As adults, we realize that bullies are basically insecure people. Their dread of being scrutinized by others leads them to redirect focus onto the people they’re bullying to achieve a sense of empowerment. However, knowing this – whether you’re an adult or child – doesn’t make it any more pleasant if you happen to fall victim to a bully. Unfortunately, the Internet allows would-be bullies to hide behind that most cowardly of masks called anonymity. Worse, the Internet feeds bullies’ sense of empowerment because they have a forum to broadcast freely and en masse.
In this sense, “negative search engine optimization (SEO)“ is in many ways the business equivalent of Internet bullying. At a high level (and from this semi-novice standpoint), negative SEO is when someone tries to undermine a business’ online reputation and high search engine rankings through different means including by flooding the web with “backlinks” to that business’ website from “low quality” sites unrelated to the business -- especially things like adult, gambling, spam, and other sites in that vein. It came as a surprise to me, but a Google search of “negative SEO” will quickly reveal the extent to which businesses have had to deal with the actions of unscrupulous competitors and others who try to sabotage their brand and search engine rankings. Put in bullying terms, it’s cowardly, faceless, and, in the case of business competitors, it seems a de facto admission that the competitor isn’t able to compete on a footing like quality of service or value.
For those who aren’t familiar with negative SEO, you’re not alone. We had no idea what it was at our business either until it became clear that someone was engaging in it against us. Suddenly we were thrust into this strange and seedy world of “black hat,” “grey hat,” and “white hat” websites as well as being forced to look at things like the “quality of backlinks affecting search engine ranking.” Believe me, it’s not something that I ever imagined having to contend with when I graduated as a Chiropodist back in 1997!
So, what do you do if your business falls victim to negative SEO?
Another one of those parental idioms is to “just stand up” to the bully, but the shady, faceless nature of Internet business bullying makes it difficult to do directly. I’m certainly no expert on the subject, so the first answer was to research information and engage people who are the experts. There is an abundance of information, tools, and expertise out there, including through Google, to help deal with the issue. Also, slowly, it seems that civil and criminal law is catching up, too. One has to think that the more Sony’s and other big businesses (not to mention governments) that fall victim, the greater the legislative pressure and case law precedent there will be.
Certainly, I can’t bring myself to think that the answer here is to fight fire with fire. Instead, I prefer to fight fire with water. Don’t be distracted from your core focus and the things that make your business a success. Focus on positive SEO, a strong value proposition, and delivering a great product or service. Remember, even though we’re living in this "new" information age, the truth about positive word-of-mouth stands the test of time. Embrace this, and understand that in an era of Internet social media, you have an opportunity to generate positive word of mouth referrals to the world at large just by being good at what your business does and taking the time to incorporate this into your social marketing repertoire.
You’ll be better off and so will your business for not settling to the level of reprisal negative SEO bullydom. Call me old fashioned. Call me naive. But, it seems one of the best ways to “just stand up” is to be street smart but still choose to be one of the good guys.