Google Gives Exact Reason Why Negative SEO Doesn’t Work

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Gary Illyes from Google recently shared insights on how Google prevents low-quality spam links from impacting legitimate websites, shedding light on the technical measures in place to combat negative SEO. His comments were made during an interview in May but have only recently garnered attention.

Negative SEO

Negative SEO involves deliberately harming a competitor’s rankings by flooding their site with low-quality links. The strategy banks on Google mistaking these links for spam, thereby penalizing the competitor and pushing them down in search engine results.

This tactic initially gained traction within the competitive online gambling sector, where top rankings offer substantial rewards amidst fierce competition. I first encountered discussions about negative SEO in the mid-2000s, likely before 2010, from someone involved in the gambling industry.

Most websites that rank for significant search terms naturally attract some low-quality links, which has always been commonplace. However, the concept of negative SEO gained more attention following Google’s Penguin update, which targeted link spam. This prompted site owners to become more vigilant about their inbound links’ quality and origin.

Does Negative SEO Cause Harm?

During a Q&A session, the interviewer posed a question to Gary Illyes from Google:

“Does negative SEO, such as a competitor bombarding another with tens of thousands of spammy links, still pose a threat, or has Google mitigated its impact?”

Gary Illyes responded by initially asking the interviewer if she recalled the Penguin update, to which she affirmed. He then recounted his experience examining instances of negative SEO reported by site owners and SEO professionals. Out of the hundreds of cases he reviewed, he mentioned that only one case potentially qualified as negative SEO, though the web spam team couldn’t definitively confirm it.

Gary recounted his experience as follows:

“During the time Penguin was launched, we received numerous complaints about negative SEO, particularly link-based negative SEO. I asked for examples to understand how it worked and whether it was effective. To my surprise, I received hundreds of examples alleging negative SEO, but upon review, none of them actually qualified as such. They were typically so far removed from negative SEO that I didn’t pursue them further, except for one case I forwarded to the web spam team for further investigation. We still haven’t reached a conclusion on that one; it might have been negative SEO.

From this, it’s clear that concerns about negative SEO are often exaggerated. We routinely disregard vast numbers of links because they have no impact…”

Gary then goes on to explain precisely why “negative SEO links” do not influence rankings.

Links From Irrelevant Topics Are Not Counted

Around the 30-minute mark of the interview, Gary highlighted an important aspect of how Google evaluates links. He noted that Google has long assessed the context of the linking site to ensure it matches the relevance of the target site. If there’s a mismatch, Google typically does not pass on the PageRank signal.

Gary elaborated further:

“If you notice links coming from completely irrelevant sites, such as adult content or spam sites, it’s likely we have disregarded those links. One of our practices is to align the topic of the linked page with the content of the linking site. If there’s no logical connection, why would we consider those links credible?

For instance, if a Canadian casino site selling prescription-free Viagra links to your flower page, it’s not a link we would trust.

My advice would be not to worry about such links. Focus on other aspects instead.”

Gary emphasized that Google’s algorithms are designed to disregard links that do not align contextually, thereby minimizing their impact on search rankings.

Google Matches Topics From Page To Page

In the early days of SEO, it was possible to manipulate search rankings by obtaining thousands of links from unrelated topics. For instance, some link builders would provide “free” traffic counter widgets to universities, embedding links back to client sites in the footer, which used to be effective. However, Google has since become stricter in its handling of such practices.

Gary’s explanation about the necessity of links being relevant aligns with longstanding knowledge among link builders spanning at least two decades. The understanding that off-topic links are disregarded by Google dates back to the era of reciprocal linking practices.

While I can’t recall every statement made by Googlers regarding negative SEO, this instance appears to be one of the rare occasions when a Googler provided a detailed explanation of why negative SEO tactics are ineffective.

Original news from SearchEngineJournal