The strange workings of the search engines!
As anyone who carries out SEO work for a living is always aware, there are multiple ways to achieve a good ranking for a website. There are the good / honest ways which involve link building / baiting, onsite optimisation, social media work, article / press release distribution and a whole host more. Other methods fall into a bit of a grey area and more commonly used even though they shouldn’t be rewarded by Google in theory based on “the rules” it sets out. A good example of this is paid link building. Then there are the bad ways; black hat techniques that no credible company uses but are out there all the same. Whilst the ideal is that Google is constantly working to stamp out these black hat methods by marking down sites that employ such tactics, the reality is this is often not the case.
Something in the news recently has highlighted another form of SEO that doesn’t strictly fall into any of the bad SEO categories but arguably shouldn’t be rewarded all the same, is what is being dubbed as “negative SEO”. This is a bit confusing as there is already an SEO activity well documented with this name which is also referred to as Google bowling. This is where the focus of an SEO campaign is put on the competitors rather than the promoted website and work carried out to move them down the serps, leaving it more open for your own website. Negative SEO in the case of this article though is something quite different as I will explain.
The company that has openly highlighted this negative SEO as their SEO strategy of choice is called DecorMyEyes and I will not do them the service of creating a link here, further fuelling their campaign.
DecorMyEyes and the negative SEO campaign
Essentially the company did not plan to carry out the strategy they are now on course with. It happened out of chance from operating a genuinely unscrupulous business model. Basically what the site has done is gain large amounts of links from lots and lots of negative complaints on a range of customer feedback / review websites that contain large levels of domain authority. What is really strange though is the company has not only used this to their advantage in the serps, but also seem to have further developed their business model in order to maximise its potential. This has been done essentially by becoming extremely dishonest and in cases probably illegal when carrying out day to day business dealings.
The owner of DecorMyEyes, Mr Vitaly Borker actually went as far as to going on some of the customer review websites and incited the customers even more by telling them all their negative feedback was only helping his business even more. Whilst it is extremely frustrating for the customers to here, he sadly is quite right.
The New York times report this story in detail and really is quite an interesting read which I encourage you to take in. What I really wanted to discuss here was how and why this has even worked as an SEO strategy.
Why does negative SEO get you good rankings?
Essentially what Mr Borker was taking advantage of is phrased perfectly in the NY times piece:
“Google is unable to distinguish between adulatory buzz and scathing critiques when it scours the digital universe and ranks the best and the brightest.”
This is stating in short that to Google, a link is a link and when adding up the amount of links from good quality websites to your own, it doesn’t see whether it is to warn people away or to sing the praises of the site. This is something Google often claim they do carry out in their site ranking algorithm and they refer to it as “sentiment analysis”.
Whether it really is part of their algorithm or not is beside the point as if the algorithm does contain this information, it’s not working and this is shown by the fact searching for many top designer glasses terms brings back decormyeyes on page 1. In many cases the website outranks even the official designer’s website. Whilst this is quite a common feature and something that surprises lots of people, if the official website does not focus its own SEO efforts and have good authority and popularity, why should it rank highly for a competitive term?
What is happening is decormyeyes is optimising its website for designer glasses, it has done some of the normal SEO work legitimately and now it is being supported by a mass negative link baiting campaign which, providing the complaints keep coming in on the negative review sites, will continue to push his rankings up in the future.
But is this right? Why should Google promote a website that is making its money by ripping people off? Well the answer in my opinion is that it’s because people link to it and it’s popular, meaning it is an important website for the chosen search term. When you google a term like “designer glasses” you are not telling Google you want to see companies that are reputable, honest and sell designer glasses for a good price. You are simply saying you want to see the most talked about, popular websites related to that search term which it does.
There are times when this should be changed and that illegal content should be handled properly but this is essentially censorship and should only be carried out when absolutely essential. Instead the answer is that people either learn to refine their search queries to represent what they want to see from a search, in this case “online designer glasses for sale from reputable company” or Google needs to have some filter options to allow you to select from highly rated sites, much like with the business listings / places format.
Does negative SEO work as business strategy?
This is a matter of opinion really as the argument decormyeyes owner Mr Borker uses is that there are plenty of new customers out there and he doesn’t need to focus on the repeat ones. As a large percentage of customers coming in to your website on non brand specific terms are likely to be new anyway, his argument does gain some ground. The main point against this is the cost of a return visitor is much lower and should always be at the core of an online marketing plan. His counter argument is that as his new customers cost him nothing though due to his free negative SEO campaign generated by the people who most want to see him fail, this is not a concern for him.
In the long run, he will come into problems though as the company name is being dragged through the mud which people will start to see and limit any future growth. The potential market open to him also will reduce and reduce until he goes out of business (in theory).
One of the main concerns is that this could take a while to happen, or he could just start the process again under a new company name. Rankings would take a while to establish but it could work. Thankfully shoppers are becoming much more savy and before completing a purchase people will visit review websites or even Google the company name to get some background before handing over their hard earned cash. This is where the negative SEO work seriously falls down here though and due to the authority of some of sites showing these comments, they rank highly for a search on the company name, giving customers easy and quick information that can prevent the purchase being made by doing a quick google search for the company name.
So what is to be learned from this? While in the short term a negative SEO campaign will quite possibly get you rankings for some hard to get terms, it is not a sustainable business model so for any genuine company wanting to be operating in the coming years. Instead we should be looking at the source of the good SEO work (the customer review sites) and focus effort instead on building a large amount of links from happy customers who will pass on their good experiences and deal with the bad customers in a much more effective way.Tweet