Negative SEO – Catch It, Bin It, Kill It

Matt Beswick July 31, 2012 17

So, I’m minding my own business late last night doing a quick check over my site stats, and something jumps out at me… a referrer from Fiverr. As I’ve never even created an account over there (not even to have someone write me a song on the Ukelele), and the fact that the referral path indicated that it was was from a ‘job’, something smelt a bit fishy. Time to investigate.

What's going on here then?

Stage 1: The Hunt

As I had the username of the person who’d clicked through, it was just a simple case of going to their Fiverr profile and seeing what services they’re offering. Kaboom! I found this:

Now, at this point, things were starting to feel like they might get interesting, but there wasn’t a huge amount more that I could do without getting in touch with the guy that was going to build these links to find out what was going on. As he’d only visited my site an hour or two ago there was no way that the links would’ve been picked up in Webmaster Tools.

Things to remember: Check your referral traffic for things that appear out of the ordinary – the more you know about your links the better.

Step 2: Digging a Little Deeper

Since this is Fiverr, I decided my best tactic was to offer my new friend some cash to let me know what’s been going on. A quick screenshot of our first couple of messages is below:

As you can see, he was more than happy to help. Result! I fired up Paypal, sent over the funds, and waited. A few hours later and I received a big juicy text file of Naughty Links!

I also asked him for the message text of the person that had placed the order. Here’s what they’d asked for:

url =
keyword = seo consultant
thanks :)

So, I now had a good indication that whoever was doing this would likely be someone who is trying to rank for ‘SEO Consultant’ as a search term. As I’ve been writing for a few different sites lately my rankings have been slowly but surely edging up, so it wasn’t really a surprise that someone would take exception to this… but who?

Step 3: Getting Lucky

In life you need some luck now and again; this was mine. As I went back to the main job page I noticed a review from a name that I recognised.

Now, to ‘out’ or not to ‘out? That was the question:

The overwhelming response (thanks Mike and Paddy) was to speak to my prime suspect first, which was a very sensible piece of advice, and exactly what I did. The conversation went something like this (the name, of course, has been changed):

Me: Hello dear sir. I have a small bone to pick with you.
Barnaby: Oh yeah?
Me: The evidence (I place a virtual folder full of paperwork in the Skype window) suggests that you’re being a sneaky little blighter.
Barnaby: Wasn’t me guv
Me: Now now, are you sure?
Barnaby: Yeah, honest.
Me: Well, I’m not sure I believe you, but if it wasn’t you then someone’s being very mischievous.
– END –

The upshot here is that I don’t know if it was ‘Barnaby’, and don’t particularly care… the point is that someone’s been up to no good, so now I’ve got to spend some time dealing with it.

Step 4: Pre-emptive Recovery

At this point, there isn’t a huge amount that I can do, other than wait and watch. I will, however, be doing the following:

  • Keeping an eye on LinkStant to see if any dodgy referrers appear. (There’s already one that I’ve noticed from which certainly isn’t safe for work).
  • Lodging a reconsideration request, with a link to the Xrumer output file that I mentioned earlier, reference to this post, and a quick explanation of what’s happened.
  • Over the next few days and weeks I’ll keep an eye on Bing Webmaster Tools and ‘disavow’ any dodgy links that appear.
  • Google Webmaster Tools now has a handy feature that shows your latest links, so I’ll be keeping an eye on that to see what happens.

If anyone wants to help out by giving me a nice juicy link to my homepage, feel free. I’ve never been someone to pass up an opportunity for a link or two! ;)


  1. Ashley Balstad July 31, 2012 at 9:20 pm - Reply

    Oh my goodness Matt! That sounds like a nightmare. A couple of weeks ago, I had posted an article for one of my clients on One of their competitors came across the article and wrote a comment (that I can’t delete) raving about their own business and put a link to their site. Totally not cool. If I wasn’t strictly a white-hat practicing Internet Marketer I would so go do something like that to them, but that would not be very lady like of me.

    As always, thanks for all the awesome tips! This will totally be bookmarked and shared!

    • Matt Beswick August 1, 2012 at 9:22 am - Reply


      It’s all fun and games… I’m not taking it personally, and it’s a chance to track this kind of stuff from start to finish instead of looking at it in hindsight.


  2. LinkBait or NotLinkBait August 1, 2012 at 1:19 am - Reply

    Reading the post, this is my only question.

    • Matt Beswick August 1, 2012 at 9:23 am - Reply

      Heheh, to LinkBait of course! ;)

  3. Sam Haymans August 1, 2012 at 10:33 pm - Reply

    How did you get 29,000 facebook fans?

    • Matt Beswick August 2, 2012 at 9:20 am - Reply

      Heheh, excellent question! I run a few Facebook games, some of which were pretty huge in the past, so we picked up the Fans from those. We should have had more tbh (at one point we had about 250k daily users) but didn’t drive them into our page as we should have.


      • Ashley Balstad August 2, 2012 at 1:20 pm - Reply

        So… if my boss catches me on Facebook games, I can totally tell him it is for brand building ;)

  4. Mike August 2, 2012 at 12:16 am - Reply

    Nice story. Ok, so Google reads this kind of stuff (good seo blogs) I’m sure. The whole negative seo and the feeling that it is possible to lower rankings of your competitors is terrible… for website owners, seo consultants, users? but what about Google? Maybe it’s actually not so bad for them. SEOs have more work to do and maybe they will eventually just “kill eachother” hitting heavily with spammy xrummer links precisely in the sites that matter. The good sites that get hit by mistake would be just like innocent civilians during the war. It happens. Maybe Google just gave us a weapon to fight with each other. I hope that the future for getting higher is not based on how many sites you can filter out :)

    • Matt Beswick August 2, 2012 at 8:29 am - Reply

      Mike – interesting take on things. I don’t think Google benefits from this, simply because it gives them extra headaches which I’m sure they don’t need, but if we’re not careful it is going to get to the point where we spend more time cleaning up ‘negative SEO’ mess than doing what we should, which is creating great online marketing campaigns.


  5. alan August 2, 2012 at 6:15 am - Reply

    Nice post on Negative seo.

  6. Ed Dawson August 2, 2012 at 7:21 am - Reply

    does [*Edited*] have anything to do with this? :P

    • Matt Beswick August 2, 2012 at 8:32 am - Reply

      Heheh, nice detective work Ed… (I removed the name completely just for everyone’s peace of mind). I’ve got 0 proof that was him – it could quite easily be someone signing up for Fiverr (a year ago) with his username – so don’t want to start naming names :)

      • Ed Dawson August 2, 2012 at 8:42 am - Reply

        haha.. it was so easy…. no probs :)

        …if the links work (not that I want your site to tank :P), it would be some nice proof that negative SEO works…

        and @Sam, answering how did Matt get 29K fans? he must have been snooping fiverr for long eh!

        • Matt Beswick August 2, 2012 at 9:21 am - Reply

          Tanking would be bad (but interesting). It’d make for an epic SEOMoz blog post ;)

          29k Fans on Fiverr? Sounds expensive!

  7. Moosa Hemani August 2, 2012 at 9:33 am - Reply

    I hate this Matt! Not the fact that Negative SEO is working but the sad part is that it’s way too cheap… since this Negative SEO come in to charge what I did is to set Google alerts at least with brand names ad few major keywords so that things can be caught in the beginning then later!

    Just a question…As we know that Negative SEO is working and in some competitive niches competitors use this tactic to an extent and getting out of it is a paid and take hour of job…how to handle this and charge for this if you are working with the client on set monthly budget?

    I am sorry if you find it irrelevant but this will or must be the concerns of many!

    • Matt Beswick August 2, 2012 at 9:45 am - Reply

      Hi Moosa,

      The first thing to note here is that someone’s tried to do a bit of damage – so far it’s too early days to see whether or not it makes any difference. I’d hope it won’t, but we’ll see!

      There are a few ways to combat this, the most obvious being to build great links into your (and your client’s) sites. It’s been this way for a while, and negative SEO certainly isn’t anything new, but since Penguin there are far more people talking about it, which means that more people will know about it, so more people will try to use it to harm competitors.

      So, in short, the days of crappy directory links and spun articles are gone. Solid content and branding strategies, outreach, guest blogging, and all of those difficult (and time consuming) things are the future… which I personally think is a good thing!

      As for how to charge, that will depend on the client. Keep an open dialogue with them, track the links that are coming into their sites, and if you spot an issue let them know what’s happened, what the solution is, and how much it’ll cost. From there it’s up to them whether to do it or not…

      Hope that’s helpful :)


      • Moosa Hemani August 2, 2012 at 10:09 am - Reply

        Thanks Matt! Actually I am asking out for multiple suggestions regarding this because i prefer to Taylor my cost as per the work and hours i have to spend on one client so that it can be easy for business to pay and cost can justify the work i am doing for the client…

        What happens sometime is after few months an attack of Negative SEO came and actually kicks you back in rankings…and now you have to spend more time to get out of it!

        I like the idea to e transparent with client and show them this is what happened or happening with them and this is the solution to it!

        Thanks for the help!

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