Here at Reboot Online a large portion of our workload involves dealing with Google penalty recovery cases. The demand has increased dramatically and several years ago, we employed Kate Brownhill, who in my opinion, is one of the top penalty recovery experts in the UK.
Up to date, we have managed over 170 penalty recovery clients. Penalties caused by, gently put, less than organic SEO practices. We have seen it all. Comments spam, forums spam, directory spam, pingback spam, profile spam, hijacked/injected spam and every other type of spam possible.
The common denominator of all this spam was the cause of the penalty. Cheap SEO!
Simply put, it was caused by a business owner attempting to get SEO work at cheap prices. You know the type, £250/month service for 1000 directory submissions, 100 comments on PR5 sites etc…
However, in the last 6 months, we have started seeing a different cause for these type of spammy links. A much more sinister cause. Negative SEO.
In the last month alone, not only has one of our clients been clearly affected, but our own site has also been targeted. In both cases, a little investigation has revealed the source of the negative SEO attack. Sadly, neither is currently provable in a court of law (but I’m working on it) and until it is, I refuse to be reduced to that level of action and re-action. In total, we have seen clear cut cases of 5 negative SEO attacks in the last 6 months. Previous to that, we did not see one. At this point I would also like to point out that quite a few penalty removal enquiries that we have dealt with were blatantly the direct product of cheap SEO yet the site owner was more than happy to point the finger at negative SEO from one of their competitors. It seems that for some, it’s easier to blame negative SEO rather than admit a poor decision when it comes to choosing an digital marketing company.
Searching around the web also shows a worrying increase in websites offering negative SEO type services. Some quite camouflaged in their intent while others are shamelessly and blatantly advertising it for what it is.
I was still reluctant to believe that here in the UK, company owners; entrepreneurs, family men and women, mums and dads… you and me… would be so easily swayed to this dark corner of the business universe historically occupied by swindlers, con-men and thugs carrying out sabotage aimed at weakening, disrupting or destroying a competitors business. Today the web has provided the tools and anonymity for this, seemingly at least, more respectable, more educated people to take on the role of those thugs.
There are still people out there that would swear blind that Negative SEO is impossible or so negligible that the typical, honest webmaster has nothing to worry about. Admittedly, I was also on that side of the argument not so long ago. However, recent experience and time has changed my mind drastically. So let’s be clear; Negative SEO exists and it’s a growing problem. Especially on weaker, newer or less established sites where the authority of the site has not been established yet. The same authority that would make the typical negative SEO attack on big brand sites meaningless. It’s a little like trying to chop a tree down with a pair of scissors. If however your website is more akin to a young sapling, a simple pair of scissors are a much scarier prospect.
So we know that the services are there to find, and we know that it’s very possible for a negative SEO campaign to actually work. So, all that’s left is the actual will for someone to want to do such an underhand act on a fellow business. An act that goes far beyond fairness or indeed encouraged healthy competition. Surely, such a service will be rejected by the fair traders of this fair land? I hear you say. This great Land that treasures fairness above all, bureaucracy and… erm… queuing. Well, we decided to put that to the test.
We compiled a list of local businesses consisting of plumbers, lawyers, carpenters, Locksmiths, IT service providers, builders, accountants, cleaning companies and even skip hire companies. We then chose the ones that have a functioning website and went as far as to check for signs that the site has had some SEO done in the past. This was purely to increase the chances that the person we talk to will understand what it is we are about to offer. At this point, we had 84 contacts.
We then sent the below email to all 84 businesses harvested.
61/84 businesses replied to the email – Incredibly high reply rate to what is pretty much an unsolicited email.
Out of the 61 respondents:
2 Gave me some well-deserved abuse while rejecting the offer. 11 Politely rejected the offer 19 Wanted more information on the service, payment or the guarantee we provide. 29 Accepted the offer outright and asked for payment details.
So, out of the 61 respondents, a massive 48 either took the offer on or were very interested in the offer of sabotaging their competitor’s websites. That’s an incredibly high 78.6% while only 21.3% declined.
Ok, so it’s not the most scientific test out there. For a start, a service such as the one I offered is not realistically possible for that price; especially considering the guarantee I provided. In fact, such a guarantee is, I’m pretty sure, impossible to offer at these sort of price point as negative SEO depends on so many factors such as the methods and how authoritative the target site itself is in the eyes of Google at the time of attack. I also only checked a small section of the population in a selection of very small geographical areas. On top of all that, it could be argued that the people who DID NOT respond to my email should also go into the “Politely rejected the offer” group which would have evened out the numbers slightly but I think you will agree, even if we do that, the numbers are still quite shocking.
Saying all that, the levels of responses took me by a complete surprise.
Until Google clearly declares that they are tackling this growing problem, my main suggestion to the majority of webmasters out there is to make the checking of their own link profile a regular job as well as regularly checking Copy Scape for any plagiarism of your content (copyscape.com). Preferably once a week and if not possible, at least once a month. I will write another blog post as soon as I can on the steps you can do to protect yourself from negative SEO but in the meantime, see this excellent post from Felix Tarcomnicu.