Negative SEO has been a bit of a hot topic in the industry for the past year or so, with the much-discussed ‘Penguin’ link spam update making it (theoretically) easier than ever to cause damage to a competitor site.
The growth of the practice has even led Google to tweak their webmaster guidelines on the topic, changing the original “almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index,” to “Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index”.
Sadly, this hasn’t gone unnoticed by a few ne’er do wells in the industry and there’s now several reports of a negative SEO extortion scheme looking to part less-informed webmasters from their hard-earned cash.
Several people in the SEO industry have posted the emails they’ve received from these negative SEO sites, which completely forego any ambiguity and clearly state ‘this is extortion, give us your money or else’. The threat is an Xrumer (a popular spamming tool) blast of low quality links to your website, with the ultimate aim of triggering the Penguin algorithm and costing your site traffic and your business money. The full email can be seen below.
Google claims to be investigating the issue and have advised any concerned webmasters to monitor their link profile and to use the disavow tool if required. They also recommend reporting any attempts at extortion to the police. If you receive the email through Gmail, they ask that you report it to https://support.google.com/mail/contact/abuse.
So what’s the recommended course of action? Firstly, we’d say not to respond to the threats at all. There are reportedly thousands of these emails being sent out, and replying in any way will likely increase any chance of you being targeted. Second, just keep an eye on the ‘links to your site’ section in webmaster tools for anything unusual (if you have access to ahrefs we recommend using that as well).
It’s too early to tell if the threat is a credible one, but a little extra vigilance is worthwhile if you do receive the email at any point. If you’re concerned that you may have been the victim of a negative SEO attack please get in touch with us and we’d be happy to have a look for you and offer our advice.