Recently I’ve been asked “what is negative SEO” by a couple of clients, so thought it would be worth posting a brief overview. Search Engine Optimisation is still mostly about improving your site to enhance its ranking – as its name would suggest. But the reality is that SEO is a zero-sum game: if you move up, then others must move down to make way. Equally if a site gets penalised by Google, and moves down, this creates a “hole” into which your site can step.

Some companies have looked at this situation and decided that its easier to move others down the rankings, rather than improve their own sites, resulting in the creation of “negative SEO”. If you can create backlinks to your competitors’ sites that are classed as spammy by Google, then you could see their site penalised and your site moving up to fill the spot that their demotion has created.

It sounds simple, but like most dodgy SEO techniques, there are significant risks. Firstly it is possible to defend against negative SEO – for example by disavowing links in Webmaster tools, which will usually turn negative SEO into tactic with only short-term impact. We would always counsel our clients to avoid the “black hat” approaches to SEO: not only are the risks high and the results unpredictable, but picking a fight in this way may result in a competitor singling you out for similar treatment. If, however, you would like to read more, there is a great article about negative SEO on the TFMA Insights blog.

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