Negative SEO – 4 Killer Strategies To Look For

Gutted I couldn’t make it to both the sessions at 10:30, I had to miss Tom Critchlows talk, Advanced Analytics for Affiliates. For those of you who know Tom, you know he really gets analytics, and in fact he recently posted for the google analytics team, no mean feat! I hope to catchup with him later if he is willing to share any tips.

The session I did attend, was full of heavy weights, consisted of Dave Naylor, Paul MaddenMarcus Tander and the legendary Fantomaster. This team was tackling a very interesting topic:

Negative SEO – Online Nightmares Come True

Negative SEO Panel

Negative SEO Panel

The conference blurb for the piece was a good piece of bait –

Optimising your pages for great rankings is all very well – but what if a hard-hitting competitor decides to bump you off the search engines results pages via Negative SEO? Yes, it works; and yes again, it is being done.

Many SEOs have publicly stated that negative SEO is BS, while others have downplayed it’s impact. Interesting to see this panel takle it in a public forum. I must warn those sho were expecting the traditional view of Negative View to clear their minds – the talk wasnt about the outdated methods of Negative SEO such as Link Spamming (well not all of them!) or Google Bowling. The techniques below are actually of a more risque methodology, and shouldn’t be attempted in my opinion.

The four speakers tackle 4 different areas of Negative SEO:

  • Negative Online PR
  • Social Engineering
  • Hacking / Destructive attacks
  • Self Inflicted Negative SEO

Each strategy have some interesting effects, and pretty much all but the last could be construed illegal. The panel insist, and I concur, that all SEOs should be aware of the above, while remaining vigilant of their own sites and back link profiles.

Negative Online PR

Negative online PR is a pretty much common occurance, and those who deal with online reputation management will be familiar with this tactic. Take for example When you google your Brand Name + “Scam”  – plenty of examples, many of them from review sites which act as the conduit for Negative SEO.

If google suggest second result is “scam”, then people WILL click on it. – Dave Naylor

And actually there are some interesting ways to get these negatives both, ranking AND showing up on google Suggest.  A simple example of getting loads of negative content is to use lists of conduits – high value sites such as yahoo Answers, Digg etc and crafting the title of that page to exact match the Brand + Scam query.

Dave talked about scams where people drop loads of negative reviews, rank them, and then extort money to get rid of them. In his words:

You do this, you get caught, you go to Jail.

What Can businesses do?

  1. Start getting their current client base to post positive reviews – just ASK!
  2. Find positive threads on review sites and build links to them to get them ranking up higher.
  3. Invest in decent Online Reputation Management.
  4. Try and get contacts for site owners where the negative reviews exist, and highlight the fact that the review may be libelous.
  5. Monitor your brand. Own it. Try and capture the first 20 results of any brand SERPs.

Social Engineering

Kevin Mitnick

Kevin Mitnick

For fans of Kevin Mitnick, this one shouldnt be news, but for those who dont know this famous hacker was, I suggest you google him. But for a quick two second view:

Social engineering is the act of manipulating people into performing actions or divulging confidential information, rather than by breaking in or using technical cracking techniques; essentially a fancier, more technical way of lying.

Fantomaster as well as the rest of the team highlight this as an interesting way to get negative SEO. In particular some of the techniques highlighted were:

  • Link Target change requests (posing as the site owner)
  • Social Hacking to get access (ala Kevin Mitnick)
  • Sending out Fake google Notices
  • Link Buying requests to SE representatives
  • Fake Re-Inclusion requests
  • Fake Link exchange requests to industry leaders (with the hope of them outing the requesting site)
  • Posting clickfraud requests on forums such as eLance, Mechanical Turk etc (eg asking people to click on adsense links!)
  • Etc Etc.

For those with a good imagination, you can see how some of the techniques highlighted above can have negative impacts on the target parties. And unfortunately there isnt much you can do except maintain a clean reputation and try and prove that it wasnt your team responsible. In the case of Social Engineering, make sure that your teams know who to trust and who not to, good practices are the only way to avoid Social Hacking.

Hacking / Deconstructive Attacks



There isn’t a limit to the types of really negative SEO that an extremely dodgy SEO can put into play if they take things to the extreme, especially if this extreme is via hacking and destructive technical methods. A mini list that Fantomaster and Paul Madden highlighted include:

  • XSS infusion
  • Mail Spam
  • Skype Spam
  • Clickbots
  • DDOS attacks
  • Widget to malware links
  • Insert malware
  • SQL injection

For fear of encouraging people to investigate further, I dont want t to highlight the details of any of the above, but give an interesting example, that Mikel deMib spoke about years ago, is the simple action any hacker can do to damage a sites SEO – simply hack into the root server and include the no index no follow instruction on a competitors site… I hope that gives you an idea – but remember, as Paul put it:

Paul Madden - Negative SEO

Paul Madden – Negative SEO

Only do this if you have a nice suit to wear to court.

Self Inflicted Negative SEO

Although Marcus was fully involved in conversations and advice on all the above tactics, he took a very interesting tack, one I didn’t expect to see.He brought out the fact that there are situations that companies that hire shady SEO’s are actually carrying out self inflicted Negative SEO. And this is actually a very important issue to consider. Are you taking full control of your SEO efforts? Do you know what your SEO company is doing on your behalf? Do you keep an eye on their link building to make sure that all that they are doing are above board? Often penalties can be incurred purely by shady practices that clients had no clue were happening.

He suggests:

  • Audit your SEO company regularly
  • Try and get a list of all the links they acquire for you
  • Stay away from companies that are reluctant to give you full reports on the activities they are carrying out on your behalf.
  • Dont allow the to build shitty links!

Actually this is pretty sound advice for any business – and I suggest going further to make sure you as a client are fully involved in the planning process and are aware of execution as it happens. At the first warning signal, roll back efforts where possible, before the situation becomes too big to resolve.


The team highlighted some very interesting points and created a lot of food for thought. In fact there were two strategies which I havent covered in here, which came out of the discussions, which I intend to write full follow up posts on, simply because they make interesting reading, even of they are quite dastardly in execution. Make sure you subscribe to keep up to date :) .






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