The most recent update from Google, now commonly known as Penguin (following on from Panda – how many more black and white animals beginning with P to come?) has caused quite a few discussions in the SEO world. For those who don’t know, the Penguin update followed Google’s official statement that they will be clamping down on those sites that seem “over-optimised”
They said “The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content.”
It has long been known that Google places some value in its algorithm to how other sites link to your content. If people were linking out from their site to yours, it was considered a good sign, that there was something worth linking to. However, with the SEO experts soon recognising that and manipulating the system, Google are trying to gain the upper hand again.
This means a focus on those sites that seem to have been achieving links via various “black-hat’ methods, via link-farms, purchased links, forum spamming etc. There’s a good article here that explains what could make up an unnatural link profile
However, one of the effects of this clamp-down could be a rise in what is commonly known as Negative SEO – or SERPS sabotage.
This is where a competitor (or other foe) can make it seem like your site is guilty of over-optimisation.
It is still unclear as to whether Google are actively penalising bad links, or just attributing no value to them, but there is a growing belief that other people can negatively SEO your site – see this discussion from Traffic Planet
Negative SEO techniques
There are many ways that somebody could sabotage your search rankings. Traditional ways include hacking into your site and deploying malware, changing your robots.txt file to stop Google indexing it and other such devious practises. However, when people currently talk about negative SEO, they are primarily referring to the following activities:
Black hat spam
Now that there is the belief that you will be penalised for having an unhealthy backlink profile, one technique that could be used is buying lots of unethical links to point directly to your site, in the hope that you will get demoted down the SERPS. A sudden purchase of 20,000 links from a known link-farm certainly won’t give you a good profile.
Another ploy that has been reported is actually getting your “good” links removed. One spammer said that they’d bought a domain very similar in name to the site they were sabotaging, so that they could send emails, looking like they came from the original site, asking website owners to remove any beneficial link to their site
Another, equally nasty technique is getting people to submit multiple reviews of your website all in one go. This would immediately draw it to Google’s attention, and look like you were spamming using fake reviews.
There are many other sabotage methods, but I don’t want to depress you too much on a Friday….
Will it affect me?
The type of sites that are least at risk are those with a currently healthy profile. That means those with:
- Good brand signals (lots of searches on brand name, press mentions etc)
- Healthy backlink profile (no manipulated links)
- Good content and user experience
This basically means those sites that have not had traditional “black hat” SEO techniques employed. Very few sites are totally without spam links, because of the nature of the Internet, but if you’ve always employed ethical techniques, you will definitely be lower risk
What do I do now?
If Google detects an unhealthy backlink profile – they will let you know via your Webmaster Tools account (If you haven’t registered, do so now!)
You’ll see a message like:
“Dear site owner or webmaster of http://www.yoursite.com/,
We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.”
Then it’s simply a case of getting those links removed. There’s no easy way to do this, but once you know where the links are coming from, write to the sites directly and ask for them to be taken down. Most people are pretty helpful. Rand Fishkin from SEOMoz also suggests submitting a reconsideration request to Google to ask those links not to pass any value to your site. He believes that Google can be quite helpful in that respect, although not all search marketers are as optimistic…
However, I think that Google, most SEO experts and Internet users all want the same thing – they want to get to relevant sites with good content that are easy to use. If you follow those rules, the rest will be pretty straightforward.