Free (Legal) Negative PPC / SEO / Social Media Tool Kits & Case Study*
Post date: Jul 20, 2016 12:23:23 PM
*courtesy of Google, Bing, Yahoo, ICANN, the UK Advertising Standards Authority etc...
Negative Search Engine Optimisation is the name in the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) / industry for when someone makes an attempt to lower a website's rankings in search engines by various means, both legal and illegal.
If you are working in a locality where Google dominates the search engine market (like the UK), the GOOG Webmaster Guidelines (https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35769) might be considered the laws of the land for the SEO industry. For example, GOOG offers us multiple tools to help us do 'Negative SEO' on sites which violate these rules by reporting issues.
I recall one ex-Googler saying in a Q&A at a conference that all Webspam reports are read by a human being - I don't know if the same goes for Map spam. Google's Juan Felipe Rincon stated in 2016 that Google takes action on 65% of user-generated spam reports (http://searchengineland.com/google-takes-action-on-65-of-user-generated-spam-reports-243708).
Part of a SEO strategy report can include competitor analysis, including analysing competitors' sites looking at where they are getting 'good quality' backlinks from with the aim of trying to obtain the same or similar links. You may notice some spammy links in this process. That said, don't expect (m)any spam reports to GOOG to have the desired outcome even if you report the (same) direct contravention of their rules on a regular basis! I've read a comment on a forum that “Submitting a complaint to Google about a spammer is like sending a letter to Santa Claus at the North Pole” which is what it often feels like in my experience. Google may already be aware of the issue you are reporting so I'd recommend focusing on well-ranked profiles and sites.
Reporting competitors' contraventions of Google Webmaster / ICANN / ASA / Online Ad Engine / Search Engine Map guidelines might be considered just something you need be able to say you've done as part of your ongoing work for your SEO / PPC clients. This is only really worthwhile if your client is 'clean' themselves (for obvious reasons)!
The following activities (in theory at least) of analyses of competitors' compliance with search engine, social media site and legal guidelines can create real competitive advantage & might also be considered by some to be a cornerstone of retained SEO / PPC activity.
1. Webspam Reporting
To this day, Google is not very good at detecting all the sites which:
- have paid and sponsored backlinks,
- use spammy tactics (e.g. practices such as 'gibberish'-type keyword rich text, hidden text, doorway pages, cloaking, sneaky redirects etc).
How could they?
It's fundamental to know that any links intended to manipulate Google PageRank (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PageRank) or a site's ranking on Google may be considered part of a link scheme and thus be a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behaviour that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.
The following is just one example of a link scheme which may negatively impact a site's ranking in search results if Google take action:
- Buying or selling links that pass PageRank.
For example, if your competitor sponsors an event and the direct link from the event website to the competitor's website is not 'nofollowed' (https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/96569?hl=en) then your competitor has in effect bought a link that passes PageRank. Use your browser or a tool like http://www.iwebtool.com/code_viewer to view the source code of the page with the link in question to see if the link is nofollowed or not.
Other links may be part of a paid 'Featured Promotion', labelled as such or as an 'Advertorial' & 'Sponsored Content' and multiple permutations of these phrases. Searching for these phrases in relation to your client's non-branded key phrases may help identify these links.
Here is Google's guidance on link schemes: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66356?hl=en and some guidance from Google's Webpspam Team (headed by Matt Cutts) on how to write actionable web spam reports: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/how-to-help-google-identify-web-spam.html.
In short, in my experience Google is better at identifying low quality links than high quality links. (there is no way your client or yourself can be identified publicly as the reporter of paid links).
So in brief,
- Google's Webmaster Guidelines (including the detail on link schemes)
- a decent tool to look at your competitors' backlinks (e.g. backlinkwatch.com). Paid alternatives include majestic.com.
- and the following form is all you need to help you scrutinise and (as appropriate) report your competitors' links. Google encourages it's users to report web spam & paid links (amongst other things) here: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/93713?hl=en .
- Report non-compliant paid / sponsored links in content listed in Google News listings via the 'Send Feedback' link at the bottom of search results.
Other webmaster guidelines / website terms worth scrutinising competitor's compliance with include the following:
https://www.linkedin.com/legal/user-agreement ( a professional services search engine)
Also 'doorway pages' are against the Webmaster Guidelines.
2. Google Maps & Reviews
For example, in my field of SEO one's competitors are also spamming the Google Map too :) . You can notify GOOG if you see something wrong with your competitor's map listing, like incorrect business details or a wrong road name.
Note that PO Boxes or mailboxes located at remote locations are not acceptable business addresses. Report competitors' violations here: https://support.google.com/maps/answer/3094088.
Send general feedback (with screenshot if need be) – this may be necessary for Map spam via https://support.google.com/maps/answer/3094045
Also if you find a review of / by a competitor that you think violates Google review policies, (https://support.google.com/plus/answer/2622994) you can use the “Flag as inappropriate” link next to a review. https://support.google.com/business/answer/4596773?hl=en. For example, wedding venues may be multi-purpose venues (e.g. Farnham Castle in Surrey) so reporting 'off-topic reviews on their 'wedding venue' Map business listing can offer a competitive advantage.
Here is an example r.e. my client's local 'wedding venue' competitors ranking on the Google Map. On 13 Apr 2017 my client sent the following screenshot:
Here were the same Map results for the same query (12.5.17) after I reported the 'spammy' Map listing names for the venues on the map (this should affect their click-through rates on these listings & this amendment may also affect the visibility on the Map for these listings in future):
The businesses in question may amend these details back to what they were in future too. I also flagged some reviews of the 3rd venue in the list above as they were 'off topic' i.e. of the tourist attraction, not the wedding venue. It doesn't appear they've been removed yet - these reports were only a week before the time of writing this.
Here are the same Map results for the same query (1.12.17) with my client first on the Map:
3. Competitors' (social media) marketing content created on behalf of their clients
On a related topic, it's also worth noting that the UK Advertising Standards Authority Code (https://www.cap.org.uk/Advice-Training-on-the-rules/Advice-Online-Database/Video-blogs-Scenarios.aspx) which apply across media including online (including social media channels) state that ads & marketing ‘must be obviously identifiable as such’ e.g. with an identifier on Twitter such as the hashtag “#ad”. See https://www.cap.org.uk/Advice-Training-on-the-rules/Advice-Online-Database/Remit-Social-Media.aspx. It's possible to report any any of your competitors' social media marketing content not labelled appropriately to the ASA. This may have the additional 'benefit' of helping to 'blacken' their online reputation if the results of a successful complaint are published.
4. If your competitors provide fake website registration information they are breaking the ICANN rules and you can report them:
5. Report competitors' Google Adwords policy contraventions:
6. Report competitors non-compliance with GDPR
GDPR compliance may be become a Google Ranking Factor in the near future. It is possible that GDPR cookie complaints become a way of inflicting (financial) harm on online competition in the meanwhile: https://ico.org.uk/make-a-complaint/cookies/ & the ICO reporting tool https://wh.snapsurveys.com/s.asp?k=150296439091.
There are two tiers of fines that can be levied under the GDPR:
• 1) Up to €10 million, or 2% annual global turnover (whichever is higher)
• 2) Up to €20 million, or 4% annual global turnover (whichever is higher)
In the final analysis, the Google Web Spam / Paid Link reporting tools above are fundamentally just free labour for Google from people who don't work for them (like SEO consultants!), like the link disavowal tool for sites affected by the Google update known as Penguin - a tool that enables webmasters to disavow (i.e. ask GOOG to ignore) links to their sites. This effectively creates via Penguin a list of low quality sites for Google to check their Penguin and Panda algorithms against)!
Also there's https://topcontributor.withgoogle.com, https://www.google.com/local/guides/ & the little-known army of unpaid volunteers, called Mappers (who propose and approve edits to Google Maps, with an assist from Google employees), these are all ways of Google getting free labour from SEO consultants / the general public.
They should compensate this work in some way! Gis a job ;)
It's arguable that the above tools that may enable you to 'harm' your competition are a double edged sword. If as a result of your reporting a whole sector appears to be using practices against a certain set of guidelines, in theory your own site / practices may come under scrutiny too!