I recently received an advertisement for a company claiming to be able to remove a competitor from the Google rankings per my request and a nominal fee of about $5000. If you’re in a highly competitive realm, 5K may seem a very fair sum to remove competition from that Google SERP. I began to wonder if this indeed was possible to do, as I have in years past, but never spent much brain power on it until now.
If a black hat company could run a mass push to place links in very bad neighborhoods (porn sites, gambling sites, link farms, etc.) and do it so that it appears that the company is trying to buy links or acquire better rankings through techniques that Google greatly frowns upon, it could very well do what they say. Google could see those efforts and recognize them as tactics that don’t comply with the Google rules and regulations and hit the site with penalties or worse, de-indexing.
Google great Matt Cutts released a video (shown below) to discuss this practice referred to as “Negative SEO” and he mentions that it’s “very unlikely” and then uses statements such as, “We TRY really hard to create an algorithm that is resistant to those types of thing.” Most of what indicates to anyone reading between the lines, that they know the practice of negative SEO exists and have algorithms in place to recognize it, but that it doesn’t catch it all.
So much so, that they’ve implemented a Disavow Tool which allows you to create a text file listing websites that you wish to, well, disavow. That way, Google can ignore those websites that you’ve listed and not consider them when deciding where you’re going to rank.
The problem with the disavow link is that you have to already be aware of where those bad links are, decide whether they are actually bad links (as best you can guess in Google‘s mind), and to have either already been a victim of a rankings hit or guess that the presence of your link on that website will have a negative impact on your rankings.
While Google may well be able to identify a huge percentage of the companies that are trying these negative SEO tactics, the very existence of the disavow tool only acknowledges and gives credence to those companies claim that it can be done. And with fees upwards of $5000, this also gives those companies some monetary “wiggle room” to buy links on those evil sites which adds even more validity to their claims.
While 90% of the black hats that claim it can be done, couldn’t pull it off if their life depended on it due to Google’s efforts, there still remains a 10% chunk that just may be able to do what they say. As Matt Cutts noted in his video below, if you’re a company trying to oust a competitor from the front pages of Google, your time would be better suited putting efforts into your own site to make it better. But it’s still disturbing to know that it can be done.
I’ve done SEO for many years now and I’ve always adhered to the rules and guidelines set forth by Google, Yahoo and Bing (aka MSN aka Live). However, there’s nothing more frustrating then when you have a client that is in a very competitive market and their competitors are breaking all of the rules and appear to get away with it. Their competitors are at the top of the rankings and a lot of which got there by illegal means and by illegal I’m referring to illegal in Google’s eyes, such as hiring linking companies to spread their links to thousands of websites (most not even relevant), buying one way paid links, and not even trying to look natural. They win and prosper and never get caught.
The topic came up again over the weekend as covered by the lovely Vanessa Fox about how major retailer JCPenney broke those rules and had enjoyed top rankings on Google for pretty much everything they sold and in turn had a very prosperous holiday shopping season. JCPenney is not a small company and were certainly not prospering “in the shadows”. They were caught because of a New York Times article where the writer hired an SEO company to find out just how JCPenney performed its SEO magic. The writer found that JCPenney had been buying links, supposedly inadvertently through their SEO firm, on literally thousands of websites and most of which weren’t even relevant to JCPenney. When the Times questioned Google’s Matt Cutts about the issue, he released a very short, “Google’s algorithms had started to work. Manual action also taken.” The result was JCPenney’s rankings taking a major plummet, but Twitter came alive with questions about why it took a New York Times investigation and a tap on Google’s shoulder for them to notice this had been going on. Vanessa’s article covers it in more detail here and it’s a great read, but it raises important concerns to all legitimate SEO experts.
SEO professionals have had enough. We all have had those clients that are in competitive fields and experience this first hand. We see a clients’ competitor sit at the top of Google rankings that are only there from beating the system. We see them buy links, appear on hundreds of irrelevant sites (some even pornographic) and they win the battle. Meanwhile, we have to tell our clients, “I can’t do that. You need to consider the penalties. If you get caught, you could be removed from Google’s index. They’ll eventually get caught. You’ll see….“ and then months later, even years later, they’re never caught. They just continue to prosper and our clients go elsewhere. Most of the time to black hat SEO hobbyists that give them what they want. Top rankings via whatever means necessary. If clients are smart, they will steer clear away from this type of activity, but the question truly is, when will Google figure out how to spot this?
Someone explain why Google ignores legitimate SEO professionals pleas? The graphic below is from the aforementioned post that showed how many links JCPenney had from month to month. Why can’t Google see this activity and why don’t they act on it? As mentioned before, JCPenney is not a small company, and they still don’t get caught unless something like this occurs. Maybe Google can explain to us how they don’t see this activity below? Google’s algorithm brags that it analyzes 10,000 ranking factors to determine positioning. Is this not one of them? There’s not one SEO professional that hasn’t struggled getting a client to rank following the rules while we watched their competitors flourish by breaking them. All we had to do is use SEO Elite to see the origin of their links. Does Google not have something similar? Do we have to tattle-tale on sites for them to get caught? It’s time for this hole to be patched and thankfully it takes an embarrassing slip like this to bring it back to light.