Posted June 28, 2007 6:42 pm by with 3 comments

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It’s not what you think: today Forbes wrote about “negative SEO.” While we all know the benefits of “positive SEO,” Forbes interviews Brendon Scott to find out more about changing your competitors’ rankings (because, hey, if you can’t beat them, beat them up).

As Forbes puts it:

But for the most morally flexible, there’s an even shorter path to edging out competitors online: a wide spectrum of sabotage techniques, some of which cross the boundaries of good taste–and the law.

(To Scott’s credit, he specifically says that probably the mildest technique listed below, Google bowling, “tests his ethical limits, he says, and its beneficial competitive effects don’t usually last long.”)

They show seven ways—in pictures (which, of course, have little to do with the actual processes described)—that negative SEO by your competitors can take you down. And by “take you down,” they don’t just mean your rankings. (Warning: be prepared to be metarefreshed to death.)

As edgy as they make it sound, the techniques they list are pretty much old school.

  1. Google bowling
  2. Tattling (for anything from cloaking to paid links)
  3. “Google insulation”: filling the SERPs with so much content (presumably on several sites) that you move your competitors (or critics) right off the page.
  4. Copyright takedown notices: this sounds like a great way to get sued—but, of course, that’s a marketing technique in and of itself. Forbes says:
  5. Search engines can legally link to sites that steal copyrighted content–unless they’ve been notified of the site’s copyright infringement. If a copyright holder (or someone claiming to be a copyright holder) files a complaint, a search engine must remove the page from its index for 10 days while the copyright holder decides whether to sue for infringement. So by filing a copyright complaint against a competitor, a site can sometimes have it temporarily erased from search engine results–though a fraudulent takedown notice is often grounds for a lawsuit.

  6. Copied content: “If the same text appears on two different Web pages, one will be penalized in search results to avoid offering users a worthless entry.” You keep telling yourself that. At least we can all be assured that duplicate content has jumped the shark. The rest of the technique does sound effective: “Sites that are older and more search-engine friendly than their competitors can sometimes rip off and republish a competitor’s content, thereby hijacking its place in search results.”
  7. Denial of service: You might try to get them Dugg to do this, but that seems a little risky (people might actually like them!), so go for the automated bots.
  8. Click fraud. Because the search engines haven’t figured out that you can use bots or even actual services to run up competitors’ PPC bills. (Granted, they may not be doing much about it and usually can’t act fast enough to be effective against a mass attack.)

Like any good reporting on Google, they got Matt Cutts’s statement:

We try to be mindful of when a technique can be abused and make our algorithm robust against it. I won’t go out on a limb and say it’s impossible. But Google bowling is much more inviting as an idea than it is in practice.

As complimentary as (I think) the article’s trying to be, my general impression is that “negative SEO” is good if you:

  • Absolutely cannot under any circumstances get your site to rank for competitive terms on its own merits—or are completely unwilling to do the necessary work to get it there.
  • Are, as Forbes put it, among “the most morally flexible.”
  • Like spending money to exploit issues search engines are already trying to counteract.
  • Don’t mind putting your conscience through the wringer for short-term benefits that can (and many times, will) be quickly and easily lost.
  • Can threaten and bully your competitors with impunity. But hey, if you can do that, then you probably don’t need negative SEO.

I know, with that ringing endorsement, you’re ready to go for it. But really, go ahead. Don’t let me stop you.