by Iain Wilson
No-one could argue with one of the key ideas behind the Panda/Penguin updates to the Google search ranking algorithm - penalise, or at least don't give any credit to websites with spammy, low level inbound links.
Inbound links (sometimes called backlinks) are links to your website from other websites, and have traditionally been valued very highly by Google. Of course once people realised that, the bad boys of the internet found ways of creating artificial links to websites they wanted to promote.
So we ended up with a situation where many sites had artificially improved their Google ranking. Google didn't like that at all, of course, because they are an advertising company and they want their results to be worthwhile otherwise people will stop using them.
Enter the Panda/Penguin update. Google targeted sites with these low quality links and basically downgraded them, quite rightly.
All seems right in the world after that? No, because humans being what they are, realised they could do damage to competitors sites if they created lots of spammy, low level links to the competitor's site.
So that's what has happened to some sites. Their ranking plummeted because instead of getting credit for all the links pointing to their site as in the past, they got penalised! NEGATIVE SEO.
The intention behind Google's move to penalise these links is right on the button, but the opportunity they gave to competitors, hackers and the downright mischievous was massive.
Check out this recent article. Lastminute.com hit by 46% drop in rankings which may be due to a negative SEO attack. I can tell you of others.
Cynics will speculate that these companies might just getting found out for historical black hat SEO practices. While this of course is possible, there is no evidence to suggest it. And in the instances I personally know of, that categorically was not the case.
Google's Webmaster Tools will allow you to see at least some of your links. If you go to Search Traffic => Links to your Site, you will immediately see if there are some suspicious domains linking to you.
For something a little more sophisticated, you can use Majestic SEO which has all manner of tools to let you see who's linking to you and what link text they are using.
Google's cure for bad links is to ask the offending site to remove the links. However, often these sites are old, hacked, are not being looked after by anyone, so any response to remove links is met with resounding silence.
Google do have the Disavow Tool, where you tell Google to ignore bad links from nominated sites. Although Google appear to drop the links from their index after the Disavow Tool has been used, it is open to question whether this restores any sites to their former search ranking glory.
In some cases, website owners have resorted to just dropping their domain and putting their site on new one, effectively starting from scratch again - a dreadful prospect for many businesses and hard to take when they have done nothing wrong.
Penalising bad quality links is a noble quest, but it leaves sites at the mercy of the bad guys. What is Google going to do about it? The thing is, they know your link history, or at least their databases and sophisticated robots do. They know how many links you had years ago and they know now many you have now and they know what your site is about.
Surely they can spot a situation where negative SEO has taken place.comments powered by Disqus