Negative SEO – What’s the buzz?

by Fred on April 28, 2012

Before I start, one point at the onset. I do not endorse negative SEO. But at the same time I want my readers to be aware of it because we all live in the real world and negative SEO is extremely real. As real as it can get. Hence this post. I am not trying to teach you how to do negative SEO, nor am I encouraging you to do it. But at the same time, I do want to point out that as today, others can apparently hurt your website or blog. Ignorance is not a bliss.

Of late, there has been a lot of buzz about negative SEO. What’s the whole point about it anyway? What is negative SEO?

Negative SEO is all about pulling a website down in the search pages. The recent buzz has been about negative SEO on Google. I shall take Google as the case in this post. That’s what has made this topic shoot up in the limelight anyway.

What are the possibilities of doing negative SEO?

Fall back to the basics. There are two sides of the normal (“positive”) SEO – on-page and off-page. Negative SEO thus could have oritented only from these two angles – assuming that there’s nothing else to cover in SEO, which is true as per my understanding of SEO.

Can you hurt the on-page SEO of a site? No, not from outside. Not without hacking it.

So the way that people can do negative SEO is using off-page tactics.

And that’s what people have been doing. Like it or not, in the first glance it appears that they are also being successful about it. And that’s the tragedy.

To get a feel of what have been going on over the last few days, here are some threads on Traffic Planet.

Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz has expressed his views here:

So that’s interesting. The essential message is that the negative SEO case studies had been carried out by (a) creating link spam and (b) triggering link loss (taking away existing links by contacting webmasters owning those links).

Note that, there can be exactly 4 kinds of classification outputs of a link spam detection process, as against the real nature, of a given link. That is, if Google (or any search engine for that matter) would run a link spam classification algorithm, then the classifier would return 2 outcomes: (a) the link is spam and (b) the link is not spam. Now, in reality also, there would be 2 possibilities: (a) the link is really spam and (b) the link is really not spam. So combining these two pairs of possibilities bring us to the 4 kinds of classificaiton outputs.

Let me position the question in the angle: “is this given link a spam?” Then the outcomes will be the following. Note that the search engine could be anyone, not just Google, in the list below.

1. Google thinks spam, link is spam. This is “true positive” – means, what is thought by Google to be positive (spam) is actually positive (spam).
2. Google thinks spam, link is genuine. This is “false positive” – means, what is thought by Google to be positive (spam) is actually negative (not spam).
3. Google thinks not spam, link is spam. This is “false negative” – means, what is thought by Google to be negative (not spam) is actually positive (spam).
4. Google thinks not spam, link not is spam. This is “true negative” – means, what is thought by Google to be negative (not spam) is actually negative (not spam).
The ideal life with all white hat backlinks and great classifier algorithms would have (4) as the outcome.
What should be avoided for in order to do only white-hat SEO are (1) and (3) – both are cases where one is spamming links.
What Google should ignore (and not penalize) are (1) and (2) in an ideal world.┬áJust look at (2) – if Google or nay search engine for that matter ever penalize a non-spam link then that’s ugly. And yet, it is easy to mistake some non-spam links as spams.
What Google and other search engines should strive for is to be able to reward (2) and (4). That is, to be able to empty the set (2) and move all of (2) to (4), and then reward all of (4). Currently, (4) is rewarded but (2) isn’t. I hope (2) isn’t penalized. If there is indeed a Google penalty then a mass algorithminc mistake by landing into (2) could wipe out results.
And the dream of a black-hatter or gray-hatter is to also leverage (3). That is, they hope to be able to spam and make Google think it is not spam. So, a “covered-up” backlink strategy for black-hatters et. al. is to make it difficult for Google to move (3) to (1). Google would love to move (3) to (1), and thus make set (3) also empty – just like it would also love to make set (2) empty.
So folks, that’s it. Read the references there. It will help you understand better about how difficult and dirty it can get for you in the real world, especially if negative SEO is possible. You may be a white hat, ethical and clean person, but there are enough people who are not and they can do the damage to you.

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