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January 18, 2013

Another Cutts Video on Negative SEO: Deciphering the Subtext

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 e-mails 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 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. 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 grayhat SEOs have been known to dabble in negative SEO from time to time to manipulate the SERPs. 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, rankings fluctuate 24/7, and the websites in the top 10 for a term today may not be the same bunch tomorrow. That’s why directing a negative SEO attack at a website is 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. These are the only lasting ways 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.

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