Way back in time, May 2011 to be precise, I wrote a blog post about Google seeming to acknowledge the possibility of “negative SEO” whereby bad backlinks can adversely affect your rankings.
That post caused a bit of a stir, and I followed-up with an update in August where the technique was called “Google Bowling” due to the perception of the possibility of “bowling” a competitor’s listing out of Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
Since then people have argued back and forth about Negative SEO, with a lot of the argument focussing on the attack on Dan Thies’ SEO website described at Traffic Planet which seemed to work because Dan got an “unnatural links” notification in Webmaster Tools, but the impact was argued against by Dan who said that organic referrals from Google were up 8.95% in the four weeks since the “attack” started.
It’s very hard to tell from Dan’s experience what happened, especially as Dan said he started using a new template around the time of the attack and that could’ve caused ranking fluctuations. Perhaps specific rankings were affected negatively, as was claimed by those behind the campaign. Perhaps the fresh backlinks helped, or at least didn’t negatively affect overall organic rankings, as Dan implied. Perhaps Google had a hand in manipulating Dan’s rankings manually. We just don’t know due to the multiple variables involved.
To try to bring some clarity, Rand Fishkin issued a challenge in June to find a genuine example of a site having been targetted and negatively affected by bad backlinks. I’m not sure whether his challenge is actually very clever link-bait because it seems fairly obvious he’ll never be able to cover every variable, so a “definitive” answer is probably not going to happen unless Google themselves tell us the situation.
The safest thing to do is register your website with Google’s Webmaster Tools and keep an eye on your backlinks. Use the disavow tool in Webmaster Tools to remove any spammy backlinks you don’t want to possibly negatively affect your site’s rankings.
On the subject of possible Negative SEO impacts, this appears to be an example of Negative SEO and this is also a good read. While the latter is not exactly Negative SEO because the intent to reduce a competitor’s rank isn’t there, it does show that bad links created by someone else can cause your site a manual penalty and ranking loss.
What do you think? Have you experienced negative SEO? Let me know in the comments…