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Friday, July 6th, 2007

Damaging a Competitor's Ranking is Possible

 

A June 28th article by Forbes magazine called “The Saboteurs of Search” discusses “negative SEO” which is best described as purposely disrupting competitor rankings. The article has caused waves in the SEO industry as marketers debate the effectiveness of the noted tactics.

From my point of view and experience these tactics are employed and I know there is a serious market for negative SEO because I have personally been asked to offer the service many times in the past. StepForth, however, does not offer negative SEO services with the exception of Google Insulation noted below; which we have previously use to help clients defend themselves against negative publicity appearing in rankings.

What are the Tactics of Negative SEO?
There were several tactics mentioned: Google Bowling, Tattling, Google Insulation, Copyright Takedown Notices, Copied Content, Denial of Service, and Click Fraud.

  • Google Bowling: XYZ is dropped off the search engines because their competitor framed them for breaking Google’s guidelines in an extreme manner. An example would be to create, overnight, a 1000% more links for a competitor (than they already have). The key would be to produce so many links at once that Google’s spam trigger would have no choice but to catch it. There are various ways to increase the chances of this happening but I would rather not describe them – after all this is not a tutorial.
  • Tattling: Is XYZ (the competitor) doing well because they purchased links? If so, and it is something you can prove, then it is entirely within your right to tell Google using their spam report form.But will this work? It is touch and go whether your complaint will actually do anything in the short term because Google often collects these complaints and then upgrades its algorithm (if possible) to clean out other offenders using the same techniques; a more efficient process. That said, as Matt Cutts said in this video about link buying Google is not above occasionally using manual methods to clean out spam so you might get lucky and see an immediate result.
  • Google Insulation: Is there negative press in the top 10 about your service? Perhaps you have a competitor that just won’t budge out of a top position? In either case a Google Insulation strategy is designed to raise the rankings of other websites that positively discuss your company/services/products in order to oust competitors out of the top 10 rankings. In its raw concept I believe this tactic is ethical because it is smart competitive marketing and a great tactic for reputation management (a hot topic these days).
  • Copyright Takedown Notices: If a person desperately needed to drop a competitor out of a top position it could engage in a legal action that requires Google to drop the ranking for a period of time based on copyright infringement. The problem here, of course, is that this tactic exposes the perpetrator so that they can be sued by the offended company if the accusation is baseless. Here is where you can submit a copyright infringement notice to Google.
  • Copied Content: Due to the fallible nature of Google’s algorithm it is possible to ‘steal’ away the traffic to a competitor’s particular content (say an article just published) by publishing it on your own site IF your site is more entrenched than the competitor’s.You see if Google is presented with two websites which have the same content it will be forced to choose which site is the original creator. The website with the longer history and/or the highest reputation will often win out and the loser will often find their content ranks lower (if at all).
  • Denial of Service: This is the most evil and clearly illegal tactic for removing a competitor. Denial of service attacks (DoS) are conducted by sending a large number requests to a competitor’s web server at one time. The result is the competitor’s server will either be too jammed with requests to function properly or it will simply crash from the burden of so many requests – effectively taking the competitor’s website offline. Evil indeed.
  • Click Fraud: Click fraud is no different than stealing money from a competitor. This is how it works: people maliciously click on ads to purposely eat away at a competitor’s ad budget; even on a small scale this can be damaging to a competitor. The most aggressive click fraud is when a network of computers with specially created software is used to maliciously click on a competitor’s pay per click advertisements in order to waste their money and destroy their advertising campaign.

Should You Be Worried this is Happening to You?
It is highly unlikely that the negative SEO techniques above have been or ever will be used against you. If, however, it does appear to be happening to you then contact us or another reputable web marketing company. At StepForth we will see what we can do about reversing the effects by contacting the proper people or conducting a negating clean-up campaign.

Additional Notes on Click Fraud
The one issue that you could very likely suffer from is click fraud but not in the way you might imagine. You see click fraud appears to happen indiscriminately so just about anyone can have it happen to them; in my experience it is not often a targeted action. As a result, you should be keeping an eye out for it you are actively using pay per click marketing.

So how can you detect click fraud? The best way for me to answer this is to tell you what we use to monitor campaigns and detect click fraud: ClickTracks Professional. ClickTracks Professional is a website analytics program that (among other amazing things) compares the data it collects from visitors on your website with the data you get from your pay per click campaign and does a pretty good job of identifying suspicious click-through behavior.

If ClickTracks Professional determines there is a high probability of click fraud in your campaign you will be presented with a detailed report you can take to your agent at the search engine you are marketing with. If your search engine agent determines there is validity to the evidence it is likely you will get a refund or credit to your account.

Now for a little plug, I liked ClickTracks Professional so much that in 2003 StepForth purchased our own copy and we offer website accounts for as little as $150 per month which is 50% cheaper than the service that ClickTracks.com provides. If you are interested just check out http://stats.stepforth.com where we provide more detail and a service comparison chart.

NOTE: I had to think long and hard before publishing this post because I find many of the methods of damaging a competitor’s rankings horrifically unethical. That said, I believe that understanding these tactics is important in order to identify their use if they are applied against you.

by Ross Dunn, CEO, StepForth Placement Inc.
Celebrating 10 Years of Web Marketing Excellence

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