Monday, April 14, 2008

Negative SEO: Can my competitors hurt my website's rankings?

Scenario 1:

When explaining the role that quality inbound links play in improving a site’s visibility, we are often asked, “Will my competitors be able to hurt my website’s rankings by creating bad inbound links to my site?” The concept of sabotaging a competitor’s site via link spam (bad inbound links) is known as “negative SEO.”

How do the search engines view this situation?

This is what Google tells us:

What can I do if I'm afraid my competitor is harming my ranking in Google?

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.

“Almost nothing” isn’t much comfort if you suspect your website is being spammed by a competitor.

Yahoo, on the other hand, has gone ahead and added a feature in Yahoo Site Explorer which allows users to report any inbound link that looks like spam.

Yahoo explains how they will use the data in its Site Explorer FAQ section:

Yahoo uses the information to improve their spam filters and prevent your site from being mistakenly associated with link farms.

It would be great if Google added this as a feature as well.

If you want to encourage Google to follow suit in adding this feature, you can request it here. Google has been good at listening to webmaster requests in the past. Hopefully, it will listen to you and add this feature soon!

Scenario 2:

Anyone can report websites suspected of spam to Google. What if, say, one of your competitors files false reports against your site multiple times? Will it raise the flag to Google to penalize your site as a bad site?

Rest assured that this is not possible! Googler Adam Lasnik explains:

Spamfighting does not factor in a ’popularity of the commons‘ scheme whereby if [x] people vote a site off the Google Island, it is ceremoniously dumped into /dev/null.

Put more directly: Having someone (or even 42 MILLION people) report a site as spam will not change how we view a site. Our spam report, rather, helps us to become aware of pages violating our guidelines that we might not yet have crawled... enabling us to have another datapoint in our search quality efforts.

As long as your website offers quality content designed to help your visitors which follows the search engine quality quidelines, you have little reason to worry about your competitors hurting you in search sphere. The best way to invest your time and energy if you want to keep/increase your share of the search marketing pie is to focus on optimizing your website using white hat strategies.

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