The slew of recent updates to Google’s algorithm has left some people in a bit of a pickle. The Penguin update has been successful for the most part in weeding out those spam-heavy sites that invest entirely in unnatural links.

Now a beast is rearing its ugly head out of the existing hullaballoo: negative SEO.

What’s Negative SEO?

Good old-fashioned SEO is all about increasing a site’s visibility to raise its rankings in the search results. Negative SEO, on the other hand, focuses on reducing a site’s rankings.

Why would you do something silly like that? Well, most people who use negative SEO do so to downgrade competitor’s sites in order to improve their own rankings. Your competition is forced down while you float to the top.

Negative SEO isn’t something new. As soon as search engine optimization entered the world, the negative version wasn’t too far behind. Its recent resurgence is a reaction to Penguin.

The Many Faces of Negative SEO

Negative SEO is an ugly creature that takes many forms. A few common forms:

  • Infecting a competitor’s site with a virus/trojan/malware of any kind.
  • Google Bowling. It sounds like a fun pastime, but Google Bowling is one of the main weapons in the negative SEO arsenal. The aim is to get Google to think your site is spammy. This can consist of adding shady links to the site or manipulating dynamic URLs.
  • Duplicating or stealing content before it gets indexed.
  • Posting fake reviews. A competitor can easily flood business listings with fake reviews that seem like your business created them.

Creating an Effective Defense

So how do you quell that sense of paranoia and avoid getting Google Bowled? Fortunately, Google Webmaster Tools offers a ton of defenses to sandbag your website. Keep an eye on your links. If you notice thousands of links coming from a single, unsavory source, you can act proactively to remove them before you receive any penalties.

To avoid self-inflicted negative SEO, avoid cheap links. If you’re getting thousands of links for the cost of a paperclip, something’s not right. SEO services that still use spammy backlinks are getting hit hard by Penguin. Abandon ship to avoid sinking with them.

What If I’m Tempted…

Should you find yourself tempted to try negative SEO on your competitors, I suggest you take a moment to dunk your head in a bucket of water and reevaluate your priorities. Negative SEO is preventable given the right tools, not long term, and frankly, dumb.

If you have time to spam a competitor’s website into oblivion, then you have enough time to—oh, I don’t know—work on your own website. Write quality content, gain links from prominent websites, and build your authority. It’s a lot more rewarding than negative SEO.

Hemingway does not approve.

Besides, no bad deed goes unpunished. As Hemingway said, “You can wipe out your opponents. But if you do it unjustly you become eligible for being wiped out yourself.”

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