Can You Damage Your Competitor By Getting Them ‘Bad Neighborhood Links’? / by Logan Lenz

Negative SEO is the process of actively trying to ruin your competitors’ rankings, and you can do this in several ways. The most common though is sending paid, spammy links their way. Of course, this practice is one you do not want to engage in, but it’s important to be knowledgeable just in case someone launches such an attack against your site. After all, not everyone practices white-hat SEO.

Suppose you wanted to ruin your competitor’s link profile by getting an automated service to send them 10,000 links to some dubious low-authority blogs in Russia for instance. How would this action affect your competitor? How would it affect you if your competitor tried to do the same for you? This article will cover the incidence of main competitor spamming, why it isn’t very prevalent as well as how site owners can protect themselves.

Paid links as a weapon

The short answer to whether a business can use paid links to ruin a competitor is ‘almost never’. However, nothing in the world of SEO is as simple as that. While Google cannot yet perfectly identify spamming, it’s extremely difficult to bring down white hat, high ranking sites on SERPs.

Google has an almost perfect algorithm when it comes to deciphering link intent. While we may not know exactly how, it’s conceivable that the online footprint of site owners/webmasters who buy links to boost their link profiles and ranking are significantly different from sites that have competitors directing spammy links at them. These patterns are evident in search/usage behavior as well as link footprints on sites belonging to the same owners.

White-hat sites that are almost immune to spamming include sites whose content is original and owner-generated, they are relevant for users, have editorial links as the main source of external links and generally have no signs of dubious link-building attempts. Conversely, sites with unoriginal content that is clearly intended for SEO and not users, sites with low quality and/or paid links as a result of poor linking practices are not as protected from competitor link spamming.

As with all Google algorithms, nothing can be said for sure. However, evidence points to the fact that Google evaluates a series of factors to assign link intent. In fact, there are less than five verifiable instances of Google-bowling (pointing bad links to a site to make it drop in rankings) in the last decade.

Why Google-bowling may not work

Many SEO professionals have suggested that Google allows sites to achieve a specific “bar of trust” over time. Once achieved, any negative links would be devalued, but would not result in ranking decline or penalties. There’s no clear evidence for it, but it would explain why Google-bowling doesn’t work over 99% of the time.

Site owners who involve themselves in this practice will only end up losing money. In addition, such a strategy would likely work against site rankings for targeted keywords, instead of harming sites that have worked their way to SERP top results using white-hat SEO.

How you can defend yourself

There’s no real way to prevent a competitor from targeting your site; you cannot control someone else’s actions. However, the best line of defense may be to ensure your own techniques are above reproach. This means no outright black-hat SEO, treading lightly with gray-hat techniques and of course don’t launch negative campaigns on your competition, especially because this does little more than to enrich spammers.

Many site owners, SEO professionals and webmasters are worried about having spammy links directed at their sites. Almost every site on the web has been targeted in this way at one point or other. That being said, it’s still important to keep an eye on your link profile, especially if you have had a history of unnatural link building in the past.

If you notice questionable but well-optimized links from scrapper sites offering pharmaceutical, legal, real estate or financial products and services, don’t panic. The very fact that you exist means that you’ll attract such links, and search engines won’t be so quick to punish you, even if you’re still a newbie.

Red flags are only raised when your own link acquisition and growth marketing techniques are seem like they’re made up of a deliberate, incentive-based link network i.e. well optimized anchor text, links from sidebars and footers which have irrelevant content but optimized anchor tests directed at internal site pages.

In this case, you want to create and submit a detailed spam report using your site’s verified Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) account. Make it absolutely clear that you are not in any way connected to such links, so that Google does not assume you generated, paid for or otherwise endorsed such links. However, you will seldom need to do this, unless you lean towards the more cautious side.

Should I launch a paid link campaign against my competitors?

Obviously not, the money will be far better spent on your preferred charity. However, such a campaign will more likely help your competitor than hurt them, since it triggers a kind of protective shield by Google around them.

Instead of proactively trying to bring another site down, invest towards improving your own site using white-hat techniques like public relations, editorial content and social media efforts among others.

Where rubber meets the road, unless you have had link penalties as a result of unnatural link-building yourself, there’s nothing to fear from negative SEO.