Mythbusting Negative SEO

You’ve probably heard of negative SEO before, but you may not be entirely clued-up on what does and doesn’t constitute as negative SEO. It’s this middle ground that can cause issues, misconceptions and bad practice.

So to shed some light, let’s delve into the nitty gritty of what actually is and isn’t regarded as negative SEO.

Defining Positive & Negative SEO

To better understand negative SEO, we can take a look at its counterpart, positive SEO, first. Positive SEO, as a broad definition, is the practice of implementing tactics that will positively affect rankings for a URL or main domain, usually by way of manipulating the URL itself, its links, content and other user signals.

Negative SEO on the other hand, is any tactic that is carried out with the intention of (you guessed it) negatively impacting the rankings for a particular page, URL or domain by (you guessed it again) manipulating the URL itself, its links, content and other user or social signals.

Google Disregards Negative SEO

In Google’s eyes, negative SEO isn’t real. But the truth is, if it’s perfectly possible that you can hurt the rankings of your domain or page by changing one of the many variables associated with organic SEO, then an external entity changing any variables associated with your site could also result in your rankings dropping or your pages even being de-indexed.

Here’s what Google had to say about negative SEO:

Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages.

That’s not exactly a solid “yes” or “no” answer regarding whether negative SEO is possible or not.

Is it Black Hat?

By way of Google’s terms of service on acceptable use, it’s safe to say that Google would consider most of the tactics used in negative SEO to be black hat. But not all of the techniques that can be used in negative SEO are black hat techniques. For example, “hijacking” a backlink by requesting that a webmaster change a link pointing to a competitor’s asset to yours instead, because it offers more value, is perfectly acceptable – even though you are attempting to better your own rankings whilst the change would affect your competitor’s rankings in a negative manner.

Is Negative SEO Considered Hacking?

A quick Google search comes up with the following definition for a hacker: a person who uses computers to gain unauthorised access to data. Of course, the practices of negative SEO differs from person to person just as much as what constitutes as hacking differs from country to country. But with that in mind, we can reference some of the more well-known negative SEO techniques and see how they relate to the above definition.

Links

  • Pointing mass volumes of bad links to the URL of a competitor doesn’t require any unauthorised access to data so it’s safe to assume that this particular technique wouldn’t be considered as hacking.

Content

  • Spamming comments with the sole intention of altering the theme of the content or keyword density. If done on a manual scale through proper channels, it isn’t hacking. However, on a larger and automated scale some people may see it as hacking.
  • Indexing URLs with bad content due to a content management system (CMS) flaw. If the content is truly injected into the CMS, yes, it is hacking. If the content is just perceived to exist due to a misunderstanding of how Google reads the CMS but does not actually exist, I would argue it is not hacking.

Is Negative SEO Illegal?

Again, this boils down to the particular techniques involved and the scale. All we will say is this – you should weigh the benefits against the risk. Negative SEO takes time and resource as much as organic SEO does, but wouldn’t you rather be bolstering your own organic growth and securing yourself against negative SEO attacks than trying to dish it out yourself?