If Negative SEO is Possible, We Need an Irrefutable, Public Example

There are a tremendous number of claims from across the search marketing world that negative SEO (the practice of knocking someone else’s website/page(s) out of search results by pointing spam links at them) is not only possible, but has been done. One of the most recent and, IMO, most credible came via this SERoundtable post (where 48% of respondents to a poll said they were personally able to knock a competitor out of the rankings).

Unfortunately, what we don’t have is a solid, compelling, public example that proves the risk and helps unite the industry and press to nudge Google into making changes.

via K. James on Flickr

It’s my belief that even a single public example of an innocent website – one that’s never engaged in active SEO or link building – getting removed from the search results through third-party action would be strong encouragement to Google’s search quality and webspam teams to revise their current practices. I’m passionate about this because I don’t believe that the status quo of forcing site owners to police their own links through Webmaster Tools is fair, viable, or moral. Google managed spam for a decade without requiring site owners to live in constant fear of links that might harm them, and I think they can manage it just fine again.

Here’s the required ingredients:

  • A sacrificial website (and a generous owner who’s willing to risk losing their search traffic)
  • A collection¬†of spam links that’s known to remove sites from the search results
  • Funding to purchase said links.

I/Moz am happy to supply the funding, and I’m willing to do the work to purchase the links, control the variables, and monitor rankings & results. What I need are help with the other two items. My knowledge of the dark corners of the spam universe and which links are triggering Google’s anti-spam algos isn’t what it once was. Likewise, I need a candidate website – one with enough pages ranking for commercial terms to make the example meaningful and realistic, but with an owner who doesn’t mind a temporary traffic loss.

If you can help with either of those two items, please drop me a line privately (rand at moz dot com), and if you have suggestions for how to run this process, please leave them in the comments below.

Together, I’m hopeful we can give a meaningful push in the right direction and help set Google on a better path for site owners and the web as a whole.

p.s. A few years ago I challenged some spammers to point links at my site(s)¬†in an attempt to push them out of the rankings. Those efforts were unsuccessful, but since the test was public and received news coverage, it’s very hard to know if Google simply took manual action to prevent the sites from being hurt. For this experiment, I’d propose to keep it private until after we see results.

p.p.s. Some people reading this have misinterpreted the post to suggest that I don’t “believe” negative SEO is possible. That’s untrue. I *do* believe it’s possible and that’s partly why I think an unassailable, public example will be so valuable – to help convince those who might think it’s not a concern to be more aware of the risks and to hopefully nudge Google (and those with more clout, who can better nudge them).