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Negative SEO Does Exist (webmarketingschool.com)
252 points by searchmartin on June 18, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 221 comments



I have tested negative seo to force a couple of websites out of listing positions that I had once and it works fine. What you do is buy multiple 50k "xrumer" postings with "pingbacks" for that website you want gone. Add in some spammy Fiverr jobs plus buy some links for that website you want gone on Text-Link-Ads then report that website as having paid links. This method works 100% of the time. This creates such a firestorm of links a webmaster would have to spend a month trying to disavow them and a lot of times webmasters don't even know what disavow means. Google is so worried about spamming and punishing websites rather then just ignoring the bad data. Since Google is out to punish and Google... it's a computer program it can't tell one thing from another other then these junk links exist therefor the hammer must be brought down on the webmaster who has no idea of what is going on. This was a year or more ago but I promise that this would work fine today. The smaller the website the better it works. Try it against a mega website and this would be ineffective because of the ratio of good links that they have.


"This method works 100% of the time"

How many sites did you try this on? One?

In your existing setup, how many competitors could you take out now before Google notices the pattern you've adopted? Take a look at the footprint:

* Site suddenly acquires a new batch of incoming links

* Same site is reported for being a recipient of a paid-for links scheme

* Reporter uses the email address of (your email address here) -- I love the dichotomy of blackhats despising/hating Google, yet reaching out over and over again pretending to be a good citizen.

How many times and variations of that can you come up with before standing out? And when the pattern emerges, Google are in a position to re-address the balance.

This switch Google has done from inaction to penalty for spammy links has changed the spamming game. No positive benefit from spamming is a good thing. Spammers can only create negative damage with their existing setup, until they out themselves by being trackable/detectable.


I limited this to three websites, first being myself. There are a number of vendors who offer to promote your website but in such a horrific way that it blows your site up. That's is what I did with a site I was marketing I did it to myself, totally negative seo'd myself bad. It was awful and dumb too. So bad that Google didn't stop with just a notification they sent a special one saying "your site is harming the Internet" and they removed me totally couldn't find me by even searching a url.

I realized something powerful. I had the power to remove any website from Google. I could be a more evil Matt Cutt's. He can remove sites from Google and so can I.

It is a pretty awe inspiring power. It is like a terrible super power. I can "poof" a website gone from the source of around in my estimation about 90% of web traffic (Google's estimations are too low).

I was going to make a service offering my terrible super-power but decided not to. I relaunched the website I was working on and now never do anything dumb to myself. Now I pretty much only do social marketing because that is where Google is moving to. The days of lots of backlinks are pretty much over, I don't even bother except for making sure local profiles are all set up.


You are being insufficiently creative. If there are 10 competitors in your niche (and many will have more like 100), you can do this to five of them at random and google would have no way of determining who the perpetrator was. When you report them for paid-links, you wouldn't use your real e-mail address, that doesn't make any sense. There is no way to tell self backlinks from competitor backlinks. Both are attempted to be carried out in secret and in identical fashion from google's perspective. I could imagine a scenario where google sees that a niche has a bunch of people being targeted with backlinks, and so stops applying the penalty, but still they would have no way of targeting the bad actor.


"If there are 10 competitors in your niche (and many will have more like 100), you can do this to five of them at random and google would have no way of determining who the perpetrator was."

For a pure blackhat operation, it would simply be the newest competitor. Blackhatters rarely play the long game, they are used to burn-and-churn operations. They wouldn't have the patience to keep an unprofitable site running.

It's harder when it's a white-hat SEOer who is also comfortable wearing a blackhat-persona, they may have the patience and guile not to make it too evident. Because they know the long term payoff.

"When you report them for paid-links, you wouldn't use your real e-mail address, that doesn't make any sense."

And yet, using an email address that has zero previous visibility / fake-name generated looks suspicious too. Any thing where the sender is mostly anonymous is suspicious, particularly in answering the motive question. (Particularly silly would be using a free email provider, for example)

Again, Blackhatters aren't eager to put themselves on Google's radar, or any public spotlight. Only the naive ones use GMail / Analytics / Webmaster dashboard. They prefer operating behind the scenes and not drawing attention to themselves, because they have lots to hide.

It takes a bit of pre-planning, some good organisation, and a lot of patience to pull off a convincing online profile. Not really the hallmarks of the typical blackhatter.

Of course, if you're into identity theft, are you really willing to risk it ratting out a competitor. And you'll be in organised online crime territory

Plus the downside if the rest of the Blackhat community find out you've been snitching to Google. They may have loose morals and ethics when it comes to SEO, but they have some semblance of respect-earning.

None of this appeals to the blackhatter, seems an awfully contorted process to go through each time just to gain one ranking place (per competitor). Because it's a process that requires contacting a human at Google, it's also not something that's easily automatable or scriptable. Doesn't entirely fit the quick rinse and repeat / burn-n-churn of the typical Blackhatter.

Take out the scare-mongering of negative SEO, and examine what's left. Not much. In the wider picture, it won't even register a blip.

Now, the legal ramifications of someone being caught doing this. Motive and intent, destruction of business value, clear intent to deceive for financial gain. How many more elements are needed for this to be fraud?

Blackhatters may have loose morals or ethics, but they also know how to stay on the right side of the law. And also, not to drift too close towards the organised crime based operations.

Negative SEO won't be a regular tool for blackhat SEOers; too much risk, too much effort to pull off more than a handful of times without being spotted. Organised crime though, for extortion, most likely.


You can negative seo a site out of existence in about two hours and for about $75. It is actually super quick. Once you do it, it can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months for the site to loose it's position or be removed.

Just go to freelancer.com market. Buy several xRumer packages. Now do the same thing on Fiverr with some other various packages. Now go to Text-Link-Ads and buy some $8 dollar links and link them to your target website.

Personally, I do not do this except for a couple of years ago when Google first created negative seo. If you are trying to create backlinks to yourself it is too risky because Google will penalize you even if you are a small fry. I just make sure all of the local listings are set up (I only market small businesses that are local) and then do social marketing. Social marketing is the new backlinks. They don't last as long as backlinks and it is more effort, but that is where it pretty much is in my estimation now. To be successful in Google you can do it with about 10-30 backlinks and social marketing. Things have changed a lot since the Caffeine update.


"You can negative seo a site out of existence in about two hours and for about $75. It is actually super quick. Once you do it, it can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months for the site to loose it's position or be removed."

This doesn't scale without drawing attention to yourself.

It doesn't scale for an individual SEOer as a repeatable approach to ranking ahead of your competition. Most likely, it's mutually assured destruction - SEOers destroying each other, taking their clients with them.

It doesn't scale across the SEO industry. Too many people take this up as a tool, and the quality of Google search results suffer. That's when Google takes further action.

The one main way negative SEO back linking survives as a reusable technique is if it's used in small unnoticeable doses, and doesn't affect the typical Google user. Because when it does impact mainstream Google users, then Google takes the next step forward.

If the nightmare scenario materialises where SEOers destroy search quality results for mainstream users with negative SEO campaigns, Google flips the "spammy link penalty" off, all those sites affected bounce back immediately.

And then Google will comb through the data they've captured in that time period, and have an improved idea of what link sources are spammy. Google will have a much better idea of the network of sites you used (to benefit yourself before the penalty, and to negatively affect your competition during the penalty). It will stand out.

SEOers are in a classical prisoners dilemma.


I never said the idea was a good one, it's a bad one of course. One which I don't believe many people are doing thankfully. Myself I am not doing it because I don't want to reduce the quality of results from adding hundreds of thousands of spam listings. However, I was angry before about Google's actions on a site I was managing and acted out. I am calm and rational now.


I think you need to break your argument into two parts.

1. People ARE creating spammy links that point to competitor sites in the hopes of damaging their search rankings. - You have proven this.

2. As a result of a competitor creating spammy links to your site, your rankings in Google have been permanently negatively effected. - I don't think the data you present is sufficient to prove this. Correlation does not equal causation. Lots of moving parts in Google's algorithm, the internet, your site...

Did the site get warnings in Webmaster Tools? Did you go through the disavow links process? How long ago?


Why are you even arguing with this? Do you have any experience with SEO?

I use negative SEO regularly to drop sites out of the top 10 in Google. I only target low quality sites that shouldn't be in there anyway, but Google in all their algorithmic wisdom has ranked them, so... I knock them out.

Low quality 5 page Adsense sites shouldn't outrank actual, legitimate businesses so it's just a case of click click, BOOM. I never target the actual competitors of my clients.

Negative SEO is part of the toolkit of any competent SEO professional nowadays. It just has to be.


> Negative SEO is part of the toolkit of any competent SEO professional nowadays.

The fact that you feel you represent the SEO professional community and that it is part of the standard toolkit to me is proof positive that the whole SEO community is a morally bankrupt bunch. It's just shades of gray all the way to 'black', parasitic rather than symbiotic and a net negative.

How you guys sleep at night is a mystery to me.

Who are you to determine what a low quality website is?

We should be happy you exist so you can correct Google? And the fact that your paying customers rise accordingly is nothing but an unhappy coincidence?

> I never target the actual competitors of my clients.

A so you're the kind of SEO that as some kind of public service improves the google index for his own gratification. Sorry, I don't but that for a second.

Absolutely incredible this comment, but thank you for owning up to it.

Feel free to list your customers here so I can make sure to never ever do business with any of them.


Scolding pro blackhat SEO guys is an effort in futility. And the fact he confirmed using the technique also means that its no longer as effective

I'm sure most of his customers have no idea what he's doing either. With these guys its don't ask don't tell relationship. "I'll get your rank up for XYZ keywords for $70k a month but don't ask any questions on how". They do 15 minutes of work a day maintaining some link wheels, maybe some shady stuff like knocking sites out of the rankings, and collect twice the average american salary each month from the client. With that kind of income to work ratio moral obligations are easy to ignore


correction, I'm a whitehat SEO who fights blackhat SEOs.


> Who are you to determine what a low quality website is?

Who is Google to? Google is no more neutral or accountable than SEO folk, and is just as much a profit-oriented business as they are.

Google makes the rules and the rest of us play by them. And surprisingly enough, Google encourages the behaviour it rewards. If Google's policies are pro-evil I'd rather that evil be done by competent, organized professionals (who will be able to turn it off when Google changes its policies to something better, and who create a somewhat level playing field, even if it's everyone paying rent to an SEO expert) than haphazardly by a bunch of amateurs.


Feel free to build you own search engine! The more the merrier, especially if they can get up to the scale of Google. Monoculture is bad, especially when monoculture leads to diseases attacking the one strain that dominates.

On the other hand we could of course try to (reaching here) argue that these SEO's improve google because they are forcing it to up its game but I think the web as a whole would be better off without all this crap.

Theory: when a new dominant search engine emerges ways will be found to game it to such an extent that the damage to the web offsets any gains from the increased ability to find content.


> we could of course try to (reaching here) argue that these SEO's improve google because they are forcing it to up its game but I think the web as a whole would be better off without all this crap.

The alternative is what, that the result you'd get for, I don't know, "home insurance" would be essentially random?

Google has some opinion on what properties the best result for that would have. Sites will naturally conform to the google policy (which is good when google promotes things that are good for the general web, like fast load times and accessible markup, and bad when google promotes things that are bad for the general web). The SEO industry just makes this process more efficient, meaning changes to what Google "wants" in results take effect faster. Even if Google's policies were effectively random (which I don't think they are), the worst-case result would be that businesses who paid attention to keeping their SEO up to date would appear higher in search results than businesses which didn't - which is at least some kind of barometer of a healthy business.


I find it interesting that you have chosen to take one comment from one person, question his ability to represent an entire professional community, yet in the very next breath use that same person to define an entire group as morally bankrupt.


Oh, I don't question his ability to represent the community at all. Maybe I should re-write that sentence to remove any ambiguity? I think he's a fine specimen, quite representative judging by the offers I get from him and his colleagues.


I don't have any skin in the game, but what if we do a thought experiment?

You are a marketer who is running a big physical sign in real life near some intersection, selling widgets. There are always 10 other signs there. There is one very overworked official who checks the signs to make sure they aren't overtly bad for people looking at them.

You notice that two of the signs competing with your client blatantly say that they sell widgets, that their widgets cure cancer, and that other cancer treatments are shams. You know that this sign will mislead or annoy people at the very least, and also that the officials who decide what signs stay up would probably removed it if they look closer.

It just so happens that you know that the overworked official will look closer at signs if you put a red flag on them. Putting a red flag on a "good" sign will make the official look closer but not do anything about it. But if the official notices the "bad" signs in question, he will probably take them down.

You do it self servingly, of course, but if the signs weren't on the "bad" side in the first place, then the official wouldn't take it down. It's arguable that its not immoral to flag those signs - the flag just tells the overworked official algorithm to look closer and a little more stringently.

---

To be clear: I don't do negative SEO or anything not 100% white hat in the little SEO work I do. But applying negative SEO to an otherwise "good website" is like putting weight concrete on the base of an already huge pillar. It can really only hurt borderline sites, as defined by Google's rules.


I like your thought experiment. Check out elsewhere in this thread how it works in real life. Thought experiments are great when they can teach you a new insight about how something actually works (for instance, Einstein and the elevator), but when they describe an alternate reality then they are less useful.

If you have a problem with signs near an intersection you petition the city council without touching the signs by your false-advertising competitors, but in the real world no flags are placed, but websites are forcibly removed from the index or pushed down so far that it does not matter. By analogy, you don't flag the bad signs, you go and burn down the signs by the competition leaving just your own.

This is one reason that during election times (when the tempers can run quite high) removing a sign of a political party can come with surprisingly high penalties.

BTW, if any company engages in false advertising there are other ways to resolve that.

> I don't have any skin in the game,

and

> I don't do negative SEO or anything not 100% white hat in the little SEO work I do.

Are inconsistent.


You're doing very strange things to the analogy. To be closer to the real activities, it's like putting a bunch of red flags under the sign. Nobody (except the city coucil) actually touches the target sign. Nobody actually touches the target website. There is no direct attacking going on.


> There is no direct attacking going on.

I don't think we're going to agree on this.


The road is diverted so that people driving on the road can no longer see the sign.....


Google / city council does that. The SEO actor does nothing to the target, only to influence google.


You make a great point, but there's already a way to plant that "red flag": You can report websites for bad behavior to Google.[0]

It's a different thing entirely to take matters into your own hands and plant dynamite under the "bad signs."

[0] https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/93713?hl=en


Ever tried it? Trust me, it doesn't work.


The problem is that in this case, "putting a red flag on [a website]" means creating 10s or 100s of thousands of spam blog comments on random websites.

Abusing your metaphor further: it would be more like spray painting the phone number of the shady business on every house in town. Certainly the officials would have to notice them then, thanks to your good works! Too bad for the home owners though...


The spam-filled sites in the article were owned by the person performing SEO. No third parties need to be spammed.


Hey Jacques

Sorry for the delay, I don't come to HN very often.

I sleep quite easily at night. Google is very bad at what they do when it comes to spam. They deliberately under-resource their spam team and have maintained a fairly incompetent hack managing said team for a long time now. Their motivations? Anyone's guess, but that's the fact of the matter.

Search for payday loans and this result comes up on page 2:

http://www.suryavanshi.org/disadvantages-of-payday-loans.php

This page is spam, pure and simple and falls foul of Google's own guidelines.

> Who are you to determine what a low quality website is?

Google puts out these guidelines so people can determine the quality of websites. Pure and simple.

Unfortunately, their own algorithm isn't good at recognising these bad actors.

This is where Negative SEO comes in. As stated elsewhere, nSEO is only genuinely possible where a site is sitting on the edge (as above) OR, unfortunately, to attack small businesses.

I'm NEVER going to attack a legitimate business. I AM going to attack spammers, and YES my clients do benefit.

I don't like spammers, you don't like spammers, and it just so turns out that Google is not so great at dealing with them, mostly because they don't care that much.

Quite frankly, I'm not going to sit around and wait for them to haul their asses into gear 18 months later to fix it.

I don't just do nSEO, I also report spam listings to TripAdvisor and any other site who listens to my spam notifications. Of course my competitors benefit when I remove spam to their advantage. Why shouldn't they?


To those reading the above post and wondering if this is acceptable behavior for SEO's: It isn't. It's called black-hat SEO, and it's full of people like this who pull dirty tricks without any shame. They even justify it to themselves--they're doing it because somebody's gotta do it, and everybody does it anyway!


"Negative SEO is part of the toolkit of any competent SEO professional nowadays."

Yes, because sabotaging your competitors with shady spamdexing practices fits most people's definition of "professional."


It's just a natural extension of the techniques that PR firms (or before the 1940s, propagandists) have been using for centuries.


There's not really any similar techniques there, except that the tactics are a bit slimy. It's not like you can make an appeal to Google's Pathos.


With the rising prominence of sentiment analysis, named entity recognition, etc., I wouldn't rule out the possibility of appealing to Google's pathos in the near future. E.g. blog farms badmouthing competitors without even the hassle of building natural-looking links.


Morally it's absolutely no different than Apple running PC guy ads targeting Microsoft, Windows, and PC makers in general. It was a negative campaign meant to harm the competition by making fun of it.


No it's totally different. Apple ran ads against Microsoft. They didn't prevent people from finding Microsoft's site on a search engine.


The exchange, paraphrased:

andrenotgiant: I am unfamiliar with this area, so I need evidence to convince me that this technique makes a difference.

matnewton85: I am personally familiar with this area, and my personal experience says that this technique works.

So, the answer to your question is: because your personal experience does not qualify as evidence to someone else.


and who are to knock them out ?


I completely agree, someone needs to drop these low quality sites out of the top 10 in Google.

Here is a typical example of a website that I think needs negative SEOing:

http://www.matthewnewton.net/


That is very much un-called for, as much as the OP is distasteful to me your action is far worse.


I'd've thought some google.com domains would be a far clearer target?


Go for it dude, not trying to rank it for anything.


> The data you present is sufficient to prove this. Correlation does not equal causation.

As long as google keep the ranking details secret (i.e. always, with good reason) then absolute proof is hard.

You're right that "Correlation does not equal causation" but it don't discount correlation entirely either. This evidence is enough to treat the claims that negative SEO does not happen with extreme scepticism. The burden of proof has moved.

Given that there are penalties for some links, what is the mechanism that makes negative SEO non-existent? And how do you prove that this mechanism is infallible.


Do you think google can determine that your spammy link came from you or some other "seo"? I don't. There already is proof that these spammy links damage your ranking since penguin. Google even admitted it. That was the entire point of those updates. The only thing they have avoided is coming out and saying "negative SEO is a thing". As long as rank penalties exist negative SEO will exist.


How can it not exist?

You basically take competitors site and run a standard SEO link farm thing on it. Google picks it up and punishes the site, done. What am I missing? How can Google tell the real motive behind detected SEO activity?


Well the myth is that this will not punish the target site. It's not true which has been clear for a long time, but Matt insists it is.


Matt doesn't want to admit it but we all know it's true. The algorithm punishes shitty links and they can't tell if those shitty links were generated by me to increase my ranking or by a competitor trying to harm my ranking.


Or even whether the site they're punishing is the real target of the SEO at all. For example, there are a bunch of spammy "software index" sites that are basically just lists of free software applications trying to rank highly for people searching for that kind of software. It appears that Google has been penalizing the official websites of some of the software listed on those sites for being linked from lots of spammy sites.


I think its the difference between assigning a spammy link 0 and a spammy link -1 when calculating rank. With the former, I can use a thousand spammy links, knowing that even if only 1% get through, I still benefit.


watch the video in the post, its only 30 seconds long. The question was "does negative SEO exist", listen to the response. :)


               Sorry
 
  Because of its privacy settings, 
  this video cannot be played here.
 
(edit) - It works now.


errrr- weird, works for me in the US - Ive just opened up the privacy restrictions on it though - try again? thanks for letting me know btw!


Yup, works now, thanks.

What else can he possibly say though? He can't explain how they protect against it, because it would negate the protection, and he can't say that don't do anything, because that would just raise a shitstorm.


Yeah - agreed, Im not really against his position in as much that I realise he's stuck. If he did say "yeah, its possible, and it might screw your business up" then Google would have a massive PR problem.

I've done a fair bit of Cutts baiting in the past, but I do have absolute respect for the man, and the position he's in (we SEO's dont make it easy for him a lot of the time)


I've heard this so many times already and wonder... if it affects so many people who earn primarily via SEO consultancy, why wasn't the effect ever demonstrated on www.mattcutts.com / search "matt cutts"? Seems like the most visible way to make a point that can't be denied.

PS. This is a real question, not a "you should do it" post. I assume someone would already give it a go by now.


Negative SEO only consistently works on smaller sites with a small amount of backlinks (less than 1000). The idea behind negative SEO is to use tools to build a large amount of spammy links, such that 99% of the link profile of a site is obvious spam. This is easily achieved with tools like Xrumrer and Scrapebox. Find a site with 1000 backlinks, build a few hundred thousand spammy backlinks to it, and watch it drop.

To do the same for mattcutts.com you would have to build hundreds of millions spam backlinks to "outspam" his millions of legitimate backlinks. This is nontrivial.

So the people at the mercy of Negative SEO are the people least equipped to defend themselves: small hobby site owners, webmasters with personal blogs, small businesses etc. You can easily knock out their sites from the SERPs and they would never know what happened. Larger sites are secure due to the nature of their large link profiles.

Personally I think all the fear over Negative SEO has been overblown. I've personally been able to knock sites out of the SERPs for a year or so, and so have many other blackhatters. However, people would much rather spend their precious time and resources improving their own sites to get to the top of the SERPs rather than knocking out the competition.

I don't think Negative SEO is ok. But I also don't think it's a big deal.


"So the people at the mercy of Negative SEO are the people least equipped to defend themselves: small hobby site owners, webmasters with personal blogs, small businesses etc."

There's a filter you've missed there - those people are only at the mercy of negative SEO when they stand in the way of an SEO practitioner and financial gain.


"those people are only at the mercy of negative SEO when they stand in the way of an SEO practitioner and financial gain."

In practice this is almost never. If you're SEOing in a small niche it's very easy to simply outrank the competition if you know what you're doing. It would take many more resources to knock out the dozen of sites in the SERPs above you, and even if you did it's not guaranteed that your own site would replace them.

The only time you would want to knock out your competition with negative SEO is if you're hovering around 5-10 on a high value high volume keyword, but in the real world sites that rank for those kinds of keywords have millions of legitimate backlinks, and it's next to impossible to negative SEO them.

So personally I've never seen a situation in which the time and resources expended in negative SEO would be justified. Even for reputation management it makes sense to rank dozens of your own sites rather than knock out all the "bad" competing site.


> If you're SEOing in a small niche it's very easy to simply outrank the competition if you know what you're doing.

Is this really true? I struggle to imagine how generating legitimate and high-value backlinks is easy, even for a small niche.


Sadly, spamming backlinks still works fine. You just have to know what you're doing.


Yes but Google has ways to manually override things. You don't think Cutts could get that done? It would be better to target some poor unsuspecting blogger but that would be pretty cruel.


Could Matt do that - sure. Would he do that straight away, faster than the results can be captured, or does he have constant monitoring of his page - I doubt it. Still - nobody even tried as far as I can tell.


I don't know. I'm sure tons of spammers already target Matt's site (they all hate him). Google probably already has some kind of special exception for him.


Spammers targeting mattcutts.com doesn't make sense. You are assuming Cutts plays the same SEO-game, and has the same "I have to be number one for my keywords" ambition, which isn't a given. All spammers do by targeting him is giving his spam team more data. mattcutts.com is just bait, no downside if it gets negative-SEO attacked, lots of upside.

The more negative SEO that happens, the more data that gives Google. Overtime, the negative SEO sources will be over-saturated, offering no benefit for either positive or negative SEO.

Driving down the positive and negative value of links makes all SEO link building efforts consequently worthless. Which in turns increases the importance of other ranking factors.

This is a natural evolution, in tiny tiny steps Google is nudging people into playing it's game - producing websites that have content. SEOers are slowly falling into line building private link networks, paying people to write content, afraid to spin/rehash existing content because it might leave a fingerprint Google can detect.

It's fascinating watching.


You are assuming Cutts plays the same SEO-game, and has the same "I have to be number one for my keywords" ambition, which isn't a given.

People do have emotions and act on them from time to time. I don't think it requires any assumptions about Cutts's ambitions, but rather about how much effort it would take an annoyed spammer/black-hat to point some of their tools at the highly visible source of their frustrations.

Driving down the positive and negative value of links makes all SEO link building efforts consequently worthless. Which in turns increases the importance of other ranking factors.

You have a highly optimistic take on this. I think history generally shows that staying one step ahead of criminals/spammers/up-to-no-gooders is a never-ending struggle that does not tend towards positive resolution.

What "other ranking factors?" If you knew what those were, or even knew for sure they existed, the SEOs would too and they would be exploiting them. It's an entire industry whose sole purpose is to understand and game Google's rankings, and just as all this fuss about negative SEO shows, they're not losing.


"I don't think it requires any assumptions about Cutts's ambitions, but rather about how much effort it would take an annoyed spammer/black-hat to point some of their tools at the highly visible source of their frustrations."

highly visible only in SEO circles. The rest of the world could hardly care less. It certainly wouldn't make any mainstream news bulletin.

"I think history generally shows that staying one step ahead of criminals/spammers/up-to-no-gooders is a never-ending struggle that does not tend towards positive resolution."

Google are not one step ahead, they are always one step behind, reacting to the next thing. One step ahead is dealing with a problem before it even becomes a problem - in chess they call it prophylaxis - defending before you need to defend.

History generally shows bad things prevailing by people sitting back and doing nothing.

What Google have done with spammy link penalties is to change the game SEOers are playing. It's a classic advice of if you can't win this game, change the game. (Similar to Honduras' World Cup football efforts: if you can't beat 11 men, beat 10).


Although they could certainly have something in their algorithm that says: "This site as always been very good and now all the sudden it's getting a bunch of spam links. Ignore those links." It's not like you are going to use negative SEO to bring down a wikipedia but I could see it happen against sites that would be a Pagerank =< 6.


search google for mattcutts.com - you'll see another post of mine from last year, detailing some theory ;)


Yes, I've seen you writing about it, but it was not done in the end. (at least not the link spamming that's mentioned in this article) Even worse, the article mentions "Any of those might work, but none are particularly reliable. Most actually stand a good chance of positively influencing their results instead." - which rather indicates that it's hard to do really negative SEO even if you try.


There is no way negative SEO doesn't exist. As long as Google penalizes sites for link schemes those same schemes could be used against their competitors.

For example, say I'm running xrumer and spamming forums to increase my ranking, which was common pre-penguin. Google releases penguin and my sites rankings start to tank. So instead I switch to spamming my competitors links and Google penalizes them also. Good luck as a site owner trying to remove thousands of junk forum links especially when the forum owner thinks you were the spammer.


I'm so happy google did this. For one tiny span of time the SEO world is given a taste of its own medicine.

Let me explain: When I crawled geocities and re-hosted it under reocities.com I was trying to achieve something positive. I did not realize how infested geocities had become with spammers, linkfarms and other trash.

Probably at least a few million of the accounts were either compromised or somehow tricked into placing low value links on their pages at the behest of SEO types that were engaging in 'scalable link building'. Comment spam and so on.

Very annoying. And I really did not know what to do about this, it felt wrong that I'd be contributing to these businesses somehow even in a peripheral way.

And then google decided to penalize 'spammy links'. So the tables are turned. Not a day passes without some whiny email from some SEO character that is trying to clean up after their past misdeeds. They try to automate this of course (imagine that their trickery would no longer scale) so they spam tons of automated emails to webmasters threatening to use the google disavow tool because they have been penalized.

So the tables are turned, for a change. Suddenly all those trashy links are degrading rather than enhancing the stature of these companies and their ill motivated SEO brethern.

So, I hope this stays, as far as I'm concerned google can shut down the disavow tool and those that lived by the sword should die by the sword. It's like an 'own goal' by the bad element in the SEO community.

At the same time google should be extra careful that it does now allow good websites to be penalized by activities from even shadier SEO types that turn around and use these facilities against their competitors (rather than to avoid being penalized by it themselves). Especially since if a competitor successfully uses google as an offensive weapon that they can remain unidentified or undetected. (Which makes me wonder about the motives of the OP not to disclose who this was, it would be a lot easier to verify the story, and any subsequent retaliation could be dealt with in the same manner.)

But overall this spammy links penalty is a good development.

The disavow tool is used as a threat against webmasters to take manual action to remove the spam that was placed in an automated way by the perps in the past, that's a really bad balance there.

I'm completely not impressed by these threats for reocities.com I only care that the content is online. I guess I could replace all the outbound links by 'nofollows' but that would hurt a lot of good sites as well and I really hope that google can tell the difference between 'good' and 'bad' links in this respect. (If they can't that would be a huge problem)

edit: the voting on this comment is interesting, 1->+9->+1->+9->+5

Never had a comment oscillate like that.


I'd like to look at it in another way. I've a small blog, one that I love running, it makes barely any money, but for a long time ranked for some pretty good keywords.

Anyways, a few of my articles blew up on hackernews, reddit, even on twitter (with smashing magazine tweeting it out), as a result, everyone and their grandma linked back to my articles when they discussed the topic it targeted.

What happened then? I looked at my link profile and I've a few thousand "dangerous looking" backlinks. All from people that had low-ranking blogs or 0 ranking blogs, or that used Tumblr's share feature (which blogged a link and an excerpt) to "bookmark" my site. And some from people that FULLY reblogged my site without permission. Meaning that they took the entire article. They weren't shady either, they had a big banner that said: "I repost articles for my own use to read in case the site goes down" or something to that effect with, obviously, a link back to my site as a source.

What happened? Penguin, Panda, and all the other animals killed most of these sites. Even considered some of them spam.

Now, I have a "dirty" link profile through no fault of my own, using no "shady" tactics.

This just pisses me off to no ends. I never "link built" anything, the links just happened naturally. Yet, I get penalized for it. It's fucking shitty. And I'm sure I'm not the only one.


Imagine how much worse you'd feel if you found out that someone who doesn't like you did this to you deliberately.

Google makes this too easy. Through ill-considered changes to their algorithms they've provided a new weapon for the unscrupulous.

I've noticed a similar thing with my own personal site. For years it was on Google's front page for a bunch of things (niche topics that wouldn't translate into money). So was my name, which really surprised me. Lately, as it's gotten more links to it from higher profile sources, including some national magazine sites, it's rapidly fallen back in Google's listings.


I don't fully understand this. How did you look at your link profile? Is this a blessed google thing ? And how do you know your drop in rankings is down to this back link issue - what if other people have written better stuff (apologies !)


There are several tools out there which scan your backlink profile and give you a report on your backlinks. They usually scan the sites and give you a "danger" rating for those sites. I can't remember the name of the tool I used but I had nearly 20K links in the "danger" rating. Half of them were super-spammy sites that simply repost what you already posted, the other half was a mix of bloggers (good and bad).

Usually you can tell that it's because of that issue when a major penguin update goes out, and your rank suddenly drops. To confirm it, you'd disavow the bad links (so, the link farms that link back to you, the reposters, reblogers, spammy affiliate sites etc.) and see how it affects your ranking and exposure.

It worked VERY well for me once everything was said and done.


"I never "link built" anything, the links just happened naturally"

Great. that's what's supposed to happen, links accumulate naturally. (I'm deliberately ignoring the inconsistencies in your story, BTW ;-)

"Yet, I get penalized for it. It's fucking shitty"

How are you being penalised? Did you get a warning of bad links in your Google Webmaster dashboard? If not, how do you know?

Links accumulate, and some disappear over time. That's natural on the web. If Google taking out a bunch of low quality sites affects your own site, that only means the value of your site is significantly positively affected by these sites, so your site was over-ranked. Now it's placed closer to where it should be.

Being linked to by big traffic sources also brings attention from less known sources - that's quite normal.


Why does it matter so much? That's a blog, and a non-commercial one at that. Why do you care so much what your 'link profile' is?

If someone copies your content, go after them, sue them if you have to and out them. Make sure that they realize that if they copy your content that it will hurt.

I have absolutely no idea what if any backlinks I have to my blog, nor could I care less about it. People will read it, or maybe they won't, like yours it id non-commercial, a way for me to practice my writing and to sometimes tell stories and share those with others. It does not make me money and it costs me time. What google makes of it is not my problem.

I would not think of paying someone to increase the visibility and it took many years to get to any kind of exposure at all.


Why does it matter so much? That's a blog, and a non-commercial one at that. Why do you care so much what your 'link profile' is?

Well, besides the fact that it's his prerogative to care about his blog's search ranking, I think the implications are pretty obvious; he's suggesting that if it could happen to him, it could happen to anyone, including someone who does have a commercial interest.


That's one thing another thing is that just because my blog is non-commercial doesn't mean it shouldn't rank. I monetized it recently and would like to continue making some cash off it (to cover costs and as an incentive and excuse to continue doing this). On top of that, I like to write, the more people read my shit, the more I'm excited to write.

What sucks about this entire dilemma is that we're all looking at "lost revenue", no one is looking at "quality content going down the drain". Good search results disappear and are replaced by someone who has a ton of cash backing them whose content is meant to convert and monetize, make cash off the user and nothing else.

At least in my case, I want people to primarily read my stuff.

And it seems ridiculous to me that someone would say, "Who cares if people read your blog, it's not as if you're making any money off it!"

Can you imagine some of the most popular devs that have non-monetized blogs all of a sudden disappearing from google search with their insights and answers? Among others, there's Jeff Atwood and Scott Hanselman both of whom rank well but have non-monetized sites.


Forgive me for being stupid, but what does google have to do with all this? It's the last source of traffic that I would think of when it comes to blogging, I could be completely wrong about this but I can't imagine that's the way to to it.

What would do it is: interesting articles, a userbase that likes what you write and passes it to their friends, a reputation for quality and useful articles, people linking to you because they found your content useful, engaging you audience and so on.

In contrast with that (which takes a long time to build up, that I will readily admit) google traffic seems so fickle.


As a Google _user_ I care a lot about this issue. A lot of the technical topics and questions I search for are answered best by blog posts from people who've solved the same issue, or are an authority. I don't want them thrown out with the spam, and I don't want all such content to have to be hosted on sites like Stack Overflow to be findable.


Yes, now we are in agreement. For the users of google it matters, but those are not the people that are currently screaming blue murder, it is the webmasters who had a ton of traffic from google before and that lost it (fairly or unfairly is a case-by-case thing).

If users no longer find relevant content then that is a real problem but I think that in this particular respect your goals and google's goals are very much in alignment. In other words, if they could do better they would.


This is a rather arrogant comment. Why assume that everyone fits the same niche as you? I once ran a site/blog where I blogged about a particular disease that I have and all of the research I did as I tried to understand it. This means that my content was typically found by people who have just come down with this disease and turn to google to search for information. I did not have a relationship with these readers prior to them getting this disease.


That's an interesting use case where search traffic and blog posts are an essential complement. Thank you for pointing that out.


There are plenty of other use cases. Tech is a bit unusual in that:

  * People stay in it permanently
  * People link to others freely
  * People have many non-commercial posts
Many other niches are temporary. For example, I work in LSAT prep. The LSAT is an exam north Americans have to take before entering law school. For 3-6 months, people are extremely interested in the LSAT, then they forget about it. There is a constant stream of entrants searching for information. Informational articles and search traffic is essential.

Similar cases:

  * Making a will
  * Selling a house
  * Writing a resume
I'll give one personal example. Recently, I wanted to read a King James Version of the Bible, for literary reasons. But it's hard to find a readable bible.

So I searched, and quickly found many articles by a site called Bible Design Blog. It's an incredible resource for bible printing and typography. I learned what I needed and got a bible.

And now I don't care about bible design, so I don't go to the site. I imagine he gets many similar visitors from organic traffic.


So you as a user were well served in your searches. That's the bit that google cares about most I would assume. Whether or not you went to 'bible design blog', 'design bible blog', 'bible typography.info' and whoever else they compete with (I just made those up) is of secondary importance.

The problem sits there where you would not find good content to serve your needs. And if you feel that this update impacts that goal in a negative way then I think there is a good case to be made for this being a net negative. I see no evidence of that for now though.


Well, maybe. If someone destroyed bible design blog's ranking, then I wouldn't have known I missed a superior option. I would have found stuff, but no competitors were as good.

The main incentive for negative SEO would be to let inferior content win, no?

I do agree in general that google works extraordinarily well for the user in most cases. Your point is clearer now.


> If someone destroyed bible design blog's ranking, then I wouldn't have known I missed a superior option. I would have found stuff, but no competitors were as good.

For all you know a superior option existed but you don't know about it because 'bible design blog's SEO guy torpedoed them. I know that's reaching, especially given the subject matter but you get the point.

> The main incentive for negative SEO would be to let inferior content win, no?

I'm sure the SEO proponents would claim the exact opposite. We trust in Google to do the right thing here and I'm all for letting it be that way, but google is under no obligation to actually let the best content win. We hope they do, and we assume that our goals are aligned in this respect but frankly I have no idea how for the top 1,000,000 searches the actually achieved precision is. I would expect it to be quite high, but I have absolutely no way of verifying that and for all I know the results are junk. We will only know that that was the case when something better comes along and finds/ranks the content much better than Google does now. Comparing to Bing Google is doing ok, comparing to DDG is not fair given the relative sizes.

But I'd be one very happy person if a new search engine appeared that would give me exactly one page of results with all of them super relevant, even if it indexed only 10% of the web I would probably use it with some regularity. Quality is far more important than quantity.

FWIW I actually built a small search engine along those lines about 7 years ago, I never launched it because I simply don't have the resources to undertake such a project but I learned a ton about how hard the problem is that google tries to solve and even though I'm 100% at odds with them on the joint subjects of privacy and the way google+ gets rammed down my throat I do appreciate the difficulty of their position and the technical challenges involved in operating a search engine at this scale.


When I search for an article on some new tech or a tutorial for some library or such I almost always get a few blogs with good content. Many of those blogs have books written by the owners which they advertise on the subject they blog about. I buy those sometimes. Basically, google is a good source of traffic for blogs.


"Forgive me for being stupid, but what does google have to do with all this? It's the last source of traffic that I would think of when it comes to blogging, I could be completely wrong about this but I can't imagine that's the way to to it."

The biggest source of traffic on my blog is google. Links from elsewhere cause spikes at bests, but that is it. Search engine is what drives clicks.


I've found dozens of good blogs through Google. You've never had a problem that you googled and found a solution on someone's blog before?


You have switched the perspective to the user now. That's fine with me but the original complaint was by the website owners.

If google no longer finds solutions on blogs that's a problem but that shifts the debate from the one that we originally had, which is that some blogs no longer receive the traffic they did in the past. If that means other blogs with relevant content receive that traffic instead then from the users perspective there is no change.

If the other blogs are less relevant then that is a problem, both for the users and for google.


I never said it was a problem for the users. Just that I, as a user, find many blogs that I now follow because I googled a result. It's very unfair to a website if a user searches for something, and finds someone else's blog because my website dropped in google's ranking because of something beyond my control.

I was just showing that Google certainly is not the last traffic source for bloggers, it's probably the largest traffic source. Sure a devoted userbase gets you traffic, but it doesn't really grow traffic. Having your articles on other outlets grows traffic. And Google is a very good outlet when someone is trying to find relevant information.


Are you trolling?


Is it possible that if someone has a different point of view about some issue after having given the matter some thought that they are not trolling?

If that's a possibility then you already have your answer, I would not put this much time and effort into a discussion if I were merely doing this to piss other people off.

Trolls typically don't go around with their name and reputation in full view on controversial topics.


I miss the bit where we have a right to traffic. That's maybe naive, but just like I don't expect customers to beat their way to my door through some act of magic I don't expect visitors to come to my website either. If I want them there I have to go and engage them. That's marketing, building customer relationships and so on. Hard work, and definitely not easy money but it is very hard to assail that from the position of a competitor or even Google.

Of course it could happen to anybody. That is the one reason why you should never ever run a business that is dependent on a single source for customers. If you do that you don't have a business at all, just an extension of the ecosystem owned by someone else at whose whim you live or die.


I'm really shocked by your naive arrogance in this thread. You can't see beyond your own niche and use case. There is an enormous space of good content where the best method of finding that content is searching the internet, not having a previous relationship with a client/customer. In an earlier comment I gave one of many examples, medical conditions that people don't care about until they get it, and at that point they turn to google to search for information.

Google is effectively a monopoly on this front, and at some level should have an obligation to the common good.


The problem here is not that 'good content' is not going to be found, it seems to be that in spaces where there is a ton of competition that the competitors are all in some kind of state where they all feel they and they alone have a right to be the ones to engage with the searchers on topic 'x'.

I highly doubt that in the use-case that you envision (which is indeed not one that I had in mind when reading the comment above) where you are providing to the point information about something you care about you'll find that your information gets drowned out by content that has been SEO'd to the hilt. But even if that were the case I'd blame the SEO guys, not the search engine.

Remember how altavista was spammed to death with on-page trickery and google came and it all suddenly was much better. At the time we did not realize that this would come at the price of the destruction of what made the web great, the links that would lead you from one place to another.

The fact that google is a monopoly is our collective problem, not google's, it's only a monopoly because we let them and because - for now - they are still the best way to get to relevant content.

The thing that could happen in your use-case is that someone would end up finding their information somewhere else or that they would engage with someone else. The only case where there would be a loss to them (your hypothetical visitor) is if they would not engage with anybody at all. But that can't really be true since we're theorizing here from the point of view where there is a glut of relevant content competing for a limited number of slots and then regardless of what the criteria are some of those sites will simply miss out on potential visitors.

The only real worry I have here is that the users would not find any relevant content or places to engage at all. And that's far from being proven.

Google does not have an obligation to the common good other than an ethical and a moral one, a real obligation is a legal one and I - in spite of being fairly harshly critical of google on lots of fronts - have no doubt that if they could solve the spam problem in an effective way would not need any prodding at all to go and do that immediately.

Demanding they do better is tantamount to dictating that an advance in technology be made, maybe the problem is harder than it seems?


"you'll find that your information gets drowned out by content that has been SEO'd to the hilt. But even if that were the case I'd blame the SEO guys, not the search engine."

Maybe, but the part that bothers me is that if you listen to Matt Cutt's he basically says that you should make good content, make a good user experience, build a relationship with your audience, and not think about SEO explicitly. This isn't true for large swathes of content types.

"The fact that google is a monopoly is our collective problem, not google's, it's only a monopoly because we let them"

This is like saying that we don't need antitrust laws because it's our own fault if we allow them to become a monopoly or get into some other situation where fair competition isn't possible.

"The thing that could happen in your use-case is that someone would end up finding their information somewhere else or that they would engage with someone else. The only case where there would be a loss to them (your hypothetical visitor) is if they would not engage with anybody at all"

No, there is a loss if the only content they find at the top of google is demand media style content with no good information but that is SEO'd to the hilt, and people with good and real content can't outrank them.

"Demanding they do better is tantamount to dictating that an advance in technology be made, maybe the problem is harder than it seems?"

I mostly agree, but I think this is a bit too simplistic. I worked on search engines for years and fully understand how hard this problem is. I don't know the answer to this problem, but I see a clear problem or problems. One of which is Google's PR which says "hey, just make a good site with good content and the rest will take care of itself". They aren't really being honest here. For years they dodged the question of negative SEO.


> Maybe, but the part that bothers me is that if you listen to Matt Cutt's he basically says that you should make good content, make a good user experience, build a relationship with your audience, and not think about SEO explicitly. This isn't true for large swathes of content types.

I'd go one step further and I'd say: stop making sites that only exist by the grace of search engines. Not that anybody will listen to that because after all it is easy money but it is very unwise from a business perspective. Do you see Apple spend time on checking their 'link profile' (new term I learned today)?

> This is like saying that we don't need antitrust laws because it's our own fault if we allow them to become a monopoly or get into some other situation where fair competition isn't possible.

No, anti-trust is about anti-competitive behaviour by a monopolist (or a de-facto monopolist), it is not about forcing companies to act in the public interest. They probably should but that's a totally different problem.

So anti-trust would be google squashing duckduckgo.com through some trick using their de-facto monopoly to get rid of a nasty little upstart.

> No, there is a loss if the only content they find at the top of google is demand media style content with no good information but that is SEO'd to the hilt, and people with good and real content can't outrank them.

Yes, and that's exactly the sort of thing that google is finally addressing. I loathe demand media and all the sites operating on that principle.

> I mostly agree, but I think this is a bit too simplistic. I worked on search engines for years and fully understand how hard this problem is. I don't know the answer to this problem, but I see a clear problem or problems. One of which is Google's PR which says "hey, just make a good site with good content and the rest will take care of itself". They aren't really being honest here. For years they dodged the question of negative SEO.

We agree on that they are dodging the question of negative SEO, and it is bad they do that but I can see that Google's image will take a nosedive if they admit that the issue is beyond their technical capabilities. They're essentially lying about this, but what else is new in corporate country?

I wished someone would find a way to make a search engine that uses a completely different aspect to rank pages than the link graph (maybe back to on-page?) and that that search engine would take away 50% of googles' share. That way the SEO dudes would be in for a much harder time.

>


> I'd go one step further and I'd say: stop making sites that only exist by the grace of search engines.

You are aware that there are large (enormous) swathes of Internet users whose primary mode of navigation is typing whatever they want to visit into Google, trusting it'll correct their (terrible) misspellings, and click one of the first few links of the first result page?

There will type URLs there. Like "Apple.com". Because they don't know what URLs are for, any more.

It sounds to me, if you really suggest to stop making sites for these people, you're not actually aware how numerous they are. They are both the old, and the new generations.

Yes it's sad this is the case. But they are people. What if they are searching for some niche information (like a disease, as another poster already pointed out), but the honest blog post that'd be useful for them has been torpedoed out of the water with this "negative SEO", in favour of some scummy SEO site trying to sell them ineffective fake medicine (or whatever).

Is that too far-fetched? I don't know, but it seems to me that giving evil SEOers the power to blast sites from Google's index by abusing "negative SEO", is a bad thing in general. Your argument seems to be that it'll give SEOers a taste of their own medicine, which I agree that will probably happen. But there will be collateral too, and I don't think that's worth it.


anti-trust is broader than your definition. From wikipedia.

"United States antitrust law is a collection of federal and state government laws, which regulates the conduct and organization of business corporations, generally to promote fair competition for the benefit of consumers. The main statutes are the Sherman Act 1890, the Clayton Act 1914 and the Federal Trade Commission Act 1914. These Acts, first, restrict the formation of cartels and prohibit other collusive practices regarded as being in restraint of trade. Second, they restrict the mergers and acquisitions of organizations which could substantially lessen competition. Third, they prohibit the creation of a monopoly and the abuse of monopoly power."


"Do you see Apple spend time on checking their 'link profile' (new term I learned today)?"

Honestly, I'd be a little surprised if they didn't.


I get what you're saying, but as far as business goes, it's just not very pragmatic to ignore the monumental impact that google can have on your hits/conversions. Your competitors certainly aren't ignoring it.


I disagree with your second statement. If I run a gas station along a heavily trafficked street, is that a mistake? I have one source of customer; people aren't going to be loyal to my services enough to drive for them. If the traffic on the street lessens, I can lose business.

It doesn't mean it's a bad idea to buy or build the gas station there.


Yes, if the traffic on the street lessens then you will lose (some) business. But where is the unfairness in that? You don't actually have a right to business.

And if people are not loyal that's a serious problem with either the line of business you are in or your relationship with your customer.


I'm not saying it's unfair. I'm saying you can enter into a business where you have a competitive advantage based on location and run said business profitably, and that's not a mistake.

If it didn't work, we would have no gas stations. I don't know about you, but I'm not so loyal to a particular gas station that I would drive farther to reach it if there were others more convenient to me that offered the same service for the same price. That doesn't mean it's a bad business. It means there is competition with fairly exact substitutes, and location is a big part of success.


It isn't just about the web site owner and their traffic... It is also about you. Don't you want Google to give you good results? Wouldn't you be unhappy if the best result got hidden on page 50 because someone link spammed them?


As someone with a blog, the size of my audience matters a lot, knowing I actually have people reading what I put out there matters a lot. Having people interact with my content or tell me it helped them sure does motivate me as well.

If I lost my search engine traffic that'd account for half of my daily traffic. (only around 500-600 people so not huge) If that happened that'd be pretty demotivating.


> If that happened that'd be pretty demotivating.

Ok, that's a good reason.

But when you started blogging you did not have any visitors at all, you must have done it for some other reason.

And when you have 1200 visitors (say a year from now) per day and you lose half your visitors per day (because they are search engine traffic) and you're back to 600 you could still argue that you lost your motivation.

How many visitors come to your site is just a number. What you get out of the engagement is the key imo, and in that sense 50 people that you engage with are worth 500 that just visit and look at what you write.


>But when you started blogging you did not have any visitors at all, you must have done it for some other reason.

Or maybe they expected that if they blogged, they would get visitors? It's pretty well known that if you put good stuff on the internet, people will find it, including through google.

>And when you have 1200 visitors (say a year from now) per day and you lose half your visitors per day (because they are search engine traffic) and you're back to 600 you could still argue that you lost your motivation.

Yes, it's always true that it hurts to lose a source of traffic. I don't follow your point.

>How many visitors come to your site is just a number. What you get out of th engagement is the key imo, and in that sense 50 people that you engage with are worth 500 that just visit and look at what you write.

This is true, but you seem to be assuming that google visitors are less engaged. Why? My time on site is highest for organic search traffic.


| Why does it matter so much? That's a blog, and a non-commercial one at that. Why do you care so much what your 'link profile' is?

Because networking is everything in life. Maintaining a good reputation, providing valuable information may not pay off immediately today, but you never know what you'll need tomorrow. If you are penalized today, you have no chance at tomorrow.


But google traffic is not networking. And a link profile is not networking either, that's just a bunch of bits.

Networking is meeting and engaging people.


You can certainly build a network by meeting people via your blog content. If they can't find it, you'll never engage with those people.


Are you really trying to pretend that you don't care if people read your blog even though you link to it here all the time?

If there were an olympic event for mental gymnastics, you'd be dominating right now.


> Are you really trying to pretend that you don't care if people read your blog even though you link to it here all the time?

I checked to see if you have a point here, I submitted exactly one link out of the last 30 or so to my own site, the rest have been posted by others. If we go back 60 links that's approximately 300 days and there are still only 2 links, and both of these were in response to HN content, either articles or comment threads.

Suggest you re-read my original comment and then take your own nick as advice.


Regardless of how many links you've posted (it's also in your profile), the point still stands: You want people to read your blog. The simple fact that you have a public blog on the internet demonstrates that, even if you never posted a link to it.

If you truly don't care about "what Google makes of it", why not block Google with your robots.txt file?

I'll tell you why: Because you do care, but you're pretending not to for the sake of arguing with a bunch of people on the internet. And the position you've taken in that argument appears to be based largely on spite rather than reason.

We get it, you don't like SEOs, but these changes clearly hurt innocent people who know little or nothing about SEO.


Not caring about google includes not caring about whether they do or do not send traffic to my site. As you are no doubt aware because you have done so much work to research this there is no advertising on the blog. If people find it through google I'm perfectly ok with that. But I won't bend over backwards to make sure more people will find it, nor will I take action to ensure less people will find it.

The rest of your comment seems to presume you know me better than I know myself so I'll leave that without a reply, but I'm happy that we have established that your original comment was a load of nonsense.


I don't need to know you better, I'm just more honest about who you are.


"We get it, you don't like SEOs, but these changes clearly hurt innocent people who know little or nothing about SEO."

These changes are clearly hurting SEOers who practice massive link building regardless of quality, too. That is a good thing.


  > At the same time google should be extra careful that it does now allow good websites to be penalized by activities from even shadier SEO types that turn around and use these facilities against their competitors (rather than to avoid being penalized by it themselves).
That was the point being made - people are being targeted by their competitors, using the negative penalty from link farms to devalue competitor's sites. And Google can't tell the difference. You're right in that it's SEOs doing what they've always done, it just now has a penalty attached which gives unscrupulous ones a new service to offer and good SEO's a link-removal service.

  > The disavow tool is used as a threat against webmasters to take manual action to remove the spam that was placed in an automated way by the perps in the past, that's a really bad balance there.
While it may be a manual action on Google's part, it's quickly becoming automated[1].

[1] http://www.removeem.com/


Yes, I know that is the point being made. But that's a very small bit of fall-out from a huge improvement.

OP is right in fact but this is a rarity, overall google search results improved and the fact that the whole SEO world is in panic about this (proof in my inbox) is fantastic news. That it can be used for bad purposes is obvious, those that were gaming before will game this just as much. But rather than being in denial about negative SEO google should simply come clean about the numbers, any kind of classification system has false positives, a categoric denial is simply something you should not believe.

And in spite of that Google should stay the course, they're not a court and nobody has an innate right to an x% of search traffic. If that were the case we could replace google with a link lottery.


Oh definitely! I like the fact that my top results aren't always dominated by eHow, Wikipedia, WikiAnswers, and Yahoo Answers now.

It's the denial about false positives that is frustrating. If you're going to build in logic to penalize link farming, then one would hope you'd make an attempt at identifying malicious link schemes. By categorically denying the possibility even exists, it leaves most people assuming such an attempt hasn't been made.


Why can't Google just apply a different algorithm to link farms that have appeared recently? Presumably anything relatively recent is either someone who doesn't know about the changes to the algorithm that penalize link farms, or is engaging in negative SEO.


That's so obvious now you mention it :-) Any spammy link created now should simply be discarded, it either is an attack or it is a fool. Either way ignore


That means that, as a site owner, I would be free to engage in spam SEO.

If it works, then I get rankings and traffic.

If it doesn't then there is no harm to me and I can go try some new tactic


I don't think so...

1. I already have spam links pointing to my site. It hurts me so I clean up the spam and make the world a little better.

2. I add spam links to my competitor who previous had no spammy links. Google notices the dates on the links and does not alter the PageRank of my competitor. The world is not made a little bit worse. I stop doing it.

So as long as there is some clear cut of date for spammy links (and hopefully some definition) then it seems workable. Any black hat SEO will know no to bother adding post-Penguin/panda links - for good or ill.


Exactly! Which is the exact scenario the recent update attempted to address: getting rid of the no harm aspect.


Yes, exactly. With the cut-off date being the panda roll-out.


It's not a question of a false positive rate in this case, because the current false positive rate relies on the current baseline level of malicious actors. If they admit that there are false positives, then that will cause more malicious actions, which will increase the false positive rate. It's actually not clear right now whether google even tries to tell the difference between someone using spammy link building for themselves vs. someone using spammy link-building on a competitor. I don't even know where you'd begin on trying to figure out the difference, since you would never have any data to calibrate to.


But of course there are false positives. It's a classifier, no classifier that is automated on something as fluid as relevancy for a particular user will be 100% spot on all the time.

Precision and recall can't be 100% accurate given a large enough set of inputs. That would be magic. You can try to do better, of course. But it will never be perfect and you'll never make everybody happy. False positives are a given. Matt was wrong when he said that, he pretty much had to be wrong due to the nature of the problem.

That he stuck to his guns is imo a mistake, that google can be manipulated into dropping sites from their rankings at the behest of others is a serious problem. Such unscrupulous behaviour should be punished, but then you get yet another layer of complexity in the arms race.

Basically you can read this whole saga as Google having to come to terms with the fact that even though they were a cut above altavista they too will have problems that no algorithm will solve.

Admitting that is probably above Matt's paygrade.


"That he stuck to his guns is imo a mistake, that google can be manipulated into dropping sites from their rankings at the behest of others is a serious problem."

There are two main ways of dealing with issues:

* Prevent them from happening

* Mitigate the risk so the fallout is minimised if it does happen

Because there are flaws in the first way doesn't mean the second hasn't been explored or carried out.

We mitigate risk all the time. Seat-belts, looking both ways before crossing the street, insurance. The entire banking system.

So you get hit with a manual penalty for spammy links. Deal with it. Document it in great detail, publish it, share it with Google. Then SEOers will have both the data they need and a Google rep to talk to. Plus, if it is as terrifying as SEOers keep telling us it is, the news headline boost alone will make up for the link profile damage.

I think I know why SEOers are in an uproar about this: they'll have to collaborate with Google on a new level of openness. Effectively, recipients of negative SEO attacks, who then notify Google, will also have a nice shiny Google light shone on their SEO tactics leading up to the negative SEO attack. And I guess almost all SEOers have done something they are not entirely proud of, or wish to be forthcoming about. It's the fear of being seen as something other than completely white-hat.

The ways to avoid reaching that uncomfortable point is:

* Hope their fellow SEOers don't hit them first with a negative SEO attack

* Hope Google reverses this decision, so they don't have to venture down that road.

It's a bit like that Simsons sketch where the whole family are in a shock therapy session:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eP4INdt_-fk

The SEO fear is one of their fellow SEOers pressing the button.

Hopefully it will make them more forthcoming in cleaning up their industry. A bit of public naming and shaming would be nice.


I think you may be missing the point of the article. It is now possible to basically DDOS someone out of their rankings, even if their rankings are legitimate.


This update doesn't change anything, really, it just reverses the effect; before, you were paying SEO black-hats to create links to your site, which should result in elevating your search rank, but now, you will be paying SEO black-hats to create links to competitors' sites, sinking them in the search results, and relatively elevating your search rank.

The only thing search engines can do to stop SEO spam is to avoid giving any weight to spammy links.


I guess the frustrating difference is:

Suppose that the natural situation, with no SEO at all, is that you have the #1 site on some keyword, and your competitor has a lower ranking.

With "positive" SEO, okay, your competitor might have paid a lot of money and bumped you to the #2 site, and that might be frustrating -- but you're still #2!

With "negative" SEO, your competitor pays a lot of money and now you're #100. And that sucks more for you.

Probably not important in the really big keywords where all the top sites have always paid big money for SEO -- then, sure, it's all just relative. But in the relative backwaters where lots of sites aren't engaging in SEO at all, having negative techniques work is a lot more frustrating to the people who just don't want to play the game.


> The only thing search engines can do to stop SEO spam is to avoid giving any weight to spammy links.

That didn't work before. Zero weight for spammy links is gamed by spammers by spamming everything at full blast. There was no downside for them. There are better dials and switches than falling back to a known broken model.

With penalties in place spammers need to get those existing bad links removed for their own sites / or build from scratch new sites with clean link profiles (which they are doing anyway, slash and burn). Now they will need to multiply their efforts to negatively target sites above them (not just rank one site, but unrank several sites). Good luck doing that without leaving a detectable fingerprint/trace.

The history of when links are created - that will leave a clear beacon that a site has been targeted. Unless a spammer does it very slowly over the course of years. In which case, LOL.

Don't you think it would be noticeable that a site ranking well, with a clean back link profile suddenly starts attracting heaps and heaps of bad spammy links? That's a clear indication something is going on.

The better time to use negative SEO is when the spammer has already gotten ahead of his competitor. Then the influx of bad links might look like an effort to regain rankings. That would be more interesting.


As mentioned in the article, that works if you can identify every spammy link. Without a penalty, you can make a million spammy links, let the filter catch 95% of them, and reap the benefits from the ones that get past.

That system isn't exploitable to sabotage another site's rank, but it also doesn't work at preventing link farms (as evidenced by most Google results before the recent change).


It doesnt take a genius to realize that when you identified 1 million bad links to XXX, and your database has 1.005 links to XXX, you should look carefully at the remaining 5K. Cross reference those sources against other suspicious links and so on.

Basically fight source of bad links, not recipients.


>avoid giving any weight to spammy links //

Which only requires perfect spam link analysis /s (or no ability to rank sites).


Google, lets stop pretending we are talking about any other search engines, will learn in time to identify and penalize source of spammy links instead of recipients. Webmasters should be responsible only for the content they have control over.


The disavow tool is a step in that direction. But frankly, I suspect the only people that are using it are the blackhat SEOs and their customers trying to undo the damage hey caused, the rest of the world does not even realize it exists.


Agree 100%. No benefit, no penalty


You are totally missing the entire point of this article. People are abusing these techniques to de-rank their competitors.

Perhaps in your specific example, these links are old enough that you can be sure that they were originally done for "seo" purposes. But in many situations that is not the case.

Also, you are completely ignoring the possible situation in which a website was bought by an "ethical" company and now they are trying to clean up the misdeeds of the past.


Please don't forget that many companies may go through multiple SEO/marketing agencies before they find a team that knows what they are doing. Just because someone is cleaning it up doesn't mean they made the mess.


Doing due diligence on the parties that you enter into business with is an obligation on the part of the purchaser. Anybody that does something shady which you claim was done outside of your control should be accompanied by a breach of contract lawsuit or something to that effect. And if it isn't then that implies tacit agreement or turning a blind eye to the tactics deployed as long as there are results. Reputable companies keep a tight leash on what subcontractors do in their name.


Keep in mind that a lot of small businesses are on the internet too, whose owners often don't understand how all this stuff works, and have just hired an SEO consultant or two in the past to help improve their Google search ranking, with no ill intentions other than trying to get more visibility and improve business. My parents are two of these people actually, and changing the rules all of a sudden like Google did, with no warning and a lot of secrecy about what ranking methods were now being used, hurt a lot of small businesses in the process; you don't have to look very hard on many forums to see how badly some people were affected.

And even trying to recover from the change, it's also very difficult. Even after disavowing any outside links, former SEO experts seem pretty clueless about how to improve visibility or even show up on the first few pages for Google now. Short of advice like "rewrite all of your product descriptions so that they don't match anything you have on ebay, so that you're not flagged as duplicating content", there's little help to be found.


Ignorance is not a valid defence. Yes, it's harsh, but that's what entrepreneurs sign up for when they start their own business.

Directors of companies are held responsible for the decisions they made. Delegating that decision to others does not abrogate their responsibilities.

If you are in the SEO industry, please stop hiding behind this. The SEO industry have had ample time and patience to clean itself up (naming and shaming these unethical SEO consultant for starters, offering up material small businesses and mom-and-pop operators, checklists in hiring an ethical SEO practitioner, checklists of methods/practices that should be avoided. How to write up clear statements of work).


I am not in the SEO industry, and said nothing in defense of unethical SEO practices. My parents are also very ethical people, and would only do business with others they felt were the same way. Just because someone participated in affiliate marketing in previous years, with consenting partner sites, before it was outlawed by Google, does not make them immoral and irresponsible.

And besides paying Google to exist, no one my parents ever talked to even seems to know what it takes these days to show up on Google anymore, because it's secret, so no worries because Google's moral crusade has been successful, never mind the collateral damage.


Well, one of the big lessons of running an internet-based business (or any business, really) is "don't build your business on top of third-party services that you have no contract with or control over."

As you've seen, you can have the rug swept out from under you overnight and there's nothing you can do about it. That's why people are so dismissive of SEO, it (mostly) doesn't create actual value and it's subject to the whims of Google. Your parents fell into that trap.

As jacques said, "the most solid way to grow a business is to find your customers through references and to keep them happy." The old-fashioned way never fails. Get out there and make some people so happy they want to tell all their friends.


"Just because someone participated in affiliate marketing in previous years, with consenting partner sites, before it was outlawed by Google, does not make them immoral and irresponsible."

Interesting. Show me where in Google's guidelines Google says it outlaws affiliate marketing.

https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/76465?hl=en -- seems to suggest it's okay in conjunction with a site that's producing good quality content.


I'm really sorry for your parents. That said, I think that being clueless about doing business on the internet and doing business on the internet is a combination that should not come with a guaranteed pay-out. If you then employ someone to act on your behalf (without understanding) then even though your intentions are good you could get hurt.

In that sense I sympathize less with your parents than that I sympathize with the owners of the sites that got bombarded with links to your parents website.

Nobody has an automatic right to turnover based on intentions. The most solid way to grow a business is to find your customers through references and to keep them happy, treat any search engine traffic just like you would treat a walk-in new customer. Pamper them and make them happy, don't count on them coming but when they do make sure they stay.

Your parents actively pumped resources (money) into a fight that they could have chosen to simply not engage in. SEO's are a scummy bunch and I see their pitches on a daily basis so I don't fault your parents for falling for it. Even so, the loss of this traffic and the dent to their reputation is their own fault (doing business in unfamiliar territory comes with harsh penalties) and the fault ofthe SEO's who did it to them (though I clearly think the SEO's are vastly more at fault here).

Recovering from the change is hard for a reason, I fail to understand why your parents website should 'show up in the first few pages of Google', there is no automatic right to that and there are only so many subjects and 'first few pages' to begin with.

Rewriting your product descriptions may or may not be a good idea, I don't particularly care about having duplicate content on my sites because I don't particularly care about google traffic.

I understand that if google traffic is all you have that this could all be very hard to stomach and that it may even mean going out of business altogether. But if all the mom-and-pop stores that give a few $100 to shady SEOs would stop doing business online I know that my workload will go down by several hours per week at a minimum. So from that point of view I would not be too sad.

Still, I believe that your mom and dad may be able to survive this if they learn that relying on a single source of traffic is not a good idea. Much better to really build relationships with other online properties that carry weight with their prospective consumers, or to do it like everybody else is doing it: by spending their money on advertising instead of on trying to game organic search.


Your assertion that SEO's are unequivocally a scummy bunch is wrong and seems pretty irrational to me. A lot of SEO is simply making sure you include good descriptions for items, include keywords, have a properly marked up site so that you are not unfairly penalized, when you have a legitimate reason to show up in results for certain search words. The fact that these SEO companies also did affiliate marketing (not spamming links on message boards and people's websites!), used to be considered pretty white hat and necessary to get any sort of ranking above page 39 or something.

Advertising via adwords and things like that is a very expensive activity, with no guarantee of increasing legitimate traffic and interested customers. Prices have increased greatly over time in most categories, and though larger businesses might have the margins where losing a few tens or hundreds of thousands here and there on ineffective advertising might not be a problem, but it disproportionately is for smaller businesses.

The biggest problem is really that Google has a pretty effective monopoly on search, and can extort whatever prices they want for advertising, and can also make widespread secret changes that pretty much affect what sites are allowed to show up on the internet and which are not.


> A lot of SEO is simply making sure you include good descriptions for items, include keywords, have a properly marked up site so that you are not unfairly penalized, when you have a legitimate reason to show up in results for certain search words.

For the most part we are in agreement here (except for the 'legitimate reason to show up in results for certain search words', if there are 100 companies in a certain field then only 10 of them will show up on page 1, regardless of any reasons to show up).

> The biggest problem is really that Google has a pretty effective monopoly on search, and can extort whatever prices they want for advertising, and can also make widespread secret changes that pretty much affect what sites are allowed to show up on the internet and which are not.

This we also are very strongly in agreement on. Monoculture is bad. Monopolies are bad. And no, bing, ddg and so on do not count.


  So, I hope this stays, as far as I'm concerned google can shut down the disavow tool and those that lived by the sword should die by the sword. It's like an 'own goal' by the bad element in the SEO community.
A company I once worked at received Google search penalties about six months before hiring me. I quickly discovered a lot of the spammy links -- their old SEO vendor exploited the shady tactics that Panda/Penguin were designed to combat.

This wasn't the case of a content farm abusing SEO to ramp up their ad impressions: an innocent company was harmed by a black-hat SEO. The vendor handed in a report with rankings updates and number of links added every month, but nobody at the company was tracking the individual links and keeping track of the vendor's behavior.

I agree that spammy websites should be punished in their search rankings, but the link disavowal tool was integral to removing an innocent company's search penalties.


Are they taking their old SEO vendor to court, or are they just going to let them get away with it knowing full well other businesses are none the wiser?


> At the same time google should be extra careful that it does now allow good websites to be penalized by activities from even shadier SEO types that turn around and use these facilities against their competitors (rather than to avoid being penalized by it themselves).

That seems to be what people are most upset about.


>For one tiny span of time the SEO world is given a taste of its own medicine. //

I'm surprised at you for ascribing evil to an entire online industrial sector; I'd think you'd take a more circumspect approach.

Y'know, given that the next line is tantamount to 'I perpetrated a massive copyright infringement on hundreds of thousands of people's online content'; that you might feel that even tortuous actions can sometimes be justified.

People do bad things in most (all?) areas of human activity; SEOs can do good too IMO. It decreases the impact of any analysis to ignore that SEO is a valid activity - albeit, yes, sometimes done in malicious, invalid and/or immoral ways.


I call them as I see them. If you want to characterize reocities.com as a copyright infringement case then I invite you to sue.

I take it you have a similar attitude towards archive.org?

SEO's act the same way arms dealers act during an armed conflict. They will happily sell their weapons to all sides while they profit without creating any value for anybody. I don't care one bit about how much traffic google sends me on either ww.com, reocities.com or any of the other web properties that I maintain, I've yet to 'SEO optimize' anything and I feel that SEO's are as an industry just one notch above mass spammers. In some cases worse than spammers (because they actively destroy good websites).

I tend to be rather black-and-white about this because as a webmaster I have to fight these jerks on a regular basis and it tends to show in how I write about them. Consider me pissed off. I feel like I'm in the middle of a shoot-out between Google on the one side, and a bunch of over-active greedy script kiddies and their customers on the other.

If you feel SEO can do good show me an example where an SEO achieved value creation rather than shifting around a percentage in some zero sum game. The only value SEO's create is for themselves.


>If you feel SEO can do good show me an example where an SEO achieved value creation rather than shifting around a percentage in some zero sum game.

Your generalizations are really quite misguided. SEOs achieve value when they optimize sites to fit Google's guidelines, which as it happens also benefits humans. Converting Flash sites to HTML, reorganizing the URL structure to convert ?articleid=5 to /my-great-article/, adding alt tags for screen readers, optimizing page speed, creating sitemaps, cleaning up 404s. Whitehat SEOs are often the caretakers of the web.

It's easy to focus on the bad guys who spam keywords and buy likes, but it's ignorant to assume that's all the industry consists of.


No, that does not create value. It creates the impression of creating value, but in actual fact the same number of $ are spent online so the only thing that changes is where the money is spent. Value creation is a way to get out of the zero sum game.


If a business X is 5% better than business Y (for whatever reason) and marketing helps a customer go to business X rather than business Y then value is being created.


If you ask the business owners of X and Y which business is the better one then I'm sure that you'll get two different answers.

I don't think it is so hard to see that value creation is something that can't exist without creation. So when you take a set of low value inputs and you combine them (say, raw materials + energy + labour) and you then get something that you can sell for more than the inputs were worth then you have created value.

Marketing by itself does not create value (other than that it diverts some funds to the marketeer and possibly some funds from consumers to companies whose products are being marketed). Marketing creates turnover, not value.


Ok, let me be less vague:

If business X is 5% cheaper than business Y then value for the customer is created if they go to business X rather than Y.

In your example, no value is created at all if the product never sells no matter how good it might be in theory


Ok, Let me be more explicit:

Typically marketing is used to put more expensive inferior products in the hands of more people rather than cheaper, higher quality products in the hands of more people.

So in that example value is destroyed, which is a ton easier (and much more likely) as a result of marketing than creating value (even if it is possible it likely is not going to happen, those that engage in marketing are rarely philanthropists).


I'm not sure I agree about "typically" although I certainly agree that marketing can be used in that way.

Why is value much more likely to be destroyed as a result of marketing? Per unit of product I can see that this is the case as some of the value must be spent on marketing, but if more product is sold than would have been otherwise extra value can be created overall.

Engineers are also not philanthropists. I don't see what difference this makes


> Per unit of product I can see that this is the case as some of the value must be spent on marketing

You got it perfectly.

> but if more product is sold than would have been otherwise extra value can be created overall.

But selling product does not equate to value creation, it equates to an exchange.

I'm not sure why I am incapable of communicating this point more clearly, but value creation is a totally different thing than increasing turnover or profits or taking more or less money out of the hands of consumers.

Maybe there is a double meaning to this that I'm not aware of but for me 'value creation' is a fairly narrowly defined term and marketing does not enter into it.

> Engineers are also not philanthropists. I don't see what difference this makes

Engineers don't claim to improve the world by marketing either, neither do they claim to 'create value' when they write a piece of software.

However that is much closer to my view on value creation than the view that a marketeer creates value by getting a consumer to spend money on some product.


"selling product does not equate to value creation, it equates to an exchange."

I think this is the bit I don't understand. Will have a think and get back to you


Where is the value created if the product is never sold?


"marketing helps a customer go to business X rather than business Y"

That is a succinct description of a zero-sum game.

* Business X gains the same amount business Y loses.

There is no additional value!


Business X may easily gain more than business Y loses, if the site cleanup yields a site that's easier to find, has more descriptive content, and is more accessible. Y's previously higher ranking may have caused some potential buyers in a product space to abandon looking--even if temporarily--due to lack of time or loss of interest. X might have a good product that missed some sales due to a "meh" reaction to Y's previously higher-ranked site.

Marketing effect can be difficult to quantify, but it's about more than ad dollars and the bottom line is definitely not a zero-sum game. While SEO doesn't lack for bad actors, white-hat SEO can help grow markets.


There are more ways of generating value then just creating new customers.

For example, if the number of customers can be the same but if they are served better or cheaper than the competition then value is created


The activities that you've described seem quite basic: either something that any amateur can do by following a todo list, if the CMS doesn't take care of that anyway (prompt for alt tags, have sane URLs as default etc.).

While the SEO industry might be doing that also, that seems to be a fig leave for the actual activities.

Or is anyone making a living being the caretaker of the web, cleaning up 404s?


Ok

I used to be in house SEO for a large publisher (wont say which one but you would know the name) one project we did was a recovery after a botched transition of a property website (similar presence to Zillow or right move) they screwed up their browse structure migration

I also detected and got fixed a mistake on a large UK recruitment site that was costing them £500,000 in 5 days.

Btw I am available at reasonable rates for consulting/ explaining to your developers how to do their job properly


Perhaps ask your "madebyabi" associate whose front page links to http://www.projectweb.gr/seo-consultant.html if you're interested in the work of SEO consultants?

Considering reocities vs. archive.org and in light of copyright law:

Is reocities a registered non-profit organisation? Do archive.org do this - http://imgur.com/vKHha2M to pages to add donation links? (Answer: https://web.archive.org/web/20100218100003/http://www.geocit...). This used to be called "framing" and was considered about the scummiest thing domain owners could do - wrap other peoples content in a frame that was intended to harvest money, or rebadge, without doing anything else.

This was just a random page choice (the imgur.com) link. It's interesting to note they expected the page to be withdrawn, except now it's still here. Archive.org record, at least, that the content owner removed all content and the [new?] domain owner 302ed the site to http://www.ki-society.com/english/.

Archive.org, along with Google, at least at some point was committing copyright infringement in the USA I believe. In the UK (probably NL too by virtue of EU legislation) both these bodies, and the likes of reocities, definitely are still acting tortuously. In USA Field vs Google established a change to the Fair Use rulings that considered SERPs to be transformative and that cached copies - as temporary and unmodified (neither of which reocities pages are) - should be allowed in view of the transformative nature (the court effectively asserting that Google's copy wouldn't be used for content viewing !!).

Internet Archive were sued in 2007 by Shell, http://archive.org/post/119669/lawsuit-settled, and settled stating that Shell's copyright was "valid and enforceable". Internet Archive were sued in 2005 (Healthcare Advocates v.) for failing to remove past archives when a site owner had updated their robots.txt - clearly reocities have no way of assessing a current content owners wishes as to continued archiving.

There is a library exclusion in the USC for archiving digital content (http://fairuse.stanford.edu/2003/11/10/digital_preservation_...) but it requires the content to be kept off-line and only accessible by those physically present. This could be used, or donation of the content to Archive.org or such, if the purpose of the reocities project was simply preservation for posterity.

Aside: The facts of tortuous infringement aren't at all related to my ability to raise finance and sue you on behalf of those content creators whose content you copied without permission (AFAICT none of my content made it through FWIW). I have no wish to at this time. Although presumably I'd only need to issue a DMCA take-down notice as otherwise the domain itself could be targeted for take-down (as it's a .com). But, like Google, I don't think you care if reocities is copyright infringing, do you? You appear to consider the law to be errant and so choose to ignore it.

tl;dr reocities is not transformative (it's just a "framed" copy), is potentially modified without license, is commercial (ie is not registered non-profit and requests donations and is used for SEO purposes (eg footer links to an SEO!)). Ergo not Fair Use in USA (where the content was copied from).


Abi made the logo and did some of the css, he did so in record time after I put in a call here on HN if there was someone that could do some design. I was not aware of his SEO activities and I promise solemnly that he did not do anything of the sort for reocities. You're really trying very hard here to tie me to SEO activity, I have no idea what it is that you think you're proving but I'm not going to lose any sleep over that.

As for the rest of your rather long comment, in creating reocities, I, right along with archive team and a bunch of others performed a public service, at considerable expense both in time and funds I might add.

If you feel that your content was copied unjustly then you are free to use the self-service tool to remove it, and if you can't use the self service tool then I'll remove it for you on first request (assuming you are the author of the content).

I've received many thousands of notes from people who were extremely happy their content got saved, and many thousands of requests to remove content, the vast majority of which have been honored. A few by people who are not the original creators were not honored (most of these: SEO scum trying to increase the visibility of their customers by attempting to force offline pages that they don't like).

If you feel like mis-characterizing this you're totally welcome to do so, but I fear that that says more about you than it does about me.


>You're really trying very hard here to tie me to SEO activity //

I was merely suggesting that the guy that did your website might not be the scum of the Earth you seem to believe all SEOs are and thinking that - as you appear to judge characters well in general, obv. not mine ;0) - he might be able to disavow you of that notion. When he designed your reocities layout he designed in on-page SEO ... horror! Indeed his prime motivation might well have been the footer link, perhaps he is evil after all.

OK, so 'everyone loves reocities' (many people love torrent hosts too); but it's still a massive copyright infringement. Personally I think the content that people cared about was saved, moved, backed up already and that very little would have been lost that was worth keeping. The real value was to harvest the content to stick an ad-block or donation wrapper around it.

The point where we started [my paraphrase of course] was that you ostensibly said "all SEO are scum" and I said that as you were able to see past your own tortuous activities to see your perceived good in them I found it strange that you'd classify everyone working in SEO, like your web-designer, that way.

I find it really hard to see how you think making sure a website gets a deserved position in the SERPs (yes SEO can be used nefariously too, I'm not denying that) is so evil. Yet you think wrapping someone else's work up in a donation and ad-banner that take up half-a-screen without so much a as a by-your-leave is fine.

If it's about saving content owners then you can simply announce "all content owners wishing their content to be retained on reocities contact us by December 2015; content we don't have a license to use will be removed at that date". You can even keep an offline copy of the archive if you're in to historic preservation. Even better, if you cared at all about not infringing on peoples copyright would be to have the content available and put it up at owners request - or if a fair use argument for a particular piece of content was made.

I've said it before - you're well off the mark both morally and legally with this one I'm afraid.


> When I crawled geocities and re-hosted it under reocities.com

I'm really scared of finding my old homepage there. Dorkiness level off the charts...

Do you know if Fortunecity was ever re-hosted in a similar fashion? I had a Diablo 1 clan page there somewhere.


> I'm really scared of finding my old homepage there. Dorkiness level off the charts...

Hehe, let me know if you want it removed.

> Do you know if Fortunecity was ever re-hosted in a similar fashion? I had a Diablo 1 clan page there somewhere.

Web.archive.org may have it.


[deleted]


No, I got it. it's just that Google will need to admit the problem exists and will need to deal with it openly (ie, admit that none of their methods are perfect) and explain that any kind of classifier tends to have false positives.

And the OP should bolster his case by naming names instead of hiding behind being afraid that he might become the target of exactly such an attack. I would say that would be easily resolved if the proof was strong enough.


> And the OP should bolster his case by naming names instead of hiding behind being afraid that he might become the target of exactly such an attack. I would say that would be easily resolved if the proof was strong enough.

In a perfect world, yes, that would be the case but we don't live in a perfect world. I think the OP is perfectly within their rights to not paint a bullseye on their back with zero assurance that google will protect them.


It's a pretty bold claim, some hard evidence would bolster that claim considerably. As it is this is one step above hearsay but the whole thing amounts to a possibly fictional conversation with another SEO type and a pretty graph. Without real information Google could not disprove the claims made here and they carry zero weight with me until substantiated. And I'm not exactly google's best friend.


Seems like you're saying the benefits of the new spam detection outweigh the negatives. I disagree.

With the old system, a site could be scummy, and spammy, and get themselves to the top of Google by using questionable practices. This is still possible today (though only slightly more difficult than it was before), but it also gives a website the power to destroy a completely unrelated website's ranking.

In attempting to better control spam, Google has created a brand new weapon to use. One I feel has the potential to be even worse than spamming and link boosting.


"One I feel has the potential to be even worse than spamming and link boosting."

In the short term, maybe. In the long term, no. How many times can this weapon be used before it leaves a nice juicy fingerprint, or sources of negative links become over saturated.

This negative-SEO feels very much like bottom-feeding. Last scrabbling for tiny chunks of change, or an explosion of self-entitled anger, we just need to wait it out. People do stupid traceable things when they are angry.


>How many times can this weapon be used before it leaves a nice juicy fingerprint, or sources of negative links become over saturated.

How many times can spamming and link boosting be uses before it leaves a finger-print, or the spam just gets over-saturated? Apparently infinite. If they haven't fixed positive SEO (and with these new updates spamming is still as effective as ever), I don't think they can add an entire new world of negative SEO and expect it to just work smoothly over time.

It hasn't stopped SEO from being a thing. We don't have a problem and solution now. We just have two problems. This one is definitely worse, because Google has now given other websites the ability to destroy your rankings. That just doesn't make sense.


"because Google has now given other websites the ability to destroy your rankings. That just doesn't make sense."

Makes sense to me.

* Take a snapshot of the link graph

* Hit spammers hard with negative penalties.

* Wait for vengeful SEOers to target their competition with negative SEO, and for the search results quality for mainstream users to noticeably drop

* Switch off the negative penalty flag -- Innocent competitors targeted by SEO negative SEO bounce right back

* Compare the before and after link graph.

* Update the list of low-quality link sources.

* Google wins because it has found a lot more spammy link sources than before.

* Spammers lose because their sites drop even further as previously okay link sources are now determined to be spammy

When you play a incomplet-information game with Google, you need to make sure you are not inadvertently providing them more information by changing your tactics. By changing your link building habits because of a negative link penalty, you are giving Google more information than before, you are confirming more link sources are not natural.

The smartest thing you can do is not to be tempted into negative SEOing your competitors. You are only burning the back links Google haven't flagged as spammy yet. So either keep doing what you were doing before the penalty, or stop building spammy back links. But playing with negative SEO plays straight into Google's hands.

At least, risk someone else's private link network, rather than your own ones when doing negative SEO. :-)


Why would you say it would be "easily resolved"? Does Google have a history of "fixing" bad search rankings upon being presented with evidence? I mean any history at all, much less "easily resolving" it?


I recall the rapgenius.com case as being dealt with in a matter of days.


Your scraping geocities for MFA and your trashing SEOs :-) a good example Cognitive dissonance -you certainty have a lot of Chutzpah.

golf clap


I think you're projecting here. Reocities cost a ton of money to create, costs money to run and has $0 income. What you would do with it is a totally different matter, I just run it as a public service and if I shut it down tomorrow I'll have more money next month than I do today.


I think your eagerness to pat yourself on the back has caused you to miss the main point of the article.

Congrats on your geocities thing, I guess?


Your nickname reminder isn't working. Try a post-it note on your monitor.


Please stop being personally rude in HN comments.

This comment would be better if, in addition to not being personally rude, it told us what the main point of the article really is.


  edit: the voting on this comment is interesting, 1->+9->+1->+9->+5
People working for Google +1

Others -1

Does that make sense?


> People working for Google +1

That would be a first.

I don't usually find myself 'on the side of google' in any argument and I highly doubt that so many googlers would be unable to think for themselves but would blindly upvote anything supportive of their employer.

By the same token, I don't think 'everybody else' includes all the people working in SEO.


I do reputation management at http://www.blackwaterops.com a large portion of that is "negative" SEO.

It doesn't all have to be "bad neighbor" linking. Negative SEO can be contacting the people who are lending authority to a link and getting them to "nofollow" or remove the link.

Negative SEO can also be convincing Google to AutoSuggest things that don't paint your competition in a good light. "Cheezy Poofs Calories" seems like things people might ask, but people will reconsider if they want Cheezy poofs if the top suggestions in Google's autocomplete is "Cheezy Poofs Explosive Diarrhea" or "Cheezy Poofs Rectum Rash" Or better yet both.

That all Said. Bad Neighbor penalties and the ability to get a site delisted by link bombing has been well known for a long time. Anything that you could do to try and get your self upranked but that is sketchy could also be used to get your competitor delisted.

One thing to note however, is that along the way typically that competitor gets insane rankings just before getting delisted. That isn't always worth it.

-Brandon Wirtz (I Google Bombed my Way to being Greatest Living American) http://blog.sfgate.com/techchron/2007/05/11/the-greatest-goo...


Lobbying Google to reverse course now is surely a lost cause. Google has a vested interest in improving the user experience of Google. Not the profitability of every other site that has a symbiotic relationship with Google by optimizing against their ranking system. So even if you do have a quality site, and they did open a door to allow your competitors to blast you with bunk backlinks, all this is completely hidden from Google's user base and so they ultimately don't care.

Maybe what website owners should do here, if they have lost considerable money, is file a class-action suit against Google. I'd actually be surprised if no one is doing this.

This is a really interesting subject, anyway. Thanks for the post. I would love to hear a follow-up about how people with web properties can guard against negative SEO. Maybe by keeping your site registered under multiple domains at a time? Or moving your content around on the same domain with permanent redirects? I dunno, it really seems like this is changing the whole industry.


I think there are two issues at play.

1) Google massively discounted exact match domains, so if you were ranking well before because of an EMD, don't expect to now.

2) Negative SEO has always been a possibility, but a lot of sites aren't helping themselves either.

For like a decade now, there have been plenty of shady link networks where you could get millions of links. It would not be difficult to get millions of spam links with the same anchor text and make it look like Blue Widgets was spamming.

It's not important whether a link is spammy or not, it matters if it's helping you rank better, is being discounted, or if it's penalizing you.

It is possible that those links existed before the Google updates and were helping blue widgets.com rank better. Then Google discounted the spammy links and the EMD, and now the site isn't ranking.

It's also possible that Google is penalizing those links.

In the end, spam links don't come with a great big attribution of how they got there, who put them there, and what the intent is.

A link is a vote. Just like votes, you can stuff the ballot box or you can make it look like your competitor is stuffing the ballot box.

In the end nobody is entitled to rank well on Google search for any reason at all. They could order by rand() tomorrow and you're up a creek.


He could check how long the spam sites have existed by using archive.org.


The exact match domain nerf was like two years ago.


If there is a way to be penalized via blackhat SEO there will always be the possibility of negative / competitive SEO.


I think there's a very good argument to be made that negative SEO should be illegal, with punishment/compensation similar to that of slander and libel in the United States. (Which are incredibly specific, due to free speech issues.)

Why should slander and libel be illegal at all - why can't anyone say, claim, or publish anything they want whatsoever?

If you reflect on that the reason is fairly obvious.

Likewise, if negative SEO were illegal, it might have the same benefits.

Of course technically the standard would be much different from slander/libel, but the fundamental reason that we would limit free speech in this way is clear. It is just more damaging to the person being damaged than the limit on the free speech that it imposes costs us. (Which is taken seriously in the United States).

So, for this reason, there is a good argument to be made for specific, nuanced, laws against negative SEO in the form of civil penalties. I would support such a law.


You can have that law in US.. and then what?

It might help in some cases, but people doing this probably aren't that stupid and would use foreign entity to do the dirty work if there was such law in effect.


This takes us down a very slippery slope. Linking, is not illegal and I think we can all agree that the web would be ruined if simply adding a link to a site you own or control were made illegal.

So that raises the question: How do you determine what's a good link or a bad link? Pretty soon you'd have people arrested for linking to somebody's site from a news article or to/from sites like ripoffreport.


> How do you determine what's a good link or a bad link?

By intent. Intent is something that law has always considered. No need for an exception here.


What happens if I write an article about how shit McDonalds is, like really bad and post information about the mistreatment of animals, or the horrible practices that they follow and in this article I link to them. I mean I'm writing this article so that people stay away from McDonalds because I feel its damaging to their health. Would a link to there website on that article be illegal?

p.s. Just an example, I love Mcdonalds.


Yes. It's certainly a slippery slope but we can navigate it intelligently (as we do with defamation) and it's worth it to keep people from building link farms pointing to a competitor so that Google will punish them.


The solution isn't to make linking illegal - it's for Google to stop the penalizing and just simply not count the links they don't like. Penalize for on-site stuff, just ignore the off site stuff.

I realize they want to take away the incentive for spammers, but let's shift the burden of finding a better way to do that onto them instead of changing the laws about how the web works.


They will just =not count= more stuff - same as negative counting. Overall the entire ranking business depending on external links instead of the actual content will always be exploitable to some degree.


Making it illegal where? Worldwide? This is a ridiculous idea.


it's a fairly ridiculous idea that slander and libel are "illegal". Yet when you explore it more deeply, you find some of the laws actually make sense.


I don't understand how negative SEO could not exist. Google is cracking down on people buying back links right? If I bought links for a competitor's website, wouldn't it stand to reason they'll be punished? Google has no idea who is doing the purchasing. (You could replace buying links with any action Google' algo punishes.)

As long as Google's algorithm has punitive measures in it from something that happens off of your site, it stands to reason a competitor could do those things on your behalf.


Negative SEO has been around for years, the mainstream SEO community have only just realised it.

It's going to be at-least another year until the exact methods are discovered though because of the reasons I detailed here:

http://www.sudorank.com/rand-fishkin-wont-ever-see-negative-...

Until then people's businesses will be burned and Google won't really do much about it, always slow to react!


Seems the SEO community might need to build a new b2b around punishing the blackhat SEO folks that attack their clients. SEO can go fight amongst itself to the death.


We desperately need open and distributed database and search algorithms. As it stands now, we are at the mercy of a company's competence and benevolence.

Google is getting less usable by the day. Verbatim and code search don't work anymore and the relevance of results keep decreasing dispite the many revision animals they release.


I am no expert, but logically you could explain this behaviour of apparent negative SEO by Google discounting all links to "blue widgets" and the sites that market blue widgets that are now ranking higher, achieve this because of other links that are not being discounted by Google.


I worked at an SEO firm that had a range of client sites, including two of the three companies with the largest search engines. As with every update a large amount of speculation, with little data analysis, would pop up.

Content, Improper site setup, canonical tags, robot.txt changes, there are a significant number of issues that can impact rankings.

Unfortunately, instead of checking these owners of the site would always speculate that the impact was due to some new factor that certain SEO firms would perpetuate for marketing purposes.

If your to learn anything from these types of articles, its know your audience and create content for them.


Head of Google's Web Spam team is a position with too much power. For those dealing with Google, that's probably the second most powerful seat (after Larry/Sergey tie for first).

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. As such, no one person should occupy this seat for any significant tenure.

This comment is in no way a negative comment about Matt, just talking about the temptations one must face in such a powerful seat.


For Google solution could be to penalise only for links placed before the date of update.


This article is enlightening but offers no solutions or advices. Why had I read that?


how is this at the top of HN? this news is well over a year old


black hat SEO 2.0!




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