In April 2012 the SEO world was rocked by one of the biggest and most devastating updates in Google’s history of algorithmic changes. It ushered in a whole new SEO paradigm but some feared it could make things very tricky for website owners. Have those fears now come true?


The question of course was “could this damage your site’s rankings” to which every SEO worth his salt answered “of course not! If that were to happen then the world would be full of bad SEOs blasting good sites to ruin their rankings!”. Sounded absolutely fine and it’s something I said, too, based on what Google said way back in 2002 when their website stated :

 Fiction: A competitor can ruin a site’s ranking somehow or have another site removed from Google’s index.

Fact: There is nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. Your rank and your inclusion are dependent solely on factors under your control as a webmaster, including content choices and site design.

In 2003 they changed that to “almost nothing” which is a big difference but really it indicates that of course there are things that can be done such as hacking of your site. For example, if your site got hacked and riddled with viruses then Google may well take that site off the index to stop people finding it and being infected. It certainly didn’t make us worry about links.

Then in 2007 Matt Cutts was interviewed by Forbes, who reported:

“Matt Cutts, a senior software engineer for Google, says that piling links onto a competitor’s site to reduce its search rank isn’t impossible, but it’s extremely difficult. “We try to be mindful of when a technique can be abused and make our algorithm robust against it,” he says. “I won’t go out on a limb and say it’s impossible. But Google bowling is much more inviting as an idea than it is in practice.”

OK then, that’s a bit different. So we’re talking of building thousands of thousands of links which is no mean feat – you need tools for that so in our “white hat” world of SEO we should still be OK.

Fast forward to 2012 and Google now decides that if you’ve been “over optimising” by buying, generating or in any way creating links and not earning them, it’ll penalise you. Suddenly the whole negative SEO thing takes on a whole new vista because they admitted that links could do you harm. They also provided a tool in Webmaster Tools that would allow you to disavow these links so they couldn’t do any more harm. They essentially said “yes, links can harm you but only the links you created to boost your rankings artificially”.

How do they know? How do they know those links were created by me? Surely someone else could have created them?

The answer, of course, is they don’t. Yes they can quote clever algorithms that seek to understand a bit of underhand link building versus some malicious competitor but if they were so confident about it then they wouldn’t give us the disavow tool in the first place and they certainly wouldn’t advise us to use it, which they do.

And now, the ransom

I frequent the “black hat” world of SEO a lot, learning what’s going on back there because I have a duty to our clients to understand what they’re up to. Let me just make it clear, many in the black hat world aren’t hackers or crackers, they just do things that Google would see as “a bit shady”. However there are some that are definitely looking to scam people and it’s here you can read about how to perform “negative SEO”.

So, what is it? Well it’s the process of creating or manipulating links in such a way that they can negatively affect the ranking of a website. This is very hard to do according to Google, but there are those who believe they are expert at it. Recently it has become a money-making scheme and some website owners have received the following emails:

Subject: I Want To Buy. Please Guide Me.


Read this email very carefully.

This is an extortion email.

We will do NEGATIVE SEO to your website by giving it 20,000 XRumer forum profile backlinks (permanent & mostly dofollow) pointing directly to your website and hence your website will get penalised & knocked off the Google’s Search Engine Result Pages (SERP) forever, if you do not pay us $1,500.00 (payable by Western Union).

This is no false claim or a hoax, download the following Notepad file containing 20,000 XRumer forum profile backlinks pointing to (this is our website and go and see on this website, you will find our email address [email protected] from which this email right now is being sent to you) :

Just reply to this email to let us know if you will pay just $1,500.00 or not for us to refrain or not from ruining your precious website & business permanently. Also if you ignore this email and do not reply to this email within the next 24-48 hours, then we will go ahead and build 20,000 XRumer forum profile backlinks pointing directly to your website.

We are awaiting your wise decision.


Now THAT is a game changer.

Are they just playing on fear?

We’re told that negative SEO is very difficult which means it *is* possible. We see all the time when huge organisations are brought to their knees by rogue states bringing the world’s computing power to bear on a website, so why not build thousands of links to annoy Google? The email mentions “Xrumer” which is a bit of software which logs into forums, creates an account and then builds a link. It can do it on autopilot and it can do it quickly.


Want to know an actual fact? Have you seen those little images called “CAPTCHA” on forms which are there to check a human is typing in the details? They can solve those, too. There are hundreds of people in offices all over the world who just sit there deciphering these images all day. When the software encounters one it simply sends it to one of these people who deciphers it. Simple! Costs a fraction of a cent each time.

So the technology is there, right now. But will it work?

The ransom is for $1500 so I guess a lot of companies will just pay it and avoid the potential of being attacked although obviously, that might not stop them. Either way, people will pay up in some cases.

And Google’s response? Watch your back-links and use the disavow tool.

You’re on your own.

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