24
Aug
11

5 Ways SEO Can Be Used as a Weapon Against You

Be afraid! Be very afraid! The evil overlords of SEO have the power to destroy you! Well, maybe not destroy, exactly. But an unscrupulous competitor, disgruntled employee, unhappy customer, or personal enemy can use SEO techniques to cause you and your business a fair amount of grief. Some of these tactics can be defended against, some of the damages can be repaired, some of them you really may just have to live with. But you should definitely be aware that these things are out there, and happen.

  1. Google bombing. This one is a fun trick to play on Presidents and other public figures, but can also be used against businesses or non-public individuals. You may remember the “miserable failure” incident from a few years ago…  Here’s how it works. The Dark SEO Lord (DSL) marshals some substantial resource (social networks like DIGG and 4CHAN have been used this way) to generate massive quantities of links that point to your site using an unpleasant link text. If you get enough of these (and it takes fewer than you might imagine) you can end up becoming the very definition of, say, “greasy booger.” Or worse. Just ask Rick Santorum.
    SOLUTION: Maybe none. If it’s a significant attack (as was the case with the attack on George Bush) Google may be induced to step in and end it. They stopped the “miserable failure” attack after two years. The Santorum situation has been going for a while now with no signs of  changing.
  2. Bad neighborhooding. This one is devious, but not every site is vulnerable and it’s somewhat difficult to pull off.  The DSL first scans your site using a readily available link scanner looking for old links that now point to abandoned domains. (If your site is big and/or old, and you don’t do rigorous link maintenance, you probably have some.) Once the abandoned domains are identified, the DSL registers them under an assumed name. After that, it’s a simple matter of either publishing “bad” content, or 301 redirecting the site to porn, spam, phishing, or other icky places. Get a handful of these in place, and suddenly Google thinks you link to bad neighborhoods. And that can hurt.
    SOLUTION: Monitor your outbound links! Regularly! Get some link checking software, use it, and fix any broken links immediately.
  3. Link spamming. You gotta love the lengths some DSLs will go to.  This is where a whole bunch of crappy links are created (usually purchased from some spam broker) pointing to your site. They all will probably use some generic link text, just so they don’t accidentally do you very much good. This is designed to make it look like you were buying spammy links. They will then report you to Google anonymously. And your site might get penalized.
    SOLUTION: About all you can do is to file a complaint with Google. Tell them what you think happened, and supply a list of bad links. They will often just discount the links and restore your search posture. But it usually takes a while and a bunch of effort.
  4. Spoofed landing pages. Suppose your business is ACME Froo-Froo and your website is ACMEfroofroo.com. Then imagine some pissed-off DSL registers the domain acmefrofroo.com and then uses it to publish a fake homepage. Maybe it looks a lot like yours, maybe not, but it is sure to contain damaging content of some sort. Maybe “free” offers or illegal merchandise. Or maybe more subtly just full of misspellings and crappy images. Or less subtly, full of scantily clad orangutans. Whatever. Then just suppose that said DSL works his/her/its SEO magic to get their fake page to rank above your real page when somebody looks for your favorite search term. You see a possible problem?
    SOLUTION: This attack is probably illegal, particularly if it uses your branding anywhere on the page, but also if the spoof domain is similar enough to yours. Report this attack as soon as you notice it. Report it to Google, and report it to whoever is hosting the site. If you have lawyers, get them to send take-down notices. All this remedial effort will work. It will also take time and resources.
  5. Review spamming.  Some person with anger management issues starts spreading malicious information about your products or your business. This sort of thing is as old as business itself. (“Not buy mastodon meat from Og. He not wash hands after he use bushes.”) And it’s been used a lot on the internet, from the very first. Now, though, with Google’s emphasis on “visitor interaction” the importance of reviews and comments will only grow. And so will the art of review spamming. We’ve seen reviews-for-hire packages cropping up all over the web in the last few months since Panda. We are sure that negative-reviews-for-hire are out there also. Can your product or service withstand 50 one-star reviews? What if it’s worse than just PR? What if those one-star reviews also cost you search position?
    SOLUTION: Well, you can contest the reviews, one at a time, and hope the review venue takes pity and removes them. Could take a very long time. The other option is fight ire with fire: buy or otherwise launch your own review campaign hoping to dilute the effects. Twenty five-star ratings will bring twenty one-star ratings up to a three!

Sigh. The evil DSL usually wins—because it doesn’t matter whether their campaign works or how bad it hurts or how long it lasts. Their real victory is that it costs you either search position, reputation, or at best it costs you the time and effort it takes to monitor, remedy, and recover.


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