Negative SEO Campaigns Explained by a Lawyer

Negative SEO Tactics

Michael P. Ehline, Esq., discusses negative SEO techniques used against PI lawyers.

By personal injury attorney, Michael P. Ehline, Esq. – As you all know, when I was new at the internet game as a lawyer, I knew little, and yet, I just wrote legal articles, populated my site, and befriended people with their own sites, and voila, they would link to my personal injury website.  Then I started to rank. I had no idea there was a such a thing as “negative SEO”, but it does make sense, as there is also “positive SEO” (aka as plain old “SEO”.) SEO is search engine optimization, infra, which is an entirely different topic, but interrelated.

There Are No Longer “SEO Innocents”

An “SEO Innocent” is generally a person who has never engaged in SEO and just does what Google says to do as far as SEO goes. (SEO defined here.) So an SEO Innocent, as I was, I just plugged away, and was thrilled that I could go to Google, type “link:www.ehlinelaw.com/“, and find some of my backlinks that Google apparently thought were valuable.

Little did I know there were much more powerful tools, that I have discussed in our video hangouts, like ahrefs (but hold off on giving them a dime, as they were jerks to me when I asked them to come to one of our hangouts – “the pride comes before the fall.”) In any event, I had learned early on, that I liked Matt Cutts. I really don’t post there anymore. But one thing I have learned, is that he was a valuable source of info.

What Matt Cutts Didn’t Tell Me

And the reason I moved on, and just casually follow Matt, is because of Penguin and Panda. I learned there were many things that were only true in a “perfect virtual world.” Things Google did not really talk about. Things that Einstein types, former Google employees, and other geniuses knew. Or things people knew as an accident of birth, such as those accidents maintained by a gifted lad like Chase Billow. In any event, after April of 2012, my life changed forever in a stressful and negative way. I learned about negative SEO. I learned that for years, my site was actually being attacked by people who wanted to knock me down. But my site was resistant until Panda and Penguin. But even now, I couldn’t prove it in court that I was being attacked.  But surely as the sun rises and sets, someone was spamming my site a little bit prior to, and a lot more after April of 2012 when Google basically admitted you could destroy a competitor with negative SEO.

I guess I have to share what I learned to help you not be a victim. You see, prior to the Panda and Penguin updates of April 2012, I was an “SEO innocent”. All I knew, is that the more links I had, the better I would rank.  But I was new to the game.  SEO companies and competitors were not.  In fact, I was an “innocent”. The bottom line is that even Google recently changed their statements on SEO, to reflect that negative SEO was more possible than ever.

Negative SEO

Panda and especially Penguin, changed the SEO game a lot.  Penguin sought out too many exact match anchors to your site, and basically said you are “guilty” of link building.  “This is not a real vote”, and Google destroyed your rankings.  Of course Google says it only affected a small percentage of sites, but they didn’t tell us that 99% of the sites that would get slammed, were the first page results. Of course, this is just a little satire, but seems correct to me. See what a REAL vote is here:

Top Secret

Generally this is not the kind of information that is shared by anyone, unless you pay them thousands of dollars, but it is important to know what a negative SEO campaign is, to see it happening and be prepared to deal with it, if it does happen. It is only a small portion of what I really know, but is among the most important things for a true player in attorney search. In order to know what this is, you need to understand how it works and exactly what the steps are to run this kind of scheme. This is something that no one should be doing, but it is information that can be found on the internet if you dig deep enough.

These are the things included in running a typical “negative SEO” campaign:

  1. Content–Turning competitor’s content into duplicate content, is done by reposting of innocent content. This is done by posting the content to article directories, and small spammy websites, even spinning it when doing this, and linking back to the source from the spun versions is an added bonus. This is basically what Ezines are all about.  And this is why I deleted my Ezine account and did massive DMCA takedowns against anyone who was abusing their limited license to repost my content.
  2. Reporting–Think your competitor is building spam? Report them, over and over. It’s easy.  After all, spamming is subjective to Google.  So it’s pretty much always an opinion protected under the First Amendment, right?  Try suing someone for defamation, for reporting you as a spammer and see what happens.
  3. Un-building Links—This can create havoc, and all that the competitor needs to do, is create an official looking SEO company, which is fake, and your all ready for a link removal campaign. This can have your competitors removing 1,000s of links by you just advising them to do so. Or you can just contact the webmaster with the external links to your competitor, and pretend to work for the lawyer who has the links to be removed. Once in a while good websites can be in the list of to be removed. The quality websites  typically have a high response rate, and will pull the link down willingly. If they ask why, then you can say you are going out of business, they someone is doing a negative SEO campaign on your etc, or you can always apologize and say it was an error.
  4. Guilt by Association Spammy Sites—This is a method of making your competitor seem suspect, by creating extremely spammy websites that are similar to theirs, except making them really spammy. Then the trick is to 301 some of the pages, to the TLD.  Doing this also helps even more, with a similar domain name for the spammy websites, to the competitor’s domains. This will probably work do down their sites very fast. Heck, you could even register the site to them and use a prepaid credit card to buy the domain.  Just some sick stuff you can do.
  5. Using Clone Websites—This is one of the nastier tricks that can be used. It is done by purchasing all of the regional domains for your competitors website and then clone it. This is done by translating the home page and filling it with your competitor’s content. Link to their website, with a language dropdown in the top corner. What this does this will do is make the competitor’s website look like a part of a spam network. It works!
  6. Black Links—The use of black link building will use spam signal keywords on their sites. These are things such as “porn, Viagra, and casino.” This is of course only used against competitors who are not in any of those niches. This happened to a friend of mine.
  7. Infecting the Competitors Website—This is another nasty trick that can be done. However when infecting their website with a virus, other people are going to be hurt. This is extremely unethical and you would also need to have a specific level of knowledge how to accomplish it. Hello India.
  8. Overcooking Dubious Metrics—this is done by running the competitors website through linkresearchtools.com or something like this. Then when you can see anything that might be flagged as dangerous, such as anchor text, ip or tld, it will split it and make it worse.
  9. DDOS Site Attacks—This is nasty, but if you keep doing it, then Google crawling it and finding the site down will make it look unreliable.
  10. Google Bowling—It is back and since Penguin updates began, Google has made it clear to webmasters that this will work to do it and is a way to do in your competitors. The spammier and cheaper the links the better it looks to down their sites. This is doing all of the things that you are told by SEOmoz not to do, using mass directory submissions, spun article posting, SENuke links and Xhrumer blasts.
  11. Destructive Onsite Behavior—This is basically a script that is being created and is designed to run on 1000s of IPs across various countries. When using these as proxies, they will all have YouTube, gmail and other accounts setup to interact with. There will be some that will send random emails to each other to mimic simplistic user behavior. Then they will be used to increase the bounce rate on specific keywords, or lower CTR. Google should be able to detect bots to prevent this, but it doesn’t quite work. The theory of this network is to emulate a user.

So What Do I do?

The good news, is that organizations such as the Circle of Legal Trust, have specially trained attorneys who know how to seek out and mitigate these attacks, and even sue the offenders. As we have discussed before, it is almost impossible for the offending webmaster to not leave a digital footprint. You can sue the offending website networks linking to you, conduct discovery and get IP addresses of the people trying to hurt you. Some Marine types like me, might just assume it is you, or anyone who took their coveted spot in the rankings, and DESTROY you. So the best bet is to keep getting votes from people who are loyal to you, who want to help you, since you are helping them. If you want to learn more about protecting your legal website, consider applying for membership in the Circle of Legal Trust.

Posts by Michael Ehline

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