Awesome discussion on Aaron Wall’s post, Yes, Negative SEO Techniques Do Work on Google, between Aaron, Danny Sullivan and a bunch of experienced SEOs who are not crazy about the collateral damage of the Penguin Update.  The parts about small businesses and SEO ring particularly true, from both sides of the debate:

there’s never any mention of small to medium businesses and other vulnerable sites in regards to negative SEO. There’s a bizarre assumption that all sites are “pundit” sites and all we have to do is keep blogging away writing “remarkable content”. What about the small business that has a fantastic product or service but maybe their area of business isn’t going to win them links so easily? They’re caught between a rock and a hard place – they have to go near those margins you mention Aaron – just to get off the ground. I’m sure Rand or someone similar would condascend to suggest they create some cheesy viral video or whatnot to bait links, but really come on – asking companies to jump through arbitrary hoops (even you might say, prostitute themselves) just because Google’s algorithm can’t identify quality businesses is a ridiculous game that’s gone on too long now – in fact, it’s a deception.


Aaron Wall:
now it is super easy to torch small businesses *super easy* and they have no way to legitimately defend themselves. Compare that to Google’s approach when the NYT highlighted massive link buying from big businesses.In one case Google says they detected it and discounted it & in the other Google claims to detect it and penalizes for it.


this change means the smallest and poorest businesses have been hit with the latest updates because they could only afford this kind of marketing – I’m talking real businesses here that offer good services and products, but they were hit because they can’t afford the hours in the day to write “remarkable content” and become some kind of austere authority, nor do I think their websites even warrant such arbitrary means-to-a-ranking content writing when it’s their product or service that their market is interested in, not a bloated brochure. Now Google deem such businesses as “webspam”, and I guess you do too. Does it not concern you that the smallest and poorest get hit the hardest with these updates, and that every update ushers in more passes to big business?


Danny Sullivan:
no one — I’m sorry but no one — can say that “the large majority of small and medium businesses relied on cheap links.” There are literally millions of small and medium sized businesses out there. Do you think that most of those are doing any SEO at all? Whenever I see stats, there’s still a long way to go for that adoption.

I think it’s fair to say there’s a substantial number of SMBs that one way or another thrived on poor links. Cheap implies some were bought. It’s been no secret Google doesn’t like paid links. The fact it’s now cracking down on them, what’s your solution? That should be reversed? Perhaps an amnesty? And the SMBs that didn’t go that route now perhaps being rewarded. They get punished?..

How you approach SEO will vary. There’s no one size fits all solution. I do see plenty of SMBs thriving and surviving in my search results each day. So the question is, if you were hit, what do you do to be one of those.

 The small businesses that so many in forums are worrying that Google is screwing them over with the Penguin Update? There’s no magic search fairy coming for them.
…what those businesses need are practical, realistic advice about the sad situation some of them find themselves in now. And that advice isn’t that so many just tanked because of negative SEO, so that’s a problem that needs to be fixed. The advice, I’m arguing, is that the bulk of what I’ve seen so far has been people hit because they’ve been spamming
The whole thing is worth a read.  Besides the SMB issues, there are some great points about Google’s abuse of power, the role of “white hat” SEOs and those who write about it and whether or not they are just dupes of Google, etc.
One thing I’ve got to say as a confirmed dupe of Google, the whole “if you really knew SEO you wouldn’t be doing it for clients and you wouldn’t be spouting Google’s best practices” thing is getting a bit old.  I get Aaron’s analysis of why SEOs have an incentive to sell services to big brands and agree with a lot of it.  All other things being equal, it’s easier to move the needle on organic traffic and revenue with trusted sites, but all other things are not equal, and big brands often need just as much help, if not more, to get their SEO acts together.

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4 Response Comments

  • Justin  May 11, 2012 at 10:58 am

    These are definitely legit concerns. My father owns a niche business in the Midwest related to commercial grade cleaning solutions for large dairy farms. His site has about 5 inbound links in total. The company is well known in the area and well respected, but it’s not the type of site anyone has a reason to link to.

    For about $5 a competitor could easily do a Xrumer blast and drop thousands of shady links on the site – which could very possibly get his company’s website spanked.

    Why doesn’t Google just choose to ignore spammy links? Instead of penalizing a site for having crappy inbound links – ignore these links and don’t let them pass any value. Eventually people will stop building crappy links if there is no incentive – and it solves the negative SEO issue.

  • Mike Stewart  May 11, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    So cool of you to post this one Andrew! I sent an email to my team and a client yesterday after reading that entire thread. I really appreciated the bickering as the tone was the cause of the great detailed discussion.

    Here is what I sent:

    From: Mike Stewart []
    Sent: Thursday, May 10, 2012 8:53 AM
    To: Casey Watkins
    Subject: Interesting reading this morning.
    Awesome quote:
    “If SEOs believe that size of a business is the primary legitimate proxy for quality, they should either hire thousands of employees or go get a job at Wal-Mart.”
    Here is another Interesting comment on about Negative SEO etc:

    “I had a couple of sites hit myself – they dropped far further than they should have – discounting links would still have kept these sites in the top 10 (where they’ve been for years). My theory is that the penalty is commensurate to the “crime” e.g. if link A is worth 10 “points”, Google penalise you -20 points for the anchor text of that link, if link B is worth 20 points, Google penalise you -40 (a magnitude of the value of the link). There’s a lot of corroboration of this across a lof of SEO forums – many others are reporting similar penalties where for certain keywords they’ve completely disappeared when they were ranking fairly high before.”

    Sent from my iPhone

  • Dave Oremland  May 11, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    Andrew: Glad this was brought to my attention and you referenced the smb side of things.

    One of our sites/smb’s was hit.

    Others weren’t. I think AndrewL hit the nail on the head. I’m not just speaking of our businesses but the vast vast majority of millions that simply can’t put in the effort, the time, and the money to wow the world with incredible content or to come up with the writers and push to grab visibility and references from the world of the linkerati.

    Really powerful points, especially by AndrewL on this issue. Very astute…very right on.

    On this one because of competition we pushed the anchor text side of things.

  • don  May 14, 2012 at 7:07 am

    great article, here is what we really need though, some main stream media coverage (washington post, new york times, etc) some real coverage of the practices Google takes, lack of transparency, customer service, etc.

    Cant wait for some lawsuits as well, they certainly cross the discriminatory line by only providing real service to the “brands” while leaving the rest to post in the “webmaster central forum” that they dont support to any degree with real employees, all this from a growing multi billion dollar company.

    My biggest issue with the whole “penguin” ordeal is that they dont support this thru webmaster forums, even though their algo is in fact manually penalizing websites, that and tons of spam is still around (just look at the payday loan vertical)

    keep on fighting for the little guys!