Can Competitors Attack Your Site With SEO?

Lately, there’s been much debate on whether Google penalizes bad/low-quality links OR if they simply de-value them. With every algorithm update, there is more speculation. The argument is that Google can’t (or shouldn’t) penalize outside factors, such as links, that can be created by virtually anyone – including your competitors.

This is where the notion of negative SEO comes into play. Since frantic webmasters are scrambling to avoid over optimization penalties, what’s to stop the really vindictive ones to use these tactics against a competitor?

If you’re interested in reading this long thread, 2 users posted a case study about their experiment on using “negative SEO” techniques to cause 2 sites to tank in just a few weeks. They post rankings of specific keywords before and after their link bombs and the 2 targets suffered accordingly. If this experiment really holds true, this means that competitors can focus on penalizing your site instead of optimizing theirs. Rand from seoMOZ eventually joined in on the conversation and even offered his site as an experiment for negative SEO.

On one side, this is terrifying news and imagine all the possibilities! Competitors can spend a few hundred dollars a month to send crummy links to your site, buy social mentions, submit false/wrong information to automated local citation services and more. This is all in the realm of possibility… but others argue that negative SEO alone cannot bring down a site that has been thriving solely using white hat techniques.

The best thing you can do is to keep an eye out on the search marketing newsphere. Keep this information on your radar so that you know what’s going on and when. It’s also important to keep tabs on your site via analytics and check them regularly for any drastic and unnatural changes – like say a couple thousand incoming links from irrelevant sites! It also helps to check your rankings (with a service like Authority Labs) or even keep Google Alerts so that you’re aware of mentions and if anything else unusual occurs.

For now, we’ll have to stay tuned to see how this negative SEO experiment turns out. In the mean time, SEOs around the world are awaiting Google’s official word on this topic. This idea of manipulating a competitor’s link profile is controversial but relatively low-key (for now) but what if it catches on with more and companies attacking each other? Do you think that Google will wait until then to make an announcement or change the way that they value bad incoming links?

Thursday Topics: Over Optimization & Social Media Marketing

Optimization Strategies
What happens if you overkill your optimization strategy? I just saw a short interview clip with Matt Cutts on a SEOBook article about this very subject. Although Matt claims that you won’t necessarily get penalized, it’s obviously not ideal to over optimize. Google optimization is a delicate task and the key is to make your efforts look as natural as possible. This means doing away with duplicate content (your own and content “borrowed” elsewhere) and mixing up the keywords you use on a single page. If you feel like you’re using a particular word a little too much, you probably are. This not only looks spammy but it makes it annoying for your average reader.

Have You Checked in with Foursquare?
Whether you love or hate social media marketing, you’ll certainly be at a disadvantage if you ignore it. The internet is abuzz over the Foursquare phenomenon and that’s cool, but I don’t really get it. I mean I “get it” from a marketer’s point of view so I guess we’ll expand on that note. Like local search, Foursquare pulls in customers to drive business. But, how does it work? The jist of it is that customers “check-in” on their smart phone using the application to keep track of the various locations they’ve visited. Depending on the amount and variety of places you’ve visited, users can earn badges that showcase their accomplishments.
Interesting… but what’s the point? Social Media Examiner shows how businesses can implement loyalty programs and build relationships using the app. By using the ‘check-in’ feature, customers can take advantage coupons and promotions available for locals. It’s beneficial for all, so why not? Foursquare, and the lesser-mentioned Gowalla, are fun and engaging new ways to use location based services to connect with customers.