For many years Google’s Webmaster Guidelines stated that there was nothing a competitor could to negatively impact a site’s rankings. Then the statement was modified say that there was almost nothing a competitor could do to harm a site’s ranking. Then the statement was removed. This year Google has enabled two methods that a competitor can use to harm another site’s rankings.
While the goal of SEO is to drive more qualified traffic to a web site — primarily through top search engine rankings for targeted search phrases — the goal of Negative SEO is the opposite. That is, the goal of Negative SEO is to maliciously harm a competing web site’s rank positions so that the site receives little or no search engine traffic.
The Poison Penguin Method
The first method is through the Penguin Updates, which began in April of 2012. Penguin penalizes sites that have been using poor quality link building methods. These methods include having excessive numbers of links from the large numbers of poor quality directories, from unrelated sites, and from other sources where links were obviously set up simply to provide backlinks to a site. These links were commonly set up by link building companies who would build thousands of backlinks to a site in order to improve the rank positions for a site. In the past, that worked, but today it could work against a site.
The Penguin Updates examine a site’s overall Link Profile, which is the cumulative set of all backlinks Google has found that point to the site. They look at the quality of the sites providing the links, the relationship to the site’s industry, and the text used in the hyperlinks. For the first time a site’s rank positions can be reduced for either too many links from poor quality web sites, or because the text in the links is consistent. Either would be an indication that the links are not natural and have been set up purposefully to improve a site’s rank positions for that keyword phrase.
For example, if Acme Company sells a range of products, but there are hundreds or thousands of links that consistently contain the words, “Purple Widgets” in the hyperlink text, that could raise a red flag that the site owner has paid a link building company to build links intended to raise the rank positions for the Green Widgets that they sell.
Building backlinks from crappy directories is cheap. Most of the link building is done by teams of people in India who put up thousands of very poor quality directories solely for the purpose of selling backlinks. Given what we have seen with Penguin, it is now possible to poison a competitor’s link profile by paying link builders to set up tens of thousands of links from poor quality sources, especially if all of the links consistently use the same words in the hyperlink text. There are several documented cases where this appears to have happened because a site’s link profile contains thousands of links from questionable sources, yet the site owner claims they did not use any link building services.
The Copyright Infringement Notices Method
The second method for attaching a competitor’s rankings is through the use of DMCA Takedown Notices. DMCA, or Digital Millennium Copyright Act, allows a site owner to file a copyright infringement claim with Google whenever someone has stolen articles or content from a site. The result is the removal of the infringing web page from Google’s search results. While on the surface this appears to be a good idea, theoretically a competitor can steal the content from a site and then file numerous DMCA claims against the site with the original content.
Google recently stated that the cumulative number of DMCA claims filed against a site will now be used to reduce the site’s overall rankings. They further state that they are not a court and will not judge whether the claims are actually valid. They do, however, provide a method for disputing the claims, but that only works if the owner of the site for which the claims have been made can be notified of the claims. That is the tricky part, because most site owners can be hard to contact, especially if they use a private registration with their domain name.
There is no evidence that Google will have large teams of people looking into copyright infringement claims. A recent article announcing the new copyright infringement issue indicates that Google received over 4.3 million copyright infringement claims during the previous 30 days. That is an overwhelming number for any company to deal with. Personal attention given to each claim is not possible, so there is very likely to be a lot of ranking damage done to innocent sites.