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Negative SEO: Looking for Answers from Google (searchenginewatch.com)
215 points by adzeds 1325 days ago | hide | past | web | 162 comments | favorite

Note: this article is over a year old. The article makes it sound as if this is some new pronouncement, but it's really not. I've been using the language mentioned in this article since 2010, at least: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/calling-for-link-spam-reports/... where I said "we’ve said in the past that we work very hard to prevent competitor A from hurting competitor B."

The change on the official guidelines comes from a tech writer noticing that I normally say "we work hard to prevent this" and asking back in February 2012 if we should update the language on that page. I said yes and the language changed in March 2012. It looks like this article is from April 2012.

One of the big reasons we say softer things (rather than "it's impossible") regarding the idea of negative SEO is that we have seen people to pretty crazy things to steal/hijack domain names in the past, like the bizarre history of sex.com: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex.com

People talk about negative SEO far more than people actually attempt it, because you're never quite sure what effect (say) pointing some links to a site might have--it might help the site instead of hurting it--plus it's typically a better use of your time to develop your own site.

But if there's a site that is worried about negative SEO, the site can disavow any links they want using our the disavow tool in Google's Webmaster Tools. You can even sort to see the most recent links if you're worried that this is something that just started.

The primary usage of the disavow tool is so that a site can disavow bad linking that the site did itself and can't get removed from the web, but the disavow tool also works fine to disavow links that you're worried might be spammy.

Matt, no amount of hand-waving will convince people when there is ample evidence of negative SEO, including meticulous case studies published online.

As well, the very fact that Google has given in and introduced the disavow tool, it is incontrovertible proof that negative SEO is effective.

Google had a good run but you have not been able to keep up with those who have striven day and night to beat your algos. The question is, can google play catch up? and do so in time?

Several billions of dollars are riding on that question.

We've looked into most of the blog posts about negative SEO, and in most cases we've found major flaws or bad assumptions. Kind of like this guy was convinced that authorship caused his traffic to go down by 90%: http://www.jitbit.com/news/183-how-google-authorship-decreas... except that wasn't the case: http://aberrant.me/no-google-authorship-didnt-decrease-your-...

The disavow tool is not "incontrovertible proof" that negative SEO is effective. We introduced the disavow tool for people who had trouble cleaning up their own spammy/bad linkbuilding and weren't able to get every bad link removed from the web before doing reconsideration requests. Please go back to read our original announcement at http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2012/10/a-new-too... to confirm that was the primary purpose.

By the way lingben, I just took one of the most passed-around examples where someone claimed that negative SEO worked and debunked that blog post here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5815658

Matt - thanks for jumping in the comments.

Can you confirm that the disavow tool is automatic? Or do people need to file a reconsideration request? Is the answer different depending on whether there is a manual penalty or an algorithmic decrease in rank/trust?

I ask because you recommended it for people who are concerned about potential negative SEO, and I'm want to be clear on how that works. I think there is certainly a perception that a reconsideration request is some sort of admission of guilt, and I can imagine people being reticent to file one if they weren't responsible for the links in question.

The disavow tool is automatic for any algorithmic rankings (such as Penguin and Panda).

If you have a manual webspam action, then you should get a notice after you verify your site at google.com/webmasters . In the case of a manual webspam action, our advice is try to get any spammy links that you put on the web taken down. If there are some spammy links that you can't get taken down off the web, you can use the disavow tool for those remaining links and then do a reconsideration request.

Matt -

I've never received a notice of bad or spammy links. Am I correct in assuming that there would be no gain in gambling with the disavow tool?

Matt, the disavow tool is most certainly incontrovertible proof that negative SEO works. Why? Because whether a "spammy" link has been created by a website's own misplaced SEO efforts or through that of a third party which wishes them ill, the effects are the same: a negative effect in ranking.

We know from google that "spammy links" can and do indeed negatively effect rankings - this is why google has provided website owners the ability to 'clean up their act' in the first place

But it does not matter who created the link, the effect is the same, hence, negative SEO works.

Your comment really resonates with me.

Where you rank, why you rank, etc. with Google is never explained. This used to be effective in the old days, but they have lost the edge. Instead of focusing on providing excellent search results, Google has focused on trying to draw in all parts of the internet to personalize search. This is where I think Google has lost the focus on quality.

I would disagree. We have to remember that the size of the web has changed by an order of magnitude since Google first launched. Doing a good job of web search has become proportionally as difficult. Furthermore, we all interact with search engines far more than we used to, and I think we have a tendency not to notice the searches we do that are immediate and effective and focus on those that are imperfect.

I work full time in SEO, and so I don't say any of this lightly. I have a lot of problems with the way Google sometimes does things, and I see a lot of imperfect results. However, it certainly isn't fair to say they "used to be effective in the old days" with the implication they aren't effective any more. They absolutely are effective, and are certainly more effective than the competition.

Your comment on tendency to notice imperfection is correct.

Do you think that working in SEO keeps an arms race going with Google? SEOs find something to exploit, Google does something to counteract. This process leads to unintended consequences throughout the "order of magnitude" system.

My point is more directed to Google trying to include "quality" indicators that having nothing really to do with finding things on the internet.

Yet, I cannot quantify those indicators since Google never spells them out. lol

Folks who work in SEO have to ferret those indicators out and develop plans to take advantage of them.

Furthermore, we all interact with search engines far more than we used to

Interesting claim. Is it based on hard data, or just a personal view? I ask because my impression is the opposite.

As a surfer, I find myself doing less searching with Google and more either going to likely reference sites like Wikipedia and searching there directly or finding new material via trusted blogs and forums like HN.

For sites I help to run, we actively try to prevent any single traffic source becoming dominant, whether that is Google or Facebook or anyone else. Visits from search engines (or at least those we can diagnose as such) are now only a minority for most sites I know about personally. This is definitely just anecdotal, though: all of those sites are relatively small/niche, and it could be that for example social referrals have a disproportionate effect at our scale that might not be seen with big sites getting orders of magnitude more traffic than we do.

It just seems like such a bizarre game we are required to play. I am picturing you jeering at us to "dance monkey dance".

Two problems - this disavow tool is not prominent in webmaster tools, second - have no clue how long it takes. Recently I found TONS of obviously spam links pointing to my site and tried to use this tool. After two weeks - no noticeable results. I.e. no feedback.

Overall - whole no-feedback nature of your SE is what bothers me the most. Just put rules upfront, give some feedback to webmasters and ignore seo gamers.

Matt aren't you getting sick of having to constantly defend the actions of your employer? You seem like a positive guy but it must be getting even you down.

The amazing thing is that this is news.

Of course competitors can trash your organic rankings -- and it's a lot easier for them to trash you than it is to promote themselves.

I'm glad Google is slowly coming around to admitting that this house of mirrors has some flaws. The more information publishers get about this, the better choices we can make in content selection.

What is news here is not that negative SEO exists. It is that Google has been forced to admit that it is a real issue.

Edit: After reading the comments at the end of the story, magicalist is right. The story is wrong, Google made this change a lot longer than a week ago, it isn't actually news.

...10 years ago.

No, last week. So it really is news.

That's when their help page went from saying, "There's almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index." to "Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index."

In other words from saying, "Don't worry about it" to "We're on it".

No, go read the comments. The first change was made 10 years ago; the change you're referring to apparently happened sometime between March and April 2012[1].

Moreover, there's absolutely no information about how you could penalize someone's site. The article's speculation is exactly that.

Honestly, if it were as easy as buying a bunch of spam links to a site for $20 and get them penalized or delisted, there would have already been a host of exposés showing exactly that. There are a lot of motivated SEOs out there, chomping at the bit to show that their personal Google conspiracy theory is correct.

[1] http://www.seroundtable.com/google-can-competitors-harm-me-1...

Somebody posted a link to a detailed expose' on HN a few weeks ago detailing a successful negative SEO campaign to destroy a competing car dealer's rankings. I'll see if I can dig it up, but this kind of stuff is definitely going on - and people are specifically being paid to do it.

Since I've got some free time between meetings, I'll go ahead and debunk this one. http://trafficplanet.com/topic/2372-successful-negative-seo-... is a claim from April 18, 2012 that claimed that negative SEO worked on justgoodcars.com.

Here's the problem with that: the site they selected was spamming, and Google had already taken action on that site. The site had been spamming for years; see e.g. http://growabrain.typepad.com/growabrain/2007/10/fiat-126.ht... for a spam comment pointing to justgoodcars.com from January of 2008. Here's another spam link from April 2008: http://www.punny.org/money/ditch-your-ancient-car-and-get-30... . Or check out this low-quality directory link from years ago: http://www.easyweblistonline.com/News___Media/Automotive/ Or this low-quality directory: http://www.whatclicks.com/shopping/automotive.html

Google found a bunch of spammy links like this dating back years and years, and we took manual webspam action regarding this site before this so-called "detailed expose" of negative SEO ever came out.

Like many of the reports of "successful negative SEO" that we've investigated, the claims didn't hold up. In this case, we had already caught the site in question for spammy links going back years and years--long before the negative SEO campaign started.

Interesting back story to that one. Thanks for sharing those details.

Yes, that's it. Thanks.

Oops, I was believing what the article said. You're right, the comments are worth reading in this case.

That said, I have not experimented either way. But I've known enough people who accidentally hurt their own ratings that I don't see why it wouldn't be easy to hurt someone else's.

Who cares if it is new or not. It's a problem, and becoming a bigger one.

A confirmation of fact is less relevant than peoples assumptions?

What you seem to be suggesting is that information that people cannot be 100% sure of is perfectly valid, and reasonable to base decisions on. But, when that information is confirmed to be true, that has not enough value to report.

I simply do not understand or accept that way of thinking.

Joe jobs are old enough to drive.


It's not Google's job to make sure every webmaster has a "fair shot" at rankings. It's their job to make sure the best results appear when I search for something. In Google's eyes, having false negatives is worth not having false positives, and that's just the reality of the web.

Besides, it seems to me that these "problems" are only really thought of as problems by the type of people who put "search engine" in the title of their blog.

Nonsense; that is Google's one and only job.

My parents run a small e-commerce business that has supported them for years; a team of a dozen people run everything from the little website to the shipping. All of their sales come from (mostly accidental) SEO and Amazon.

The scary reality is that right now that entire operation could be destroyed by a competitor in a couple minutes if they knew how. It's not hard to find a package on Fiverr that includes 1,000 spammy links for $5, so a competitor could easily direct 5,000 spammy links (more than the entire amount of links directed at them right now) for $50.

Is that use case emotionally loaded? Sure. But it isn't extreme. I recognize that the company only exists because Google gave it a chance to, but the idea that the livelihoods of a dozen people could vanish if someone got a little bit ambitious deserves a better response than what Google has given it.

Google's current options for removing negative SEO are very hand-wavy, mostly because they don't really believe negative SEO is a large issue. Admittedly, potential for negative SEO is a cop-out black-hatters use to cover their tracks more than it is a real threat, but that doesn't mean Google can ignore it.

Google's current solutions for combating negative SEO: "Ask webmasters to remove the links" - a complete joke and everyone knows it, and the Link Disavow Tool, which is pretty difficult to use, and Google admits that it may be several months before the rankings are updated after links are disavowed.

> Nonsense; that is Google's one and only job.

Why? You're not paying them to list your website. Meanwhile I am paying them, in ad impressions, to look at your listing. If you want reliable returns, buy an ad instead.

EDIT: What I am trying to say is, it doesn't matter to me if I see "Jack's Pastries" or "Jill's Pastries" in my search results. Your livelihood is not Google's responsibility, unless you buy ad space from them.

Their job is to show the best results for a given search query. If my website is the best but it doesn't appear at the top because a competitor has attacked it, Google isn't doing its job.

I completely get you from a human level.

From a business level google's job is to sell ads, it sell ads by providing valuable search results 'for free', and one part of the intrinsic quality of the search results is that they are 'good' in the sense that you describe.

Aside from that google really doesnt owe anyone anything, if tomorrow google found that showing small businesses search results negatively affected their bottom line, your mom and pop ecommerce site and all like it would disappear (until searchers moved on to another service). Google's 'fairness' only exists and should be counted on as long as game theortic/min max optimization of bottom line happens to align googles interests with your own...

I'm speaking from a user level. If I'm a user and Google isn't showing me the best results, it's not doing its job for its users. If Google doesn't have users, its ad space isn't worth anything, and its business model ceases to exist.

Google is the epitome of a consumer web business model. They sell users. So yes, they have to have buyers, but their most important job is to have users to sell.

You are not Google's customer though. You are product sold to their customers. Your buying power, add viewing abilities, knowledge of your age, hobbies and other stats is what makes Google money by proving their add buying customers with quality "product".

> If Google doesn't have users, its ad space isn't worth anything, and its business model ceases to exist.

Yes but that is a second order effect. Basically the majority of "products" have to be convinced that Google is not good enough _and_ there is another alternative (I like DuckDuckGo for example), then as you say, people will stop using Google Search. Then if Gmail goes South, people stop using that. Then Android goes South, they start using iPhones. Eventually Google will provide a lower quality "product" to their customers and Google's stock will take a hit. However, don't be fooled into thinking you are Google's primary customer because you use them for search.

Isn't it a bit scary that the entire internet (and by association a huge chunk of the overall economy) is effectively beholden to a company that "doesn't owe anybody anything"?

I mean we wouldn't tolerate an energy supplier disconnected arbitrary supplies because they didn't feel like selling there any more.

It is scary, in that you have a near-monopoly, operating in a market that affects almost everyone who goes on-line to some degree, without much regulation.

Having said that, it's important to remember that without a site like Google, many of these small businesses wouldn't exist in the first place. For all the criticism, having a search engine that does a good if imperfect job is almost certainly a big net win for society. As long as that is the case, and as long as Google aren't actively/unreasonably harming anyone, I think we're a long way from saying they are dominant and dangerous enough to require statutory regulation, which would be the normal next step if an actual monopoly provider of an actually essential service was misbehaving.

Not sure how many wouldn't exist, many were doing mail order back in the day. But now they are forced online if they want to remain in the game.

In the case of subsidized, "merchant" (free-market, privately financed) energy suppliers, they do in fact disconnect when they don't feel like selling.

If you have a gas-powered merchant plant, and the spark spread isn't good, you turn it off until energy prices rise again. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spark_spread

Yes, but I mean they don't just come and disconnect your premesis.

Isn't it ironic? Developers moved to the web to avoid becoming sharecroppers in Microsoft's fields, and now we are even more dependent on Google's goodwill. And what options are left? App stores.

Separate from the fact that a comparison between sharecropping and developing for Microsoft is absolutely absurd, pretending like the only jobs available in the developer community are dependent on either Google or app stores is ridiculous.

It's not ironic, and it's not true. Being a developer gives more freedom and more pay than the vast majority of jobs. The fact that there are some developer jobs that are gasp dependent on large companies in the field does nothing to change this.

It may sound absurd today, but there was a time when every small to medium-sized software company was trying to be successful, but not TOO successful, lest it attracted Microsoft's attention to its market.

And you're right that a developer/entrepreneur doesn't have only Google and app stores as choices, but the options don't go much further than that. Facebook and Twitter, perhaps? In the end, the company that controls your customer acquisition channel controls you.

From a business level google's job is to sell ads, it sell ads by providing valuable search results 'for free', and one part of the intrinsic quality of the search results is that they are 'good' in the sense that you describe.

I think this gets to the heart of the conflict of interest which Google experiences and those who depend on them are afraid of. On the one hand, they have a reputation for valuable and high-quality search results which are not vulnerable to gaming. On the other hand, they have an established monopoly on search, which will not disappear overnight, and a business selling ads which compete against their own search results for clicks. Their interests do not currently align with those who appear in their organic search results, except tangentially and in the long-term (as a way of keeping eyeballs on those results because everyone views them as trustworthy).

So there is a tension there as good search results mean less ad clicks short-term, and less ad clicks means less money for Google. In an ideal world for Google as a corporation, their first page would simply be search results, tailored to a user's request, with no organic search results whatsoever, and indeed, their space on the results page does have a growing advertising component (paid ads, G+, ads for google places or other services like shopping). Obviously at present Google has managed to walk that tightrope and provide great search results, downgrade spammy results and ignore bad links, while making money from advertising displayed with those results, but it's a delicate balance, and there are commercial pressures to improve advertising clicks, but no short-term commercial pressures to improve search result clicks.

If those results can be poisoned or gamed easily, it doesn't really affect Google in the short term, only in the long term, and only if users start to notice and desert their service (over a period of years probably) - that's not necessarily the case if users don't have many comparison points because of Google's scale and dominance. It might even be good for Google in the short term, as businesses start to buy more adwords visits when their organic results decline. I'm not trying to suggest there is some conspiracy at Google, just pointing out the intrinsic tension at the heart of their business between good results and good ad revenue.

Let's say 999 out of 1000 times some signal penalizes spammy sites enough to get them off the first pages of search results.

Those 1 out of 1000 good sites that were penalized do mean that "Google isn't doing its job" in that its job is never complete, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't the right choice to make for its users (while it then tries to refine new signals to get a better set of results).

The crap filtered out can vastly outweigh the good results (temporarily?) lost, depending on the good sites that were filtered out. Yes, it sucks, but false positives always come with this type of filtering.

Also, remember that "best" is itself just a confluence of signals, and that the guy next to you may very well disagree with you for any particular "best" choice.

> Their job is to show the best results for a given search query.


Google is not there to help you, me or anyone find better cat pictures. It is not a charity. Google's job is to make money. It makes money primarily by selling ads. It can sell ads better if it can target people better so they provide free email and then also parse all the email contents.

Ads show up in search and by providing good search results they ensure people go to google.com and not facebook.com or bing.com so _they_ can show you ads as opposed to someone else showing you ads.

"If my website is the best but it doesn't appear at the top because a competitor has attacked it" try Bing, or other search engines. You can try to shame Google into providing better searches by going public and hoping their PR team will notice, that's valid, but I don't see at all how this their "job".

> but I don't see at all how this their "job".

You are ignoring Google's customers, those of us paying for advertising. If Google's content (it's search results) goes south, then the value in advertising goes down.

This is how advertising works. People don't go to Google to see advertising. They go to find things. I pay to appear when the best the web has to offer isn't good enough. It also works wonders when someone is searching for something because they trust google's content, and is actually looking to buy, so they specifically look at the advertisements knowing these are places they can pay for a service.

And yes, I'm giving money to Google, essentially hiring them to provide that service. And that service is not merely to show advertisements, but rather to show advertisements beside excellent search results. The same way the rest of advertisement works in every other medium. I pay for advertising on radio at certain times because of the reach, and this reach is based not on advertising, but on the quality. So I have a direct monetary incentive to ensure the quality of the content my advertising surrounds.

Of course, that also means Google has a directly responsibility to ensure the quality of the search as well, because that's what they are selling to me.

If you buy ad space, the quality of the content does matter. No one buys ad space devoid of content of some sort. Good content does more than attract eyes, but advertising next to good content elevates the advertised product. People associate it with the quality of the content.

So no, Google has ever incentive to provide high-quality content precisely because paying customers are being sold on that as a major part of advertising with Google.

Assuming you are not purchasing ads, I'd argue that relying heavily on a company you have no formal commercial relationship with to bring you customers might not be a great idea.

Yet that is what most businesses are doing, even if they are buying ads. You can't get enough traffic from ads alone at a cheap enough cost to make most businesses viable.

Google's job is not to be fair. Google's job is to have good results. If they really wanted to, they could have 99% perfect results, and deliberately screw over companies the other 1% of the time, and they would still be doing their job.

Do I want a fair search engine? Yes I do. Does a search engine have to be fair to have good results? Not at all.

* The scary reality is that right now that entire operation could be destroyed by a competitor in a couple minutes if they knew how... but the idea that the livelihoods of a dozen people could vanish if someone got a little bit ambitious deserves a better response*

Isn't this always the state of running a business, though? A new competitor can always come along out of the blue and undermine your complete offering or drastically undercut you on prices.

A company that has a better business model, better customer service, or better goods/services is not the issue here. The issue is a competitor can tank your rankings by dropping $100 on crappy links. The disavow process is a good step forward but negative seo can still destroy several months worth of revenue while waiting for Google to sort it out.

Besides, it seems to me that these "problems" are only really thought of as problems by the type of people who put "search engine" in the title of their blog.

Or anyone who runs an online business...?

Let's say you're a small ecommerce site, your site is growing, your blog is gaining readership as it's become a great resource. One of your nasty competitors who doesn't like that your rankings are going up for all this hard work decides to hop on Fiverr and buy tons of terrible links all pointing at your site and your rankings all the sudden drastically drop because your site is now viewed as spam.

That's a very realistic concern for a lot of webmasters and small business owners (the big guys suffer a lot less from negative SEO because their link portfolio is far more balanced out). I'd much rather have Google just give a ZERO value to low quality and shady links as opposed to a negative value.

"...hop on Fiverr and buy tons of terrible links all pointing at your site and your rankings all the sudden drastically drop because your site is now viewed as spam..."

I saw this very thing happen in real life, actually... though it wasn't a competitor...

A well meaning team member on a project which I was previously affiliated with decided "Hey, I know how we can get this project some exposure! FIVERR!"...

Yes, I know that there are better, less shady, approaches to generating traction, but we will just blame inexperience and a temporary lapse in judgement for the expensive lesson in negative SEO...

Long story short, weeks of organic link building and organic service/site promotion were completely obliterated within 72hrs of $20 worth of Fiverr backlink purchases...

Needless to say, so far as I know, the team only uses 100% whitehat approaches for site and product promotions now...

> weeks of organic link building

There is no such thing as organic link building. It is either organic or you're building links.

Orly? Thanks for the "correction"?

I guess that I, along with countless others (http://goo.gl/W1P69), have just been ignorantly using a fictional term that nicely summarizes the concept that we are trying to convey - i.e. "the building up of back-links via non-automated, traditional routes - such as those stemming from legitimate interations with other businesses and clients"...

Thanks, pal.

I don't particularly care what you call it. Back-links that were placed at your behest are spam to me.

Ah, I got you... So you were stating your personal opinion on back-links, rather than stating a factual observation about organic back-links being similar to unicorns...

You're stance definitely makes more sense as an opinion - unlike factual statements, opinions afford space for both fact and fallacy (i.e. "it is either organic or you're building links.")...

When stating things in a matter of fact manner ("...There is no such thing as organic link building..."), it tends to lead people to believe that you are debating the legitimacy of some point they've made...

Thanks for clearing up the confusion...

The confusion is in your head, but I doubt I'm going to dispel it. Google managed to improve over altavista because it used something that wasn't abused by spammers yet: links. As soon as spammers (like you) realized that they could game the system once again and reduce search to a game of who most effectively manages to spoil the soup by introducing untold billions of meaningless backlinks into the game page-rank's days were numbered. So now we're more or less back where we started.

I personally don't think there is a metric that you could come up with that can't be gamed but it saddens me that the quality of the web is spoiled in such a crass way. Props to google for trying to combat it. I wish you much good luck at breaking some more windows.

Pardon me, Jacques, but why is that you are now resorting to baseless and unfounded personal attacks against me (aside from the obvious: "When your argument is shown to be invalid: 1)resort to name calling in order to confuse the topic 2) _____ 3)PROFIT!!!")?

"Spammers like me"? I've never used this tactic nor ANY other 'blackhat' SEO tactic - please check your facts (I know, I know... I've gathered thus far that this task may prove to be a difficult exercise for you - flying off the cuff and making unfounded accusations is far easier)...

I did however provide an anecdotal account of someone that I knew that had used this tactic - which I characterized as 'inexperienced' and as a 'lapse in judgement'... Furthermore, not that it really matters in the court of Jacques, I did voice concerns to the team when I learned this approach was being considered by a team lead.

I do believe that this practice is bad for the web and that any site proven to have used it should be hit in their SEO ranking.

This said, I am not confused on any of the points that you or I have made... I do however believe that you are correct on one point - you are likely incapable of dispelling anything currently present in my head on this topic... From our interaction here, I have gathered that your intent isn't to further discussion, to clarify a confused point or to factually correct an incorrectly stated claim - in short, your intent would merely appear to be 'trolling'. So... Congratulations on your success! You win the trolling Internets!

Let us recall this failed attempt at rational discourse - I provided a cautionary tale which related to the original post. You decided that it was your job as keeper of the interwebs to correct a statement that I had made - a statement which was already correct and so did not merit correction. When confronted with the reality that no correction was needed, instead of conceding or clarifying any confused points, you decided to continue to argue against a point which was never made ("derp. I don't care what you call it, even if you do use the common and widely accepted vernacular, I am right and you are a stoopidhead spamming me!") - moving away from the corrective form of your first comment to an opinion-based prose in your 2nd (using the correct conversational form finally, though still largely failing to make any valid or related points)... And finally, when all else failed, you resorted to a personal and baseless attack against me in calling me a spammer...

Jacques, I really do hope that you have a wonderful day... and I do hope that you are able to find that bug - just a hint, I don't think it's in your code... it's possible that it's of the posterior variety...

Anecdotes about spammers abound, nobody actually spams, go figure. But lots of people talk about their spammer friends and accidents and defend spamming practices but of course they'd never think of spamming themselves.

Let me know which company would let a junior team member spend any money at all, let alone on buying link spam in the name of the company without some higher up ok'ing it.

" I, along with countless others (http://goo.gl/W1P69), have just been ignorantly using a fictional term that nicely summarizes the concept that we are trying to convey - i.e. "the building up of back-links via non-automated, traditional routes - such as those stemming from legitimate interations with other businesses and clients""

Strongly suggests you do more than just talk about it, it sounds like typical SEO marketing drivel.

Wow... Just wow... Clearly you, my friend, are a very special individual...

Let us just go ahead and reiterate this for the readers: Jacques incorrectly attempted to correct the usage of a commonly used phase and when confronted with this reality, he/she/it has derailed the discussion in an effort to assert it is about something that it was never intended to be about... Bad form and not constructive, mate.

So, now on to your dribble...

1) "People always say they didn't do something when they did - so clearly you're a spammer"... Man, your logic is so watertight you should patent it as "The Holey Bucket"(I'll give you that gem for free!) - with idiots clearly abound, you'll be rich in no time!!! Or perhaps you should go into business as a legal prosecutor - surely, every judge and legal expert will agree with your line of reasoning... (facepalm)

2) "would let a junior team..." - I've already indicated that this was a 'team lead', though I am not terribly surprised by your inability to read and comprehend...

3) A google link to the results page showing widespread usage of the term that you've been arguing doesn't exist ("organic link building") and a summary of the concept, derived from the common sense interpretation of the words that were strung together, somehow shows that I am in reality an expert spammer??? (mind blown)... Wow... Just wow... Thanks for the tip, man - You're full of gems! I think I may quit dev and just start talking about being rich all the time as all one clearly needs to do, according to you, is provide commonly known, widely documented and highly accessible details in order to be an expert on something... EFFFFFF YEAHHHHHH!!!! http://goo.gl/6nKaZ - lemme go check my back account!!! WOOT!!!! IMMA BILLIONAIRE!!!!

As a backend banking software developer (who's previously dabbled in custom banking, medical and legal document web applications... who's SEO experience could be summarized with 'pretty urls', 'h1' and using page titles), I can definitively say with complete honesty and integrity that you are about as far off the reservation as one can get with your continued assertions - i.e again, and for the final time, you are wrong... completely, 100%, without a grain of correctness, flat out wrong... and I stand by my original hypothesis that you are a blowhard who really cares less about being correct and more about 'winning'... Which, in my opinion, is a worse person than most spammers (WHO DO SUCK) - someone hell bent on ignoring simple truths and reality to just try and 'win'... Lame..

Again, best of luck with your bug...

Interesting. Look, if you're not into spamming stop using terms like 'organic link building' as though they are somehow normal use of the words. To me organic link building is a thing only an SEO 'expert' would use as though those things have a normal meaning. People that are just focusing on the content of their website and that are being run into the ground by the SEO crowd with joe jobs and other nasties are definitely not busy with 'organic link building', but the SEO crowd is. There was a time when links were organic in the sense that the whole web was held together by those links because that's what the web was, a set of pages held together by links.

Then google came along, the SEOs spoiled it for the rest of us with their 'organic link building' campaigns and that was that. "Oganic" in this context means nothing more than 'unpaid', and even that is a quite a stretch judging by the number of requests I get to place such links (obviously, they're very organic and the payment is just a token compensation for my time, even if it is recurring and the amounts offered suggest there is more to it than that.).

The better meaning for that set of words - which you apparently don't subscribe to - is that 'organic' means 'natural', in other words, links that you, the site owner, have nothing to do with, and that therefore you can not be building.

If you're not into spamming and if your SEO experience is as limited as you say it is then get off your high horse, stop using typical spammer terminology that creatively redefines words that had a perfectly good usage before the SEO crowd came along and call it a day.

Lest you get into this territory:


Ohhhh, ok.. I got you.. So, 'organic farmers' just happen across natural fields of tomatoes and lettuce that animals have just been politely saving their poo for?!!!? Damn, dude - I never knew!!! That's so awesome!!! Heck, I think I want to be an organic farmer now that I know they don't actually have to do anything - it being 'natural' and all... That's so awesome - I never knew that's what 'organic' and 'natural' really meant... You're just so awesome - I am serious about patenting your logic... You clearly have it all figured out, with your accusations against strangers on the Internet and all, and I'm telling you, man, "The Holey Bucket" is GOLD! Just remember us little guys...

"...stop using terms like 'organic link building'..."

Na, I think I am just going to keep on trucking and just start ignoring argumentative, condescending know-it-alls a bit better... starting with you...

Lest you get into this territory: http://goo.gl/j7f1v

> The better meaning for that set of words - which you apparently don't subscribe to - is that 'organic' means 'natural', in other words, links that you, the site owner, have nothing to do with, and that therefore you can not be building.

Not quite nothing to do with: crafting content with the intent that people encountering it would be prone to link to it, so that site owners (and SEO firms working on their behalf) wouldn't need to engage in out-of-band link promotion to get the links, would seem to be organic link building, in that it proceeds naturally from the content rather than via separate efforts.

True, you could construe that as such. But I think that the real distinguishing factor should be that the links themselves are there to establish proximity between nodes in the graph of the web, not the secondary effects on page rank in a search engine.

Links that represent real-world relationships are not meaningless, because a human being decided to create them. Those are exactly the sort of real-world "votes" that Page Rank is supposed to key off of.

I agree fully with this sentiment - this is the very concept that was intended to be encapsulated by the phase "organic link building"...

It's valid and valuable to have these sorts of links and they are very relevant when factoring SEO weight.

If a developer writes a web application for a client, links to the client's application from his portfolio page and then the client, so happy with his product, links back to the developer.. Well, this is exactly how the world should operate... and a large part of how SEO should be factored, imho. This didn't just magically happen - the developer and the client both had a role in the creation of these links, which will factor into their ranking... And while people 'had their hand in this creation' and despite the fact that this 'benefits' both parties, I consider this 'organic link building'...

But then again, it would appear that I am clearly spammer as has been demonstrated by the indisputable evidence presented in this thread and so am likely not to be trusted...

I know plenty of people who know just enough to be dangerous like that -- they know that links are the one of the main factors in rankings and then get tunnel vision in increasing linking domains.

"Boy that 1000 links for $5 sure seems a lot more efficient than the slow, organic process of building up a resourceful, industry-relevant blog!"

I don't understand why the quality of the blog should have anything to do with the search results that link to the ecommerce site. Just because your site should show up in the ranking for "reset color scheme Samsung monitor" doesn't mean it should show up in the ranking for "buy samsung monitor".

To the extent google is conflating the positive signals for the first with the second, that's a bug in their algorithm that should be fixed over time. When it is I certainly won't cry any tears for the people that exploited the bug all this time.

I think the quality of the blog creates domain authority and brand trust, therefore your overall rankings should increase. It doesn't even have to be a blog; it can just be great evergreen content that presents itself resourcefully on your site.

Specific (edit: off site, on site should remain important) anchor text should eventually and ideally be worthless, as then results won't be based around who got the most links that say "buy Samsung monitor" pointing at their site. I think that is a slow train coming though.

The government may some day think otherwise. Google's monopoly on search is substantial enough that they risk much by eschewing fairness in favor of quality. I would tread very lightly if I were in Google's shoes.

Good luck defining "fairness". That regulation is going to go really well.

The Federal Government never let a little thing like undefinability stop them before.

I hate the word myself as it means little outside of sports.

However, there is a very real perception of "fairness", and often the status quo defines that perception. Whatever changes Google makes will be interpreted as unfair by someone, and given their dominant status - that could be a problem if enough people get nervous.

It is Google's job to make sure every webmaster has a fair shot - any unfairness ensures the top results will go to organisations who are best at gaming the system: unfairness harms the results.

Google won search by being good at this when other search engines were not.

>It's not Google's job to make sure every webmaster has a "fair shot" at rankings.

It is as much as it is the job of Microsoft to allow you to install 3rd party browser or OS on a desktop.

When you have a monopoly in an industry, you don't get to choose favorites else it will considered an abuse of power.

Google's product is choosing favorites. You tell Google not to choose favorites, they just return a random list of webpages.

"It's not Google's job to make sure every webmaster has a "fair shot" at rankings. It's their job to make sure the best results appear when I search for something."

I would think it's pretty obvious they have to ensure every webmaster has a fair shot to guarantee the best results.

If a crappy website rises to the top by doing negative seo and denying the best results their fair shots, Google is not doing its job.

You are partly right, but you seem to think it is googles job to serve you, it is not. It is googles job to make money when you click on ads, so their job is to make you click on ads.

And while you are right that some false positives may be acceptable there is a hell of a difference between accidental false positives and false positives created because of competitors actions.

You don't want to live in a world where the scummiest bastard gets to put his links ahead of they guy who is actually providing a service. We already have that situation if you google for the names of certain appliances (eg. my dishwasher) where all the results are to meta-shopping sites.

> Besides, it seems to me like these "problems" are only really thought of as problems by the type of people who put "search engine" in the title of their blog.

or by all the people who have a site with traffic coming from Google

Is it easier to increase your rankings by a) building solid quality backlinks to your site or b) building tons of spam links to your competitors' sites?

If the answer is b), which I suspect it might due to reading some comments here citing fiverr examples, then allowing negative SEO is decreasing the quality of search results.

Also, my guess is where the damage is really done is w/ long tail searches. That's when I almost always encounter random, irrelevant, spammy sites - when I search for something very specific in Google.

It's their job to make sure the best results appear when I search for something.

"Best" means best for Google, not most informative to you. The big deal about negative SEO is that "worse" means worse for Google - again, it has nothing to do with your or my needs.

The combination of positive and negative SEO is intended solely for Google's long term benefit. Maybe goodwill enters into it, but only to the extent it creates value for Google's shareholders.

Do you think the world would be worse off if Google were fair to webmasters? Do you think perfect competition should trump all other values?

The question is, of course, what are the best results when it comes to "buy viagra?"

"It is impossible".

"It is quite difficult".

"We work hard to prevent it".

It is exactly the same as behaviour security companies had in the past until they learned that, to quote Adidas, 'impossible is nothing' and that 'quite difficult' is nonsense due to automation.

It used to be quite difficult to stage a DOS (anyone remembers the first one Yahoo! suffered in 2000?, ah, those were the days when we were surprised by them...). Nowadays a bunch of kiddies can put amazon down on its knees.

Well, probably not amazon.

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" - (attributed to John Maynard Kaynes)

The algorithm has changed. The web has changed. Naturally, google has changed.

It is not a problem of a change in reality. It is a problem of wrong statements:

'It is impossible' is certainly false on the internet for almost anything you can think.

'It is very difficult': See the sysjail fiasco [1]. Once something is deemed possible, it is not very difficult, on computer systems.

So, it is not the facts that have changed, it is their perception by Google.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sysjail

Or, the ranking algorithm was previously designed for this not to have an impact, and as real-world usage showed abuse, they changed it. Repeat this cycle until now. So the techniques to game the algorithm changed, hence the algorithm changed, hence the stance changed... Constantly, we don't live in a static web.

(EDIT: Also of note is the fact that this change was from a year ago, and the previous one was in 2003 ... So. Yeah)

The PageRank algorithm seems broken to me. If spam links count for negative value you get competitors doing negative seo by buying cheap bad links to competing websites in bulk via places like fiverr. If they count for zero value then you get webmasters trying their luck by buying the same stuff themselves - who knows, there could be a good link amongst all the bad stuff and no harm in trying...

Something other than ranking by inbound links seems to be needed at this point.

"The PageRank algorithm seems broken to me."

Imagine thinking that the "honor system" would actually not be gamed!

Pagerank was designed a long time ago and suffers from a way of thinking that academics such as Page and Brin have.

The same thing happened with email once the cat got out of the bag on that. Or on craigslist.org - Bottom line is not anticipating what would happen when widespread use of a product occurs and the user base changes significantly.

Designing things that are secure and un-gameable while still usable is actually very difficult.

It looks like it was devised without security in mind. This is something we are starting to learn not to do.

In that sense, TCP, the routing protocols, DNS &c were all designed that way (without malicious users in mind).

Which for some time was very good and then BANG!

I guess software engineering has to start dealing with this issue in a scientific way as well. And so academics will start thinking 'correctly', if this is possible.

Well the cure is pretty simple. You can apply pagerank in to calculate the reputation of each site and then multiply that number with the value of the outgoing link, using normal page rank.

How do you get the reputation information? Well you need a network of creators, people, so that you can capture the social interactions between them.

And over two years ago, Google began a major attempt to reinvent themselves. I hear it's called "Plus".

are you suggesting that facebook could seize the search jewel from google? It is a genuine question.

No, I was more attempting to hint at a possible use for G+.

Pagerank has been far from the sole ranking criteria for a long time

> Something other than ranking by inbound links seems to be needed at this point.

There's mounting evidence that this is the direction Google is going in.

This would have been disasterous earlier in Google's life, but at this point they're so dominant that they can basically force everyone else to deal with their screw-ups.

The article has some user comments I found relevant I don't see pointed out here.

"That change was actually made a year ago. The only change on that page is the positioning of the video. The actual text has not changed in over a year."-Barry Schwartz


"The article is also incredibly wrong about the previous change. Google did't add the "almost" last year (2012) but TEN years ago, in 2003, as you can see with Archive.org: http://web.archive.org/web/20030915000000*/http://www.google... -LowLevel

Matt if you read hackernews. This is bullshit. Spam links should count for 0 value not negative value.

How about just asking, "Hey Matt, can you say something about why you decided spam links should count for negative value instead of 0?"

I've never met him, but as demonstrated by his long HN profile, Matt is clearly a nice guy. He's also smart, so he probably thought this exact case through. None of us outside Google really know how this works.

None of that means his group didn't make a poor decision in this case, but let's see if we can talk like adults and can learn more before going all "OMFG this is bllsht" on him...

"Matt is clearly a nice guy."

In a sense he plays the role of a politician. Not able to do much (he is only one google guy after all) and trying to keep the masses feeling that he is acting in their best interest. He can't really be blamed. The bottom line is that none of this has any impact on google anyway.

If anything it simply pushes more people to want to pay for paid placement.

While I tend agree, it sounds too obvious to be a solution. I would suggest that because Google can't detect all bad links, they want to make the ones they do detect "hurt" more. If Google simply zeroed out negative links there would be no repercussions for webmasters building massive amounts of bad links. Sort of like throwing link pasta against the wall. If you build enough crappy links, you will eventually find areas of the web Google has yet to police, therefore you're always slightly ahead.

With penalties in place, those bad links might not be worth building because the penalties will outweigh the benefits of building massive amounts of low quality bad links.

FYI, he does (or did, no comments in a few years): https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=MattCutts

Ah ha, I thought I had seen him around more recently.

as an FYI -- this is the real Matt Cutts --


and he is quite active

That's idiotic. If spam links counted for 0 (when caught) there would be no disincentive for everyone to use them. The appropriate way is for them to count negative but have some way of legitimate sites disavowing them at some kind of time or effort cost (oh wait, that's what the system currently is).

If you have a better system let's hear it.

There's a huge number of replicated Chinese spam sites (xyz123.com, xyz456.com, mob123.com) that link to my site. I don't know why or when they started linking to my site, but I know that i didn't have anything to do with it. Your position seems to be that it's legitimate that I'm penalized for this. It's hard not to take this issue personally. It's like being falsely accused of a crime and having to pay a fine.

Is the disavow tool not available to those who tried to use spam links and got caught? I suspect the opposite actually. Those who automate link creation, also automate link disavowing. So the spam links probably have more penalizing effect on the innocent.

Still probably the right trade-off from GOOG's perspective, as long as black hat SEO has bigger negative effect on relevance than negative SEO.

Somehow it seems unfair for Google to suggest that people spend time with the disavowal tool to correct deficiencies in Google's algorithms.

Especially when a competitor could buy 1000s of these links for $20 on a place like fiverr. Are we supposed to spend the rest of our lives disavowing this stuff?

Edit: the 1000s figure is not an exaggeration. Go to fiverr and search on "back link" to see.

Google gives instruction on how to do it in bulk [0]. You can:

- Download your links from webmaster tools.

- Edit the file so it contains just the undesirable links.

- Use the disavow tool [1] to upload the file. (If your livelihood depends a lot on organic traffic, that is one scary red button. The wording on the page coupled with the button text makes it sound like you will disavow all the links to your website.)

[0] http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&...

[1] https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main?p...

Not really a "bulk" solution at all...

"- Edit the file so it contains just the undesirable links."

That's the part where intensive manual labor comes in, weeding through those links one by one.

Oh, I know. I guess we're supposed to be thankful for being able to submit a single file, though.

I also noticed that the help page states "(the file type must be .txt and it must be encoded in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII)". How many non-technical people even know what that means?

How many websites that are concerned with SEO cannot find somebody who can know what that means for them?

And what are the chances that if somebody doesn't know what that means they will mess it up? It is not like UTF-8/ASCII is something that you have to go out of your way to choose.. it is going to be what is defaulted to.

What if you've never heard of SEO but are being attacked by competitors planting spam links, taking advantage of Google's broken algorithms?

Whether or not they have heard the term before, I think that people who care about their website's google results and don't know how they could possibly find someone to help them make a text file are a minority not really worth worrying about.

Really?, wow... I had no idea about that. I bought some followers for a client once, but "1000's of links" for $20 sounds surreal (at least for me!)

You would be really shocked at what $20 can get you in some communities. You might have inspired me to do some writing on the subject.

it's mostly automated comment spam, forum spam and the like.

75% of those links won't even be valid, so you really do get what you pay for on Fiverrrrrrrrr.

Even more so if those links have previously been placed by people in their pay!


company pays crap SEO to place spam links all over the globe to increase google rank

google increases page rank

crap SEO works a bit more together with 1000's of fellow crap SEOs

google increases page rank

google notices problem, starts penalizing sites with crap ranks

companies that previously employed crap SEO to spam now pay crap SEO to blackmail site owners previously used to place spam links on to remove links 'or else'.

Really, this is not a good development. The burden of dealing with spam is bad enough, now we need to deal with being blackmailed by SEO spammers to clean up after them as well or risk being penalized in google? wtf?

In the Google Webmaster's tools it's possible to download a list of all the new links that are linking to your site.

Using this tool I've been able to discover that someone has started to buy spammy links in wordpress comments linking to my website. Those wordpress blogs are full of spam, so I want to believe that Google is already ignoring everything there.

Somewhat of a sidebar, but what's to prevent the following:

1) You buy 1000 links for $5 [1]

2) You enjoy a brief rise in the rankings

3) Google catches on and penalizes you

4) You use the link disavow tool to effectively say, "We didn't do it! A competitor did it to us!"

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5813496

We're seeing a lot of this tactic in a lot of the more... difficult industries right now with super high value terms (payday loans, viagra, etc). What is hot and popular is doing exactly 1-3 except on a hyper-rotation of domains.

Build up a bunch of shitty websites, get them ranking for a few weeks, they inevitably get penalized, then just switch domains and rinse and repeat.

Why would you enjoy a brief rise in the rankings from something that causes 'negative SEO'? Surely these inbound links either harm or help you, not both?

Inbound links don't immediately get detected as negative. That takes a while.

Weird evil conspiracy idea.

The more people use negative SEO and their victims use Google's tools to disavow it, the worse Bing's results get.

Does anyone know if it's always the case that you can find spammy links to your site by using Google (e.g. link:mysite.com)? My link count in webmaster tools is an order of magnitude higher than the inbound links that I can find by using the search engine.

Google's WT index seems to provide a fair amount of the links. There are a few 3rd party tools that do a really good job of indexing nearly all of the backlinks to your site:

http://www.opensiteexplorer.org http://www.ahrefs.com http://www.majesticseo.com

Thanks, opensiteexplorer displays about 75x more links that GWT does. Great stuff.

As far as I've seen, the links you'll find through the search engine are a limited set of links from "important" pages (i.e. not the spammy ones). To find your spammy backlinks you'd have to use webmaster tools.

Right now, it seems GWT only shows a "sample" of links, and that sample is chosen from the 100 domains that link most frequency. GWT's "total links" count for my site is about 75x larger than the number of links they'll give me. I'm wondering if it's a spammer registering a whole bunch of spammy domains.

GWT doesn't seem to allow me to discover what all of these links are, so I couldn't disavow them even if I wanted to.

link: shows a limited subset, to prevent stealing competitor's links. Webmasters/Analytics should show everything though.

Why does google need to penalize sites for spammy inbound links? Couldn't they instead just make those links not contribute at all (not penalize the ranking but not boost it at all either)? I'm sure it's more complicated than this, but I'm curious.

Simply ignoring spammy links doesn't reduce link spam, because people still have an incentive to keep spamming in the off chance that some of those links will be considered valid.

It would be interesting if Google let us optionally search using the original pure pagerank search from 10 years ago.

Would it be like turning off spam filtering on email?

The most frustrating part of negative SEO or any link cleanup is that Google doesn't tell which links they think are spammy links. If you are working for/with a site that has been online for a while, they will have thousands of crappy looking links pointing to their site.

Scraper sites pick up content from other websites all the time and cross post with porn and other crap. Directory submissions that were perfectly fine 5 or 10 years ago can now be viewed as "low quality" by Google. Blogs that used to be well-maintained have been bought by spammers and SEOs and are now content farms.

Google's lack of transparency when it comes to links is very troublesome. I understand they can't give out the ins and outs of their algo, but asking your average website owner to go through 10k+ backlinks and identify and remove the links is a pretty tall task when there isn't a clear standard on what is bad and what isn't.

One way Google could mitigate this would be if webmasters could tell Google about new/expected links. Obviously some links are unexpected (great!) but if Google new you weren't trying to add 50 links, and 50 links showed up, perhaps they could take that into account.

"This page has been removed due to inaccuracies. We regret the error."


This seems like an open invite for people to create blatant spam content.

I believe true way of dealing with spam links for Google would be ignore these. It will solve several problems at once: prevent spammed websites getting into index, prevent legitimate websites getting banned because of negative seo, make "seo specialist" job become a joke, and people eventually give up paying for it.

Google on the other hand tries to punish, i.e. to scare away potential gamers, instead of ignoring these. I believe this is wrong and inefficient approach.

I think the more scary thing here is it's incredibly easy and dirt cheap to completely bury your competitors with bad SEO.

Think of a multi-million dollar company wanting to dispose of smaller competitors. For even a modest outlay of say $1000, you could do incredible, long-term damage to other companies web sites.

Also, I'm pretty sure Google has no plans to update their algorithm to account for this huge flaw either, making every company vulnerable to attack from anybody.

Negative SEO and negative click fraud (a competitor clicking on my AdSense ads fraudulently) are the two biggest things that keep me up at night. It's terrifying knowing that something so simple can take me out overnight and there's nothing I can do to prevent it.

I'm surprised this hasn't become more like DDOS where thugs blackmail webmasters into submission with the threat of taking them offline. Or maybe it has and I just haven't heard...

Here is probably the best thing I can sy about dealing with SEO... you should care a little, but you should really stop caring a lot.

What I mean is, you should totally care about SEO, and doing basic, simple things like targeting long tail traffic, some simple content syndication/distribution/guest posting, but mostly I've seen that the best results are the outcome of an ongoing process, not the fad of the day.

Creating content, being smart about it, but ignoring the day to day ebbs and flows of the SEO world will make you a much happier person because in most cases, your competition isn't doing anything at all, so putting any effort in at all is almost a win by default.

How can Google detect if a spammy link has been created by the site's owner or by a competitor?

I don't see any way to detect that - apart from asking webmasters to report spammy backlinks. But that really isn't sustainable.

The article is inaccurate read between the lines of the comments.

Seems to me the general solution to negative SEO is instead of an unknown-quality-link bonus and a bad-link penalty, unknown-quality links should have no value and good links should have positive value.

The problem is it is probably harder to split the world into probably-good vs. unknown links rather than probably-bad vs. unknown links.

Is it me, or has HN been invaded by SEO consultants (case in point: OP). There's quite a bit more SEO-related topics these days. It seems to have started a few months ago, and it's getting worse.

Wait a second, why doesn't Google just count the link juice of these links are 0 (null).

This doesn't benefit the spammer, and it doesn't kill the innocent. Am I missing something here?

The solution here is dead simple.

Shitty links should have no SEO value, rather than a negative value.

That eliminates the problem of people using bad links to hurt their competition.

But it also means there's nothing to lose and everything to gain by buying links for your own domain. Which would probably make the practice much more widespread.

> But it also means there's nothing to lose and everything to gain by buying links for your own domain.

Well, nothing to lose except money: to discourage this, you just have to have links-of-unknown-quality produce no benefit, and links-with-positive-quality provide positive value; this is better than links of unknown value providing positive value and links with negative quality providing negative value.

Initially it would. If Google is any good at scoring links webmasters would quickly figure out the non-benefit and would stop.

And Google could feel free to be overly harsh in making links neutral in value. Better to miss to the middle, than to miss to the negative and punish good sites being bombed with spam links by competitors.

Aka first do no harm.

Nowadays, Social bookmarking and Directory submission are important and great way to get traffic and all source..

"This page has been removed due to inaccuracies. We regret the error."

Hey, Google, what's about "Don't be evil" populism ?

Any system can be cheated. Nothing here.

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