Negative SEO - Nightmares Come True

Dave Naylor

Dave kicked off this session with a huge disclaimer. He points out that all of this stuff is extremely unethical and more often than not is seriously illegal. You should not do any of these things, you should use this knowledge to protect yourself and you will go to jail if you try to do any of these things. [We obviously agree with this sentiment]

What you need:
1. Target
2. Conduit (YouTube, Google Maps, Everything)
3. Community

Dave discussed some of the "reports" and so on where people will list a "review" on you and then the owners of this network will use it to extort money out of you and so forth. This is highly illegal and there are steps you can take.

Most of it is illegal, but doing something against it/to protect yourself can be just as illegal so you have to be dead sure of what you're doing. Dave lost a client because he couldn't legally get rid of a site that he didn't like. Pushed things down but couldn't get rid of it because the 'bad guy' there were people there willing to keep it there.

Law: REVIEWS of a company or product cannot be positive or negative and cannot influence the people if you have not used the product. If you own the product and big it up as a false name or with false testimonials it is illegal.

Dave opened the question up to the board about how to get this sort of thing reversed?

From Marcus Tandler - If you run a legitimate operation you can get reviews or experiences that doesn't mention "scam", build links and get people commenting on that thread. You can then go about trying to get Google to switch it. You must have a legitimate product because if it is shit people will still do say so if you open this up to them.

Back to Dave.

Dave mentioned Bad Karma - what goes around comes around and people will not take kindly to it. You really should not put people in a corner or they will get defensive.

One way to deal with it is to speak to the folks at Yahoo! answers, particularly if you can prove it's fake.

"Why would people lie?" "Do you know how much this industry is worth?"

SEOidiot- the people that's well done you can't actually pin it to someone and get it overturned.

Dave - the worst he's seen is the legal version of this (PPC - "Have you had problems with [Company]") ask on Gumtree who has had a bad experience. PEOPLE WANT TO WHINGE. They are much happier to pass on what bad experiences they had versus bad stuff.

How to defend against yourself?

From Marcus Don't [mess] up the first time around (if you're doing good stuff, you should be fine). You should own the top 20 for searches around your brand. Push things that are positive.
"If you're being a [jerk] you're not going to be able to stop some of this" once the reputation has been damaged (especially if it's real) it is awfully hard to corect for it.

Subpoena them if you need to. Go after the search provider and say "we are going to sue you, or sue them. It is libel and we want justification for it otherwise"

Get your Twitter name in there, push trusted hosts up quickly. Use Google Alerts, RSS feeds, etc. Own your brand!

Paul Madden (SEO Idiot)

Some negative SEO works well... a lot of it doesn't work particularly well at all.

It is far easier to mess with SERPs than a site.

If you are going to try to target a site- they need to have weak sites.

Things that work:
301 dodgy site in
Social media (keep it out of the SERPs if people are saying bad things)... control the conversation
Reputation management
Giving the SEO team involved work to do. Doen't need to be impacting the SERPs, if you can keep them bothered with other things they can't focus on.

Things that don't work often
Bursts of Dodgy Links

Things that don't work
Reporting (why are they going to listen to you). You need to report with evidence or malware if you have any hope of impacting them.

Only if you have a nice suit for Court
Obvious duplication - cease and desist letters cost you money, waste of time.
XSS - cross site scripting
DDOS via a Botnet, etc.
SQL Injection or compromising the box - really bad idea. Great way to go to court.

"Don't do anything against a site unless you know what you're doing" and "unless you're prepared to deal with the consequences"

Mess with the team- ask for CVs of members or another team. Post their stuff on other boards. This distraction can be serious trouble.

Wound rather than kill - you can take out the whole team more easily by wounding one soldier rather than killing one off. (Dave used the example of a battlefield. Dave suggests the AK-47 was produced for this very reason: you take out the guy you've shot and the two guys you need to carry him off the battlefield).

Random aside - Make someone mayor of a competitive SEO agency.

Ralph Tegtmeier (Fantomaster)

A lot of negative SEO practices have nothing to do with some of the more technical information - it has more to do with social networking.

The warning: hardly anything you can do without getting caught. This is the plus!

Technical Engineering

-forum spam
-blog comment spam
-links from malware sites
-spammy links (hidden text, keyword stuffing, etc)
-fake contact profiles linking to target

This won't always work! Sometimes you are just getting yourself into trouble because it won't get the competitor in trouble, and may actually help them. This all depends on stability of the competitor position, their history, and perhaps the strength and trust of their brand.

XSS infusion + report jobs - might not do much on its own, but if you report it it may have a big impact (you will go to jail for it).

Mail Spam - this is a bit less obvious, though it may lead to blacklists of their mail lists and so forth. Identity theft type things.

Skype spam - we see this everyday. That's one reason to make yourself invisible here.

Click bots & bot net activity (attack mulptiple sites including target) - single target site doesn't work very well, but if it's attacking hundreds of sites with a real target included it may look more feasible.

DDOS Attacks

Widgets/malware with Link Infusion - more devious ways of negative SEO. If tied to the target site it can often trash target's rankings.

Social Engineering

Much more to be done here! Lots of this stuff may not be technically illegal so it is perhaps a cause for bigger concern.

Link target change requests
Social hacking to get access (clearly illegal)
Fake Google notices
Link buy requests to SE reps (on behalf of somewhere else) can be really serious
Fake reinclusion requests (admitting to shady things the company has done in the past)
Forum smears and reputation trashing
Raise red flags with paid surfing services - click through rate manipulation
Fake link buying offers
Bad fake feedback on brand discussion threads
Post click fraud requests on eLance etc.
Send fake e-mail exchanges to SE reps (I'm an insider and though I should warn you...)

All of this stuff if done correctly is pretty easy to deny. This makes it one of the most difficult areas to protect against. Some of it may work and some of it may not.

If you have been hit with this strategy (hopefully quite unlikely) you will need to go to experts as addressing the depth of this (when done well) is extremely difficult to find. And if you address this yourself you will have a hard time to set bias aside.

You need to be aware of this and protect yourself as well as possible and get out in front of it in any way you can think of.

Marcus Tandler (MediaDonis)

Advice: audit your own SEO company. Get a list of the links they've built for you. Stay away from SEO companies that don't want to give you a report like this. Comment spam, forum comments with links.

Mentions buying excessive links from another country - worked for a while, but all of their clients eventuall plummeted.

"A lot of s***ty links can and eventually will hurt you"

If you're a big site (Wikipedia) you can get away with this sort of tactic. But if you're new and you get nabbed with a penalty (at this point Marcus showed a very scary penalty chart) it's going to be very difficult to regain that trust you've lost. So the bottom line is to Audit your SEO company.

Summary: if you're not keeping track your own company can basically be doing negative SEO for you without you even realizing! This can be particularly true with links. Linkbuilding is a careful art form and if you're doing it wrong and taking big risks, this is a key part of the audit.

If they won't tell you where the links are from you need to worry.

If you don't own the links, you should be worried. The client should ideally own these relationships where possible because there are a few agencies out there that when you fire them they will request money to take some of the bad links away OR they will just strip away all of your good links.

If you hire a company for SEO and a company for linkbuilding MAKE SURE the SEO company supervises the linkbuilding process.

There was a bit of a disagreement between Ralph and Marcus

The discussion was around linkbuilding networks as Ralph pointed out you shouldn't know about where all the links are coming from because linkbuilding networks that work often work because they are not shared. There is a tough distinction but I think they agreed in the end that it depends on what sort of linkbuilding you may want to do.

Q & A

Example from Dave - send a new person, profiled a company found the name of someone new and sent out fake people and Google accounts under people's name and send them out to events and say "Oh I'm new at agency [x] can I buy links, etc., etc. I have $10,000 to spend" and so forth. This is hard to tell whether it is real or fake and can make Google take a very close look at this company.

Outing a network - burnt to the ground and anyone on it will go with it. Find out what networks your friends are buying from and burn them (Dave's advice).

Marcus- suggested finding a network your competitor is buying on, go grab (buy) a ton of these links for a casino site and people over at Google will more than likely get on it real quick.

Dave - if you pay for a link make sure it can be removed at a moment. You need to know where these links are and the way to get around it/out of it at the slightest sign of trouble. Monitoring is essential to this.

Easy to build this software to monitor all this. Dave says they use a firefox toolbar that monitors anything their SEO team does and uses proxies to see any moves of any link placed. This can trigger a "fail" based upon certain changes (number of links added, etc.).

Paul - we monitor every link we place and every page it's on. We monitor PR (whether it drops), are there spammy links here popping up, you need to monitor your neighbourhood and be able to get out.

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