Can Competitors Hurt Your Rankings With Bad Links?

Can inbound links get my site penalized?

This is a typical question found across SEO forums and I always find mixed results. Some say that "bad" links won't hurt your site, that links can only be positive or neutral. Others argue that links from questionable websites in can actually be detrimental for your rankings.

Although we can never be entirely sure of the truth, the JC Penney story gives us a glimpse of a possible black hat scenario.

Regardless if they were the ones responsible for putting up the links, they were still penalized for having those links pointing to their site.

Let's think logically, if a competitor or someone who just plain hates you decide they want to frame you:

  • They could pay shady link brokers to put up thousands of links
  • They could also specify anchor text (adult terms will usually signal a red flag)
  • They can then file an anonymous spam report through Google to report your activity in hopes of getting you penalized
Yep, scary. UPDATED PROOF: (DEC 1 2011) Please take a minute to look at this Webmaster world thread

Now, this post is not a how-to-screw-someone-over, rather I want to show you how you what actions you can take to remedy the situation.

Here's where this post becomes useful, see below for section titles:



Pro-active doesn't work, so set up monitoring and be quick to react.

There are so many free tools that will run a link report on your website, here's what I use:

Now that you've got your list, you'll need to run through it all - manually. Get to the website and find your link - Check the source code to make sure the link is still there before anything else.

10 signs that you might have a  link from a "bad website"

  1. Bad grammar, missing elements, signs of abandonment
  2. Hidden text, keyword stuffing, overwhelming amount of links on page
  3. Your link anchor text has nothing to do with your website (or possibly adult anchor text)
  4. Ads, Adsense, Affiliate links everywhere
  5. The website isn't cached or indexed by Google
  6. No clear contact details to be found anywhere
  7. Linking to other sites of the same nature (signs of content farms)
  8. Hidden links appear when you disable Javascript/CSS
  9. The site is offering to sell links
  10. Your link appears in the header, footer, sidebar amongst other unrelated links


Report them to Google/Bing/Yahoo

Ask the webmaster of the offending site to take it down

You may be able to pursue this legally, do your homework (Good place to start)


Remember the second immediate action from above? Good. Let's contact the webmaster, so where do we start...

1) Contacting them directly

Search the site, look for the contact page, email addresses, namess, addresses or phone numbers. If you were lucky enough to find it on the first go, congratulations.

Remember to have Google handy at every moment in your quest, use Google to search for every bit of information that you find. Off to step 2...


2) Find their network of sites (basic)

  • Google search for the domain name, or try the operator to find related linking websites
  • Do a back link analysis on them, see what other websites link to them. Try to find the relationship
  • Look for a link that credits the web development company- try contacting them
  • Look for footer links to other websites that have common elements
No luck? I'm guessing all of these sites are starting to look identical. Go to the next step.


3) Find their network of sites (advanced)


This tool will help you find other websites that share the same Google Analytics/Adsense codes as well as other websites on the same IP. Careful though, just because there are other websites on the same IP it doesn't necessarily mean they are connected. Your best bet is finding other websites that share Analytics/Adsense accounts as they are probably affiliated. Still no fruit? Keep going...


4) Find the domain registration details

Head to and type in the website address. You'll get a free report with some basic information of who owns the domain. Contact details should be listed here, although it may not be the person who runs the website currently, they may be able to point you in the right direction. What if the information is false? Move to next step....


5) Look for real people on Twitter

Look for mentions of the domain name, or any other information you found along the way. Find who's talking about it and invite them over for a friendly dinner. By this point you might be stark raving mad, but remember you still need to ask politely! Can't find any real people? Look further...


6) Find their hosting company

Use to find their hosting company.

Give them a call and let them know what's going on, maybe they can put you in touch with someone...



Unfortunately, we can't make anyone take a link down.

So you're down and out, you're worried that you'll get the Google smackdown in the near future if these links aren't pulled down soon.

So, let's kick and scream like a baby... You wouldn't leave a crying baby alone would you?

  • Get on the Google Webmaster forums, and talk to the SEO community and voice your story.
  • If you're using Chrome, download the spam report plug in and do your part against the fight against dodgy websites - Find out more about how Google uses these results.
  • Remember to keep notes of everything you found/did, in case you need to file a reinclusion request to Google.

Final Note

Is the link just a low level link, or are there enough to actually cause a concern? If it's just a low level link, your best course of action is to build (keep building) better links to your website to outweight the low quality links. If the links resemble what JC Penney had pointing to it - get off the couch and do something about it! *Hint* On the other hand, you may realize this might be a way of getting a link as well!

Hopefully this post has shed some light on this issue and you've found the answer you're looking for. Thanks for your help Rob!


Get blog posts via email