Matt Cutts says #NegativeSEO attacks aren’t a big deal, but some of my clients are really getting hit. Not just bad backlinks but bogus Pinterest links too. Thoughts?
This question came from a tweet thread here: https://twitter.com/WinCTheAnalyst/status/957477815628324864
This is a very, very interesting question.
I recall Matt Cutts telling webmasters not to worry about “negative SEO.” But that was a while ago.
Let’s back up. What is good or “positive” SEO?
So, if you SEO your site (meaning search engine optimize it), then you’re doing everything in your power to make sure that your site shows up in search engine results for searches that you want your website to show up for.
For example, if I wanted a blog post to show up for the Google search: “What is negative SEO?” – the first thing I would do is make sure the title tag for my blog post is:
You can always check your title tags by viewing your webpage source code. If you want a tutorial on how to check your source code, read this post I wrote during my Kissmetrics tenure here. Remember to view the source code on the URL (website address) you’re optimizing. Not just your home page.
Now, just adding the copy to my title tag that I want to rank for isn’t going to make my webpage rank #1 on Google (it’s required and it’s the first thing you should do). But there are more things you need to do to dominate the search engine results pages.
- Make sure your site is blazing fast
- Make sure your site is using SSL (https:)
- Make sure your website is mobile friendly (responsive)
- Don’t duplicate content (don’t create two or more webpages that cover the same topic)
- Link your webpages together in a user-friendly way
- Write amazing content
- Provide great tools and resources that other websites will link to
- Let your site age a bit (it can take a year before you really get any decent search engine traffic)
Then what’s bad SEO?
Bad SEO is all the SEO you shouldn’t be doing. Like:
- Buying links
- Creating link farms or getting links from link farms
- Trading links with other websites
- Getting links from bad directories / low-quality directories
- Comment spamming (for backlinks)
Basically, it’s cheating. If you haven’t noticed already – getting other websites to link to your website helps boost your overall presence in the search engines. But, you have to earn it. Usually by making a website that’s so amazing and resourceful (or just plain brilliant) that people all over the world naturally link to it.
The problem is, some industries are just hard to build links to naturally (like insurance). So, back in the day, SEO firms would try to cut corners for their clients in order for them to rank better in the search engines. They usually did this by buying links, comment spamming and directory submissions.
So, if you ever feel like you’re doing something where your hacking or “gaming the system” to improve your SEO, then Google probably knows you’re doing it and it’s going to hurt :). So don’t do.
What’s Negative SEO?
Negative SEO is doing bad SEO to your competitors. Why not, right? If it’s that easy to get someone dinged in the search engines, the logic follows that in any competitive niche, someone is doing negative SEO to their competitors.
But isn’t Google smart enough to know if someone is doing negative SEO to another site?
Well, here’s the answer as of 2012:
And it looks like Google really hasn’t said much on this issue since then.
I would watch the Google Webmaster channel once in a while. They have Google Hangouts where moderators (who are Google employees) will address this issue from time to time.
And since 2012, people keep running into negative SEO issues. It looks to be far more common than Matt Cutts originally thought it would be. You can see this article for example.
So what do you do about it?
Ultimately, it’s up to you to disavow low quality links. You can go here to disavow any links that you think may be hurting your site.
To me, this whole thing basically sucks. Now, anyone that operates a website has to spend time and energy looking at every single link they get, and determine which ones are spammy.
Not only that, you’ll probably end up paying for tools to tell you what links you’re getting in the first place. You can use Google Search Console to find some of the links (at least it’s free). I’m fairly certain that Google Search Console doesn’t show you all your backlinks though.
Wouldn’t it just be easier if Google gave spammy links no SEO value?
That way people can build all the crappy backlinks they want and it won’t help their SEO.
Additionally, if anyone builds spammy backlinks to hurt your site – it won’t matter either.
Perhaps I don’t understand the intricacies of the Google algorithm and for whatever reason at this evolutionary stage of their technology, they just can’t go back to something this simple.
Also, doesn’t this give SEO firms a reason to destroy a site’s ranking and then come along and offer assistance? I sure hope they can resolve this soon.
So who’s this Matt Cutts guy anyway?
Matt Cutts was the head of the Google Webspam team. He moved on to work for the US Digital Service. He was a public liaison between Google and webmasters. He would answer common questions that website owners and webmasters had about optimizing their websites for Google.
I know people that simply referred to him as “God”. The word of Matt was basically the word of God. Because their entire livelihood kinda depended on what Matt said :).