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Negative SEO – How To Check For A Link Based Attack

The basic premise of links based negative seo is that a competitor can use it against you to destroy your rankings in Google’s organic serps. Google has went some way to offering webmasters a way to disavow unnatural links you may be worried about, but there is still a lot of controversy as to why this is the case, that a competitor CAN hurt your rankings, just by pointing manipulative links at your site.

Can a competitor hurt your site by pointing lots of links at it? If you can neg-seo yourself, you can neg-seo someone else, just by faking the same intent, ESPECIALLY if there is already present an attempt, hitherto going unnoticed, to manipulate rankings. I think that claim holds a lot of water, and there’s some evidence to support it.

Some time ago an interesting case came to light.

Dan apparently annoyed a few people….


and they decided to use his site as an example how it can actually work to destroy a website rankings….Dan spotted his rankings take a nosedive, – EDIT – Dan got a message from Google about unnatural links…..!topic/webmasters/Azfly-iRtLs

the person who had a problem with his liaison with Matt Cutts decided to make an example of him…..

Pixelgrinder and I conducted a little experiment on whether negative seo was possible in the current climate – we felt it was important to know whether it was possible for a site to be negatively affected completely by outside influences. We carried out a massive scrapebox blast on two sites to ensure an accurate result.

You can see the results of this activity below:

Screen Shot 2012-04-19 at 13.48.46 

Dan commented:

Both sites have received “unnatural links” messages in Webmaster Tools. Neither site has had a “link building” campaign ever. By using 3rd party tools (e.g. Majestic) I can see a lot of unnatural links pointing at both sites, but I didn’t put those links there.

Someone in the forum mentioned:

Also if you look at the changes Google has made to their guidelines, it paints another picture again.
“Can competitors harm ranking? There’s nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages.” Then, in November, it got “slightly” modified… just a TINY fraction too:
“Can competitors harm ranking? There’s ALMOST nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages.”
Wow, what a difference one word can make! So hang on, saying “almost nothing” means “can”, no matter which way you spin it. Then on March 14th, they caved.
“Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages.” -  In case you missed it, the key difference is in that first line:

You can see it’s changed from “nothing” to “almost nothing” to “perfect political answer”

So – can a competitor hurt your rankings? On their own? Or do you need to be doing other things as well….?

Tell me someone who has heard of Google, and who IS NOT trying to rank higher….. ?

You now seem to HAVE to keep an eye on the types of links you have pointing at your site, ESPECIALLY if you are actively promoting your site on top of this – I know this only too well, too.

I would say this test has proved to be a test Positive.  Keyterm: SEO Book
Check Date Rank URL Found

Apr 18, 2012 —- Position 41
Mar 28, 2012 —- Position 3
Mar 26, 2012 —- Position 3
Mar 23, 2012 —- Position 3
Mar 22, 2012 —- Position 3
Mar 21, 2012  —- Position 8
Mar 20, 2012  —- Position 8

The people behind this activity think this attack example has been successful.

Dan was kind enough to leave a response i the comments…..

Hi Shaun. Unfortunately, this “test” hasn’t yielded anything yet. Two SERPs they claim to have moved are [seo] and [seo book]. For [seo] I didn’t get any referrals (nearly zero) from this SERP until March 22, right after they started. Spiked all the way up to page 1 about 4 days in, held up for a few days, then dropped back down to a lower position. Probably higher than it was before still, since I am getting a handful of referrals per day now.

Verdict: Negative SEO Fail. Possibly the opposite of the intended result since I got traffic I never got before. Still am getting more.

For [seo book] they drove it up from the middle of page 1 (5-9 is pretty normal, page 2 is not unusual) all the way to #2, then it dropped down to #3.

I moved the site from Rackspace Managed to Rackspace Cloud last week, because the old server literally could not handle the latest WordPress.

Unfortunately, the theme I’ve been using since 2007 broke on the WP upgrade, and I had to deploy a new theme, more or less chosen at random because I was running out of time. Which changed run-of-site internal links from [seo book] to [Home]. Last time I did that it dropped to page 4 within a week. In this case, it’s dropped to page 3.

It’s possible that the drop was not more dramatic, because the “negative SEO” linking is actually providing some ranking boost. Verdict: Inconclusive, but I will gladly take your even-money bets that it will be back on page 1 in a week or so.


How To Check For A Negative SEO Attack?

Majestic SEO have a great historical backlinks grapher (shown above), whilst not 100% accurate, which can help identify any link building activity in the past. For most – the best place to check for an attack is in Google Webmaster Tools. Download recent back links from Google Webmaster Tools and review them and look for low quality links pointing to your site. NOT ALL low quality links are spam, but if these are the links you are being judged on, are they doing you any good. You can also check at Majestic SEO for recent link patterns, because do remember, Google never shows you ALL the links pointing at your site.)

Google Webmaster Tools

Since summer 2012, you can now DOWNLOAD your BACKLINKS BY DATE in your GWT panel – which makes identifying who’s linking to you a bit easier. It might also be useful if you are cleaning up your backlink profile, too.

It looks useful on first play about with – the latest Hobo links are below – and considering I’m not building links of any kind at the moment and have not done so for years (or even blogging much if you are paying attention) I’m apparently still picking up lots and lots of organic, crappy links – as well as my low quality attack links.

You can easily spot negative seo posts though, and who’s scraping and spamming Google with your url:

My last 55+ links I’ve earned have been organic spam links, apparently….. no wonder Google gives little weight to most of the links pointing at your site…

Screen Shot 2012-07-18 at 01.47.04

Chances are Google will pollute this long term to take the real benefit of this away as per usual – ie – by rediscovering backlinks already in your profile. But – it is an interesting addition to Google Webmaster tools. It would be nice to know if the page your link was on was nofollowed, or the link was nofollowed – that would make it even more useful.

But then we wouldn’t have to build our own tools, would we.

A better addition to the DISAVOW links over at Bing for the moment, at any rate.

How I Stumbled On Attack

I actually stumbled upon a negative attack on the Hobo site a few months back:

Screen Shot 2012-05-02 at 02.28.56

I wouldn’t have known this quickly, but for looking at Technorati.

Google Alerts isn’t really that good for links alerts these days and the basic wordpress incoming links feature is pretty much useless, but using Google and searching it for your url using date based filters can provide indication of some types of spammy linkbuilding activity to your site.

Keep an eye on Technorati (remember that?) – they seem to highlight spammy blogs linking to your site before just about anything else. Not all blogs will be in Technorati, of course, but it’s something to check for recent blog links to your site and it’s free….


I disavowed the links by the way, with no apparent major impact.

Let me know if you’re using any other methods of discovery of negative seo.

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