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December 27, 2012

Google’s Matt Cutts on Negative SEO: Deciphering the Subtext

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Heads up, my interweb amigos! Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, has just released another Webmaster Help video on YouTube. This time, the topic de jour is negative SEO and ways in which webmasters can fight back against the practice.

You may remember the subject rearing its ugly head a few months back. What am I talking about?! Many of you likely remember it vividly given the sheer volume of threatening emails sent to webmasters before the “disavow links” tool made its belated appearance.

For those of you who dodged that bullet, let me bring you up to speed. Blackhat SEOs would target a site doing well in the SERPs and point links from “bad neighborhoods” to it. Then, the blackhat would contact the webmaster and demand a ransom payment in exchange for removing the offending links.

Sketchy, right? But wait, it gets worse.

In another case, competing webmasters would do a little “Google bowling” by knocking out sites ahead of their own in the SERPs. How? Simple – they’d point dirty links to the site until it dropped into Google oblivion.

And it worked. Really well.

Regardless of the method of attack, negative SEO had most definitely become a monster of a problem. Webmasters the Internet over bemoaned the practice, and those who enjoyed even a small amount of search engine success lived in fear that a blackhatter would come along, and rip away all their hard work overnight.

Never fear, says Cutts, Google’s got a tool for that.

Negative SEO: A Thing of the Past?

In his video, Cutts first notes that Google designs every one of its new algorithms defensively – that is, they have many different safeguards in place to protect webmasters from bad guys who want to manipulate the changes to hurt them. G constantly tests, he says, for holes or security flaws in the algos that spammers could potentially use to hurt others. Google’s system is not perfect, of course, which is why each and every algorithm has a wave of changes and updates that follow its initial rollout.

Google’s maturing as a company, and it’s becoming much better at what it does, however. Matt gives the example of the great blog network takedown earlier this year – he says G is becoming more sophisticated at determining link quality and deciding how to rank sites accordingly.

For those times when Google fails to get it right, however, Cutts says to look to the “disavow links” tool to save your site. If you discover that some creep launched a negative SEO attack against your website, don’t fret. Simply log into your Google Webmaster Tools account and use the handy little tool to disavow any links that you deem untrustworthy or don’t recognize. Once you do this, Google will no longer count those links toward your site’s ranking. Translation: you’re officially free from the negative SEO attack.

There is one thing that the spammers will be able to steal from you, however, and that’s your time. If an attack is massive enough, you could potentially lose days cleaning up the mess in your Webmaster Tools account. No sweat, says Cutts – for cases such as these, you can request that Google ignore entire domains. That way, you won’t need to waste even more time disavowing each link individually after an attack.

A Warning to Negative SEOs

Spammers aren’t the only ones who turn to the dark side of search. A few gray hat SEOs have been known to dabble in negative SEO from time to time in order to manipulate the SERPs as well. Before the tool, it was a case of low-hanging fruit looking a little too easy to pick. Now, though, Cutts says those considering the dark path need not bother.

For those of you tempted to continue with the practice – don’t. It’s now a waste of time; time that would be better spent building up your own website and succeeding in the SERPs aboveboard. Remember that rankings fluctuate 24/7, and the websites in the top ten for a term today may not be the same bunch tomorrow. That’s why directing a negative SEO attack at a website is completely counterproductive – imagine you do pull it off, only to discover a whole new set of websites you need to attack a week later, after a new algo rolls out.

Instead, focus on creating great content, adding to your site, becoming known as an authority in your niche, and networking with your peers. This is the one and only lasting way to generate truly organic traffic. Then, once your site is popular, you will begin ranking without even realizing its happening. Search engine traffic will be nothing but gravy on top of a full meal of referral traffic. That’s when you’ll know you’ll never have to worry about negative SEO again.


Nell Terry is a tech news junkie, fledgling Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She thrives on social media, web design, and uncovering the truth about all the newest marketing fads that pop up all over the ‘net. Find out more about Nell by visiting her online portfolio at Content by Nell.

26 Responses to “Google’s Matt Cutts on Negative SEO: Deciphering the Subtext

    avatar Rybird says:

    I like this. “Instead, focus on creating great content, adding to your site, becoming known as an authority in your niche, and networking with your peers. This is the one and only lasting way to generate truly organic traffic. Then, once your site is popular, you will begin ranking without even realizing its happening.”

    avatar Rankontop says:

    We just had this happen to a client of ours. and I believe we got targeted too. Apparently those wiki backlinks and social posting everyone’s doing on fiver can really massacre our back linking strategy.(We believe someone purchased that service just to make us start over)We spent some days setting up real quality and good neighbor backlinks and now over 4,000 negative backlinks from another firm trying to keep their clients at the top. Google when you reach out as this has to stop.

    avatar Working for Googleto says:

    Hmm Google wants almost every website owner have more work to do?

    Why that, good content and and should be enough, now they have to check this madness to, why isn.t google doing this job good themselves, after this what is comming next? Every webmaster is working for Google then without Google paying them for the work?

    Google is the cause of this mess, then Webmasters must take action, where they id nothing wrong, wrong turn…. the worlds madness of this is hopefully clear! 😉

    avatar Kyla says:

    Hi Nell

    Good post, you brought good pieces of valuable information here, very well explained and simple to understand about Negative SEOs.

    avatar Fredericks says:

    Thanks Nel – your final paragraph really sums things up in a nutshell. Produce a good quality site and start producing good quality content, and the rest will happen naturally.

    Thanks for Sharing Nice updated information about negative seo.

    Cost Effective Seo Services

    avatar Shilpi Roy says:

    Quite a great insight about negative SEO. Very informative share.

    avatar rudradhar says:

    Good call from Google. Now spammers will not overtake Google

    avatar sailinglinks says:

    Does Google offer anyway to see which of your backlinks are bad link?? this would be helpful I feel ?

    avatar PaulB says:

    Thanks for the heads up, it’s hrd trying to keep up with Google at the moment!

    Still waiting to see that happens, we have been victim of a negative seo and were never able to recover from it.

    avatar SAP Solar says:

    Why don’t Google simply ignore any links coming from sites they don’t like?

    avatar Baxter says:

    Its easy enough to find the links in google webmaster tools, but I concur, how do we really know a bad link? We have multiple bookmarks, directories and links from sites we did not contribute to. Are we supposed to visit each page and somehow determine ourselves if it is a good link, come on google, give us a little more help here!

    avatar BlokeToys says:

    Of course, all of this is pretty pointless if Google doesn’t tell anyone what they consider to be a bad link!
    Google makes a half-arsed attempt to look less like a mafia boss by giving webmasters a tool to remove those offending links, but still refuses to tell us which of those links THEY deem to be offending.

    How about this for a solution… Google actually gives us a copy of the rule book, instead of making it up as they go along and keeping 90% of it secret?

    Without knowing this kind of VITAL information SEO is like throwing sacrificial virgins into the mouth of a volcano in the hope that the vengeful God will be pleased.

    avatar Ray says:

    Bullshit! Negative SEO is working great and you can do nothing to defend yourself. Imagine sb run huge xR blast pointing in your site. How can you find and report all those links? It would take you months and in the meantime there could be another blasts. Google should just ignore links which look suspicious instead of punishing website. But punishing is much better – the reason is AdWords! Much more money from it right into Google pocket! That is the secret of all of this!

    avatar Peter says:

    This is the best post I have seen in a while. Great information that even a novice can understand. It takes more time and effort to be negative than to be positive. Focus on your own Site and continue to build it and let’s rid ourselves from those seeking wannabes.

    avatar Rug cleaning says:

    I get an email almost daily asking me to remove some poor sods backlink from my site. I always ask them to write to me from the domain and never hear from them again.

    If Google’s algorithm allows someone to negatively affect a competitors rankings then their algorithm is flawed, regardless of what they say to defend it. The only option is to not allow this.

    avatar Alexander says:

    Great, more work for me less work for you Google!

    avatar prabhakar says:

    Our site receives a number of visits from sites based in Russia. They secially visit pages where we talk of ethical SEO. We reported it to Google but we still get the visits. Moreover, their content has nothing to do with ours and we are not linked on their site either. Apparantly it has not harmed our GooglePagerank but could be hurting it in some way.

    avatar Nina says:

    Terry, Thank you for your good post. You can testify by your work that white hat SEO and good content do pay off even if it takes awhile. I notice that your site has a PR of 5 as opposed to PR of 2 it has few months ago.
    Well done!

    avatar Barb says:

    All the more reason to NOT count links coming to a website! It should stand on it OWN merit instead of what links are coming to it. Always did think it was ridiculous that links count towards a site’s importance, instead of what the site itself offers.

    What are they freaking smoking over there at G? It must be some mind bending stuff. Purple Haze anyone?

    When a webmaster spends the numerous hours to design a great site with unique content, the last darn thing we want to hear is that we then have to build credible links to it to make it worth something. That is pure BS and I’ve always thought so. Could never understand the thought process behind that kind of erroneous thinking.

    Any website should be able to stand on it’s own merit, not some dog-gone link from somewhere. It’s foolish and full of holes, as we can see.

    avatar David V says:

    Negative SEO is still working according to some but until when? We must learn that Google is getting better in tracing all those tactics and it must be stopped or ones’ site will suffer.

    avatar dave b says:

    I have a problem.I am a general web search directory,so i can put links of any websites on my directory. But these people that are not very smart think i should only have general directories on my website. Well that is not the case I’m a directory of different websites. I have spent thousands of hours just approving these links. Now i got to spend more time taking these links down. My goal was to make a directory affordable to help webmasters. Know I relize webmasters just use peaple to get what they wan’t.I get probably over 1 million hits a year and increasing but know thinking on shutting this down.

    avatar barnsley seo says:

    Google has some pretty smart people working for them. Surely they won’t count spammy links otherwise negative SEO would be a huge issue. I think that the Google disavow tool is just a way of getting Google information about what potential spam sites that will help Google to improve their algorithm.

    avatar Sandy says:

    Still we are facing negative SEO in one of our SEO projects . We also have done reconsideration request from Google Webmaster but not any reply from Google.

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