Bill Hartzer

There is Nothing About Negative SEO in Google Webmaster Guidelines

There is nothing about Negative SEO in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Are you surprised? Well, I am, and I am not. After a review of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, from what I can tell, there are no actual references to the practice of Negative SEO. The guidelines all point to issues related to your website–but there are no references about doing something to your competitor’s websites that would cause their website to lose search engine rankings or get penalized.

I was talking last night with Brian Reagan from the Better Business Bureau in Dallas, and he asked me if there is anything in the Google Webmaster Guidelines regarding Negative SEO. If there were references to Negative SEO, then the BBB could theoretically point these out to their member companies reminding them of it. But, after a thorough review of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, I do not see any specific reference to Negative SEO, and I don’t see any references that would even remotely insinuate that there could be a manual action placed upon your website for doing something to your competitor’s website–such as Negative SEO.

Let’s say, for example, a company built low quality, spammy links to their competitor’s website. While there is plenty in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines about those low quality links and YOU getting them to your own website, Google doesn’t address Negative SEO. They don’t say that someone building links to their competitor will get their website a manual penalty from Google. So, technically speaking, is Negative SEO okay? After all, it doesn’t violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. It isn’t mentioned there, anywhere.

While the practice of Negative SEO is definitely frowned upon, Google has not addressed it in their Google Webmaster Guidelines. However, keep in mind that Google does have this clause in there:

“These quality guidelines cover the most common forms of deceptive or manipulative behavior, but Google may respond negatively to other misleading practices not listed here. It’s not safe to assume that just because a specific deceptive technique isn’t included on this page, Google approves of it.”

So, when they say the quality guidelines cover “most common forms of deceptive or manipulative behavior”, while the guidelines don’t specifically call out Negative SEO, most likely it still is covered, and Google may, in fact, penalize a site for misleading practices. But the problem is that Google technically would have to correlate one particular website, one domain name, with a particular Negative SEO practice. In theory, I guess it could potentially be possible in certain industries that are very non-competitive. If there are only two competitors or two websites, and one gets all of the low quality links and Negative SEO done against them, then it might be the competitor doing it to the site. But, how would you prove it? Even though you “know” it’s your competitor doing it, how could you prove it? And how would Google technically be able to narrow it down to one particular website doing it?

Let’s look at an example. Let’s say that there are actually two competitors in one very narrow, niche industry.

Company One does everything “white hat” in terms of their SEO efforts.

Company Two does everything “black hat” in terms of their SEO efforts, but mostly “black hat” negative SEO to their competitor.

Company Two builds a “microsite” and fills it with all sorts of articles about the subject, and links that site to Company One’s website. They start adding all sorts of spam content on the site, then a blog, all sorts of blog comments and blog comment links to Company One’s website, and then builds all sorts of low quality spam link to that microsite. We know that Company One doesn’t do anything “black hat”. Yet they have this microsite with all the spam pointing to their website. Then, Company TWO builds 10 more microsites like this.

The bottom line is that Company One’s search engine rankings could possibly take a hit because of the 10 microsites with all the spam pointing to them. Then, those microsites may eventually be penalized themselves.

But Company Two’s website will still remain untouched, and not penalized–Google has no way of connecting Company Two to those 10 microsites unless, of course, those microsites were all hosted on the same server as Company Two’s website. But still then I doubt Google would do anything.

Then there’s all of the other forms of Negative SEO that can be done to a company’s website that doesn’t involve links.

So, technically speaking, there are no references to Negative SEO in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. As a result, my buddy Brian at the BBB cannot penalize companies or give them a negative grade because of this: negative SEO isn’t technically against Google’s guidelines, but is it?

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