Negative SEO Attack – Update
Originally posted on December 1, 2012 @ 7:03 PM
Offsite SEO (search engine optimization) is all about backlinks and citations. Backlinks are hyperlinks from other sites pointing to this one, as well as things like Facebook Likes, Google +1 shares, Tweets, Diggs, StumbleUpon pages, etc. Citations are mentions but not necessarily direct backlinks, like directory listings.
Get enough good backlinks and citations, and you will dominate the page one listings in Google for your niche. However, get enough bad backlinks and you will fall off of page one faster than a duck on a junebug. Fall far enough (to page 3, 4, 5 or beyond) and your site will never be heard from again – at least insofar as organic search goes.
In the world of SEO, it can takes weeks – or even months – to know exactly what's happening online. Google does not share all of it's data, and since Google represents around 70% of search traffic world-wide, what Google sees is what matters. The fact it is so chary with what it knows presents a serious set of challenges. On top of this, it sometimes takes a long time for Google to find backlinks and other content. Fortunately, there are online services that do a pretty good job of making up for what Google doesn't tell us – and even for what Google chooses to hide.
When you are facing negative SEO attacks, as we were threatened with a short time ago, it can take longer than you would like to determine A) whether you actually are under attack, and B) the severity of said attack. Why? In part, because you don't know where the attack is coming from. In the real world, you can see the enemy's armies massing at the border. With negative SEO, it's more like stealth war, where you can't actually see or hear anything until the damage is done. Think shock and awe but online, and you'll get the idea.
Negative SEO usually involves building thousands of backlinks from low-quality and spammy domains. The objective is to “poison” the target site. In other words, to fool Google into thinking the target site is crap because it's being referred from such bad neighborhoods. It's well known in SEO circles that “negative SEO” does work. Fortunately, Google has a very good algorithm that tends to identify negative SEO attacks and squash them. In other words, the scammers and spammers and people trying to hurt you can spend as much time and money as they want on negative SEO, but in the end most of their efforts will be useless.
But notice I said “most.” And I realize there are a lot of quasi-nebulous qualifiers here. The reality is that there is much we don't know about what's happening online, and only so much we can know, since Google holds a lot of data back.
The problem, from our perspective, is knowing whether we are actually under attack or not.
To this point in time, we haven't seen much in the way of crappy backlinks. No more than usual, in fact. Which is to say, nothing really to worry about. But that doesn't mean negative SEO isn't in the working. It might well be, and our data sources simply aren't seeing it – yet. We can't say for sure for a while. Perhaps as long as several months.
The USG recently retired the five level Homeland Security Advisory System. Nary a tear was shed, in large part because instead of “advising,” all it did was instill fear. Now, that may have been part of the objective (it sure seemed like the prior administration excelled at keeping the Amerikan people wound up in a frenzy of near blind panic), but in the end it was dumped (like so much of the so-called “war on terror”) because it accomplished little at great expense.
As an aside, and as a former creative director, I always thought the chart was badly designed and badly counterintuitive. The Green followed by Blue was a confusing transition. Green and blue are usually thought of as “good,” when the psychology of color is considered. I always thought it should have started at White and gone thru Yellow to Orange to Red to Black. For those concerned about racial overtones, it could have gone from Green to Yellow to Orange to Red to Dark Red. Either would have made far more sense to people at a glance. But nobody asked me. Chalk it up to “Your Tax Dollars At Work!” And I digress.
The point is, if we had to go by the USG system here on JKI, we'd be at a Guarded status right now. Blue. It doesn't seem as if the “massive attack” promised to go off against us is actually happening. If it is, the signs are not apparent yet. Google may be discounting all those bad backlinks, and nobody else is seeing them because the bots from the better companies don't scan well-known spam sites. By all rights, if the attack was coming off, we probably should be seeing some of those bad backlinks by now. Probably. But nobody (other than Google) can really say for sure.
We're hoping that, in the end, we can consign our recent negative SEO attack warning – just like the Homeland Security Advisory system – to the dust bin of history. Time will tell.
In the meantime – as always – you can really help us counteract any current and future attacks by sharing this site far and wide! Please Like, Tweet, +1, bookmark, email about us (with a link) and otherwise spread the word. Thanks.