spam which encourages spamming or you penalize spam which encourages spamming competitors. 

Michael Martinez

04/23/2012 09:10 pm

Google's anti-spam efforts are helping bloggers and forum operators by discouraging link spammers from wasting their time on useless links.  No one is entitled to make money by bombarding other people's Websites with fake links.

SEO Service Agency

04/24/2012 03:19 am

The idea that there are people out there who are going to exert time and effort to undermine competitors instead of engaging on spending productive time trying to improve their business. But if there are people who do this, this is really terrible and google should do something about it already.


04/24/2012 11:00 am

A few years back, we noticed a different trick. Web visitors from USA and Canada remained on the site and saw about 4 pages (per visit).  However, visitors from India bounced out (95%). We went to Google webmaster tools to make sure the "bounce out campaign" would not hurt us (Google measures bounce-out). The answer we got is that Google knows how to deal with this kind of Anti-SEO behavior. We hope this is true for negative link building campaigns.


04/25/2012 03:56 pm

It is really sad that people would even consider doing bad mouthing and not just that but in many cases completely destroying someones hard work and daily bread. Honestly Big G does that too quite often, lately. So many people look for short cuts and will everything and step over everyone to reach a non deserved goal. Numerous case studies have indicated that negative SEO absolutely works. Some others claim it actually helps in the long run as the sites bounce back better than before. But Why can't G distinguish better these un-natural linking patterns. Yes, they do somewhat but not close to enough. I must say that Bing has been very consistent old big elephant bringing more relevenat results, especially lately. I think it is time to look into other places than G.

Negative SEO

04/26/2012 04:58 am

I'm the guy on fiverr who had the nseo gigs that the blogosphere has been talking about. *braces for the haters* Those gigs were all rejected by fiverr, who understandably, frowns upon negative seo. I cannot blame them. However, while I have a new gig up for simply building over 6,000 backlinks, and another one for over 10,000 links, (found here: Negative SEO Guy) I feel any buyer could get a similar effect from using other gigs that are similar. I mean, a backlink profile is a backilnk profile. So, yes, this is a gap in the search algorithm, but what people fail to recognize is that it can be exploited for good reasons, such as when someone puts up a site like '(yourbrand)' or if you have stuff on the first page that you don't want prospective employers to see.I've had people buy my gigs because they are losing business due to some joker who puts up a free blogger site that makes unfounded accusations, so I don't feel bad for providing a service that people can get anywhere...what I do not like, however, is the way some are using negative seo to extort businesses with 'Hey, if you like your current ranking, and want it to stay that way, pay us $x...if not, we'll blast you down to page 300.' Just thought I'd chime in after all this hullabaloo.  Like This


04/26/2012 10:14 am

google messed up bigtime. they have made it easy to attack competitor websites and it's actually EASIER than ranking your own site! lmao, smh... BING is loving this

Ryan O'Meara

04/26/2012 03:57 pm

Google is definitely economic with the truth about the potential harm competitors can do by bad backlinking. If they can and do penalise for 'dubious' backlink profiles, for us to believe that it's not possible for a competitor to build one, we'd have to believe that Google can discern the intent of the backlinks. That is illogical.

Sean Fullerton

04/26/2012 04:49 pm

I also agree that negative SEO definitely is possible and it does exist however it would be almost impossible to have any sort of real negative impact on sites like SEOMoz who have long well-established authority. The logical solution seems to be for Google to warn webmasters of any dodgy looking link profiles (as they have been doing) but to simply discount them as opposed to actually penalising sites. It's a very interesting subject though. I suppose unless unnatural links are penalised there isn't any reason not to continue with these techniques. If Google were able to pick up on every unnatural link created everything would be fine, but they can't.

Software Development India

04/27/2012 04:16 am

Yes, Really negative SEO is do the work.  And  I think google definitely solve this problem.


04/27/2012 11:46 am

Ha...check this gig out:  He isn't doing anything wrong, but it certainly looks like we've hit the wild west when nseo goes mainstream!


04/27/2012 12:40 pm

The time has come to check how much dependent we are on Google for business. Do not get me wrong, I am not against Google, but if you're depending only on Google for business, then obviously negative SEO could hurt your business somehow. However, the negative SEO will not affect on those websites who have already established a very strong brand name and also gained a trust of many people. However, it is still not clear how Google handles this negative SEO issue, but I guess there is an option in Google's webmaster tool to submit complaints about unnatural links. Paul Lopez


04/29/2012 11:55 am

Really, I don't see the source of confusion here.  Let's keep it simple - there is one rule for the rich and famous and another for the poor and not - there.  Simple isn't it?

Angie Schottmuller

05/02/2012 03:19 am

Wait a second, with all the SEOmoz announcements this morning, perhaps Moz now gets the "big brand" bias / Google search rank "sanctions" ...and therefore negative SEO would be irrelevant?  ;-)

Charleen Larson

05/05/2012 03:05 pm

Fiverr makes it too easy to attempt to damage a competitor's site.  I don't know if buying 250,000 spammy backlinks would have a permanently deleterious effect, but for only $125 some will be tempted to try.  All this talk about everyone being on the same "side" is fine and maybe that's the way it was back in the day, but I doubt it will ever be that way again.

Giina Tribbiani

05/10/2012 11:26 am

The biggest concern is the issue of ‘negative SEO’, which is sabotaging your competitor’s rankings to help you move past them on the search engine result pages. With the entire ruckus about over optimization right now, it’s important to arm with knowledge so you can react properly to the situation.


05/11/2012 05:37 pm

It should only be done to competitors that shouldn't have been ranking at all. Obvious link buyers, spammers, ect. If they are already buying links.. you can just push them into a penalty. If they are only outranking you because they offer a better service, you shouldn't be going after them anyways.. Just make your own site better than theirs. One way is to contact the strongest sites that link to a competitor, convince them to remove link. You can just pose as the victim and ask them to remove it (


05/17/2012 03:05 am

I think Google has made a big mistake in how it uses links to determine rankings of sites. Surely they can devise a way to read website to make determinations on quality? Also, negative SEO is primarily targeted towards small to medium sites (95% of sites)... The likes of CNN, BBC and Facebook could never be taken down by Negative SEO. The sad truth is that it's just so easy to take down a site. For $50 you could by 10 x 50k link building packages on Fiverr to take down most sites. I reckon having the ability to remove links to your site via Webmaster Tools is the way to go. This would then force webmasters to manage their inbound links.

Ajay Jhunjhunwala, cobwebseo

06/02/2012 09:19 am

Negative SEO concept is back dated. I think very few people do such things these days. I think it is better to concentrate on own site and promote it. If you do SEO for your site the effort will provide you positive outcome. But if you do negative seo, (trying to degrading competitor site) others site may degrade but your site also gets no credit. Opponent will recover the loss by doing SEO again. Actually you don't benefited at all.


10/14/2012 02:33 am

I think negative seo works and google needs to fix it. It is very easy to lower a website's ranking now since Google s last updates. They are really penalizing spamm links, but it can work against us in the end. There are many people offering such a service like this guy: < href="">negative seo service. If google dosn't do something it will only get worst.

Jeremy Yeomann

11/09/2012 01:23 pm

Negative SEO is exactly what it says on the tin; a negative way to build an online profile. We all know it is spam and sooner or later you could suffer so why not just keep it clean, instead of ruining things for everyone else?


01/21/2013 05:54 am

Yep, there's another one too

Black hat

05/13/2013 09:20 pm

I can confirm that negative SEO does work and is thriving in the payday loans sector in the uk. I have witnessed a client who earns through affiliate referrals target a legitimate white hat lender who had 100'S of customers each month search their name. Guest posts through networks, and tech sites were used to make it look like a purpose SEO campaign, it cost some money to achieve but 300 guest posts later the payday company was banned from google including its company name. My client who has 3 sites in the top 10 for the company name now earns in excess of £5,000 each month through those referrals. I have seen this take place on 12 sectors all for the same purpose now generating them close to 1m a year. Trust me, it happens. I have refused to get involved but am close to the action.

Spook SEO

01/04/2014 03:32 am

Negative SEO still exist but its advantage are only for a short time period so it's better to put efforts in the right directions by following white hat methods to avail long term benefits. Negative SEO can be caught by google because google has become very much sharp and wise also.

blog comments powered by Disqus