Google’s Response To Negative Local SEO

Written by: Jason Bayless | July 11, 2017

Business owners are living in an era of strong focus on local search engine optimization. To this effect, one of the strongest advocates of local SEO has been search engine giant Google, a company that believes that mobile search and geolocation are two of the strongest signals that small business owners should be paying attention to.

Unfortunately, the strong focus that Google has placed on local SEO has prompted unethical practitioners to launch negative campaigns against their competitors. The way negative SEO works is as follows: let’s an impatient pizza shop owner feels that he is not getting any traction on the search engine results page (SERP) because a rival pizzeria has been optimizing her website for many years. This bitter pizza shop owner may be enticed by her online marketing specialist to start applying some negative SEO tactics against the rival shop.

How Negative SEO Works

Negative SEO is a sad reality that reflects the major algorithm changes Google has applied over the years, particularly since the Penguin update. Reports of deliberately negative SEO have been seen since about 2013, and this unethical practice can take many forms.

One negative SEO tactic that got the attention of the SEO community a few years ago consisted of creating negative content associated with the targeted business and linking to their website. The negative content would appear on a rogue site developed with on-page SEO for the purpose of ranking on the SERP when users searched for the business.

In the example above, the acrimonious pizza shop owner may go along with her unethical SEO professional and agree to create a page with inflammatory and false comments about the rival pizzeria. To cap it off, the page where the negative content is hosted will feature a link to the target.

Another foul tactic is to deliberately send spam traffic to target websites for the purpose of increasing the bounce rate, thereby causing a negative ranking signal for Google to pick up.

How Negative SEO Should Be Handled

There have been reports of webmasters sending emails to the rival business demanding payment in exchange for removing the offending link. In 2013, a Google engineer in charge of interacting with SEO professionals explained that business owners should never pay for link removals and should ignore this blatant attempt at SEO extortion. What company owners should do is to disavow the offending link using the Google Search Console, previously known as Webmaster Tools.

With regard to negative reviews posted on major consumer websites such as Yelp, Google recommends taking the time to address these comments personally. According to statistics gathered by online marketing research firm Review Trackers, 52 percent of people who write negative reviews expect to be contacted within seven days by the business. As long as these reviews are real, a third of customers either amend or delete the original review. If the negative review is suspected to be part of a negative SEO campaign, it is a good idea to contact site administrators and make them aware of the situation. Yelp has been proactive in controlling fake reviews, which why contacting them can go a long way with regard to combating negative SEO.

Finally, another recommendation made by Google makes a lot of sense: while affected company owners should not ignore negative SEO being used against them, they are better off improving their websites and overall business. The idea behind this approach is that the rival business is spending time and money by going the unethical route while the targeted business owner is actually taking positive steps to improve the company in terms of SEO and creating great experiences for their customers.