Negative SEO – How Links Affect Rankings

Negative SEO efforts commenced in earnest after 2012. Google and other SEs decided that external verification of every website’s content could assist their efforts to deliver the most relevant SERPs to their clients.

Think of good links as being like a series of good book reviews! Let’s say you have multiple, external, widely distributed sites that are all saying that your site is about “blue plastic widgets.” The balance of probability is that your site is relevant to such a search. Let’s say your site’s content is also about “blue plastic widgets.” At that point, Google’s confidence in your site is positively impacted by this external and internal confirmation of content.

A coincidence of keywords/phrases in both On-Site on-site page content and Off-Site Links reassures Google immensely! Those keywords in the off-site links are referred to as anchor text and form the link title.

You could not previously rank well for “blue plastic widgets” if that keyword phrase was not well represented in Anchor Text in incoming links to your site.

Starting in 2012 with the Penguin link penalty algorithm, Google launched a series of punitive increments. These were designed to identify and penalise link-building schemes designed to manipulate rankings. They arbitrarily decided that if you built links using any of the “standard” dodgy SEO techniques and/or schemes, your website would be severely penalised.

Negative SEO

These changes have spawned a whole new industry; “Negative SEO – whereby competitors can easily ruin your rankings by building low-quality links to your website!”

The most important aspect of links today is that you have a natural link profile! No links from;

  • Forum or blog signatures
  • Sites in unrelated genres
  • Low-quality directories
  • Link farms, link rings and such schemes
  • Anchor text with exact-match keywords may be seen as over-optimised
  • Internal page links with exact match keywords in anchor text may be seen as over-optimised
  • Keyword-rich deep links to internal pages.
  • Links without branding/business name

A natural link profile is defined by having the majority of its links with anchor text/link titles to;

  • Domain Name:
  • Domain URL:
  • Business Name /Brand Name:  Blue Widgets Co Ltd
  • Generic anchors: some website, click here etc
  • A mix of dofollow, nofollow and linkless text citations

A natural link profile will have;

  • Very few deep links to internal pages
  • A tiny sprinkle of links with important keywords in anchor text

Even a slight deviation from the norm can now result in a penalty! From what I’ve seen since 2012 if the unnatural links exceed as little as 10% of the overall link count, penalties are likely!  As a long-serving NZ SEO agency, we get to deal with a great many penalty reversal projects.

1.) Directories

There was once a quick way to get points on the board by expanding the keywords in anchor text.  Getting a range of listings in global web directories, with a series of varying Titles and Descriptions boosted rankings fast.

Google now penalizes links from directories without editorial standards. Most SEO-friendly directories have been de-indexed.

2.) Article Distribution

Writing and circulating a series of authoritative articles on relevant topics for inclusion in Article Distribution networks also worked well. Such reports usually contain an attribution of source – an “Author bio” with a link back to your website. A good article on an exciting aspect of what you do could potentially generate hundreds of back-links to your site. Other people place articles from distribution networks on their own sites to provide valuable content.

Google penalises links from most article marketing and distribution sites because they are now regarded as low quality. Many have such sites been removed from Google’s indexes.

3.) Social Bookmarking

Social Bookmarking submissions were best for advertising events and items of significant interest. For some sites, Social Bookmarking can deliver significant short-term traffic bursts – more like a solar flare!

The site’s scope, product and services range and budget may have driven the decision to do one or more of the above to achieve a successful outcome. Stepping beyond cautious link-building was invariably required for sites targeting very competitive market sectors.

Google now punishes links from many social bookmarking sites regarded as inferior quality, and many have been de-indexed.

Note: a methodical SEO Audit includes a Link Profile assessment of your website.

– our professional SEO package rates are modest…

Google continues to insist that negative SEO is not possible now. They argue that they discount or ignore non-relevant links from low-quality and unrelated sites. 

Hints for SEO

Stopping Negative SEO:

Page last updated on Thursday, October 12, 2023 by the author Ben Kemp